Sunday, September 29, 2013

Brewers Gold Tasting

For as long as I have wanted to try a pint or two of Crouch Vale's Brewers Gold, I have also been equally hesitant to brew a clone recipe of it. For there has been so much talk about this beer that seemingly no home brew attempt could ever live up to the hype and fanfare that surrounds this two-time, Champion Beer of Britain. Especially when you look at the recipe and see how simple it is, it becomes painfully obvious that such a beer leaves no room for error. One malt, one hop, some yeast, and a lot of skill are required to get this one just right. Well, after many months of waiting, I finally got around to brewing the recipe, although with a few slight changes. Instead of using lager malt, I used Golden Promise and I went with two hop additions of Brewer Gold instead of one. With that said, while I can't call my version a clone, it should at least be a decent enough representation of what the real Brewers Gold tastes like. Here are the tasting notes...

Brewers Gold: English Golden Ale/Bitter

Appearance - Pours a very clear, pale gold and straw color with a small white head that has decent retention. No finings used with this one.

Aroma - Candied orange and lemon peel, black berries, and a slightly spicy-herbal hoppiness. Some faint tropical fruit character is evident and the malt is mostly clean and neutral. Little to no yeast esters. Surprisingly lager like.

Taste - Similar to aroma. Hops lead the way with their strange mix of American and UK flavors - it is both citrusy, herbal, spicy and earthy - but they don't jump out of the glass in the way they are reputed to. Some tropical fruit notes, but not nearly to the extent of most American/Aussie/NZ varieties. The malt character is very clean, with some soft biscuit flavor. Bitterness is firm and lingering and the yeast is clean and almost unremarkable, save for a touch of mineral character. Beer finishes as clean and crisp as anything I've brewed.

Mouthfeel - Low carbonation makes for an easy drinking pint, mouthfeel is just about perfect.

Drinkability & Notes - Compared to what your average US craft beer geek blogs about, this is pretty boring stuff. It just doesn't have the punchy hop and malt character that people look for and you pretty much know you're drinking a 4.5% beer. On the other hand, I am very surprised how many layers of flavors there are in these Brewers Gold hops and there is something about the simplicity and cleanliness of the beer that immediately brings to mind the image of a hoppy pilsner. I also think I did a good job of brewing it, regardless of how interesting it tastes. Overall, I enjoy drinking this one and am glad I brewed it, although it isn't the beer of my dreams. That said, I'd still love to see what the real stuff would taste like on cask. I'd imagine it'd really shine...

Additional Thoughts:

First off, I will be brewing this one again. Eh... ok, something similar. I like the simplicity of the recipe (it is a testament to the "less is more" way of thinking) and these Brewers Gold hops are worth revisiting. However, I feel my version is missing something. This beer needs more malt or yeast character, or a mix of both. Or, just double the amount of hops.

The yeast. I am honestly befuddled on this one. I can't seem to get a good handle on what exactly this WLP022 yeast is up to. One moment it is yeasty-bready-minerally and the next it as clean and crisp and nice as anything I've used before. Maybe it has something to do the fact that I cultured this yeast from the bottom of a keg, after it had been sitting around at 42F for a month+. Maybe I should do the same thing with this keg? Regadless, I am happy how the yeast performed and the water profile with the low sulfate is nice change of pace too.

4.5% ABV, 28 IBU, Whitelabs 022 Essex Ale. Recipe Here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brew Day: Harvest Amber

For the past few years now, when September comes around and my brewing interests move on to maltier beer styles, I've brewed what I consider a 'harvest bitter.' While you wont find such a thing in any style guideline, I like to think that harvest bitters and/or ales are amber colored and easy drinking malty beers with an emphasis on caramel malts and earthy hops. And rich yeast esters. With that said, I can't say that I've had the best success executing such a thing. Last year's version turned out merely ok, pretty "meh" overall, and the batch before that ended in complete disaster, getting dumped out, due to fermentation off flavors.

With that mind, the beer I am brewing this time is a step apart from those before, as I am forgoing the whole 'bitter' thing and instead brewing an American Amber ale. As for the recipe, I am using Gambrinus' ESB malt - which is basically a more flavorful 2-row with a lightly toasted grain character - and rounding things out with a light and dark crystal and some pale chocolate malt for color. I have been brewing my amber ales with this malt bill for sometime now and I've been very happy with the results. As for the hops, going along with the 'harvest' theme, I am using a mix of my recently dried Cascade and Northern Brewer hops for flavor, and throwing in some Amarillo for a stronger citrus aroma.

Lastly, for the yeast, I am using WhiteLabs 051 California Ale V. While I've used this yeast with good succes in the past, my principle reason for using it this time is to see how it compares to the Mangrove Jack M44 West Coast Ale yeast. I've been brewing with this yeast quite a bit lately - I made two pale ales and an amber with it, all of which turned out fantastic, tasting notes to come - and I would like to see if the MJ44 strain is indeed just a dried version of Wyeast and Whitelabs 1272/051. From observing the differences in fermentation between the yeasts so far, it seems like they might just be different strains after all. How it compares to Danstar's BRY-97 West Coast Ale (the Ballantine II strain) will be left for another brew day. If the resulting beer is moderately malty and my homegrown hops don't taste like garlic and onions, I'll be happy.

Goldings
Harvest Amber: American Amber

Recipe Specifics: 
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.40
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated FG: 1.012
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
89.3% - 7.50 lbs. Gambrinus ESB Malt
6.0%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.0%   - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.8%   - 0.15 lbs. Pale Chocolate

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 20 IBU
0.50 oz. Homegrown Cascade @ 15 min for 7 IBU
0.50 oz. Homegrown Northern Brewer @ 5 min for 3 IBU
0.50 oz. Homegrown Cascade @ flameout
1.50 oz. Amarillo @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 051 California Ale V
Mash 156F for 60 min
Brewed on 8 September

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Irish Stout Tasting

When people ask what got me interested in home brewing, the story always starts the same way; 'There I was, sitting at the bar of an old man pub in Cork, Ireland, drinking a few pints of Beamish Stout....' Looking back, it wasn't so much the beer that I was drinking that peaked my interest in brewing, for Beamish isn't exactly the be-all and end-all of Irish stouts, but rather the setting and beer culture that was seemingly infused in every pint. It was the old weathered bar, photos of Irish saints and sinners, the slow burning peat fire, and the tweed-capped gent who'd sit by the door of the pub each afternoon with a Guinness in hand and quietly read the Irish Times. It was the stillness of the place and the slow, content, passage of time... a far cry from the loud, drunken, and wholly obnoxious boozers back home. A place where once could sit and enjoy a beer without care or concern. That is, until the yobs came out to play.

This being my 200th post and all, of which I hope there will be many more, it is appropriate then that I am reviewing the beer style that started me on my home brewing journey. This beer was brewed in early August and while it is in no way supposed to be a Beamish clone, it sorta turned out that way. The principle difference with this Irish stout and those I've brewed before, is that I went back to using flaked barley and Pacman yeast. I also used a new water profile for this beer, one that was light on the sulfate and high(ish) on the chloride. In the end, I got a tasty beer out of it. Bonus points for those of you who remember Guinness' Brewhouse Series.

Cramer's Lane: Irish Dry Stout

Appearance - Pours an opaque black with a small tan head that quickly settles to a fine ring. Ruby highlights when held to the light. Retention is somewhat poor.

Aroma - Pretty standard for a low gravity dry-stout. Lightly roasted malt, chocolate, and weak coffee. Faint fruity yeast esters and no hop character. Smells nice, although the aroma could be stronger.

Taste - Similar to aroma. Chocolatey-roast and light, Americano coffee. Some bready malt character and the beer finishes clean, smooth, and moderately bitter. No hop character. Tastes like a more flavorful Beamish or Murphys, although it lacks the creamy-smooth contribution that the nitro tap provides. Simple, but good.

Mouthfeel - Pleasantly smooth and creamy, even with the low alcohol and moderately dry finish.

Drinkability & Notes - While it's not the Irish stout of my dreams, it is better than the majority of dry-stouts that I can get around here. It also gets top marks for drinkability and the flavors are quite nice, buuut.... it does seem a bit weak on the malt complexity. Need to work on that. Aside, I recently brought a growler of this beer to a party and it went over very well, with one lifelong Guinness drinker even mentioning that he'd regularly buy it. So that's good, I think? In short, for a 4.2% dry stout, this beer turned out well. Just a few things to work on.

Additional Thoughts:

First, the Pacman yeast did a great job. Fermented quickly, cleanly, and gave the beer a nice mouthfeel, which is important in small beers that need a low FG. Next time, I might increase the ferment temp a little, to try and coax some fruity esters out of the yeast, but all in all I am very happy with how the yeast did. So much better than WY1028 and WY1056. No comparison.

Things to improve on are better head retention/creamier mouthfeel - I'll probably give in and increase the flaked barley to 20% - and I would like more overall malt/roast complexity. Maybe increase the roasted barley %, or try out some other roasted barley. The amount of chocolate malt seems about right. Lastly, I was also very happy with the water profile, low sulfate and high(ish) chloride is the way to go. And no high sodium...

 4.2% ABV, 25 IBU, Wyeast 1764 Pacman. Recipe Here

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Brew Day: English Bitter(s)

With a kegerator full of dark and hoppy beer and nary a session beer in sight, I am feeling a bit ashamed that I haven't got around to brewing a proper English bitter in what seems like ages; especially since my favorite English yeast was released back in July (WLP006 Bedford Bitter) and I haven't brewed a damn thing with it. Well that is soon to change. Today I am brewing two beers, a rather standard special bitter and an interesting, hoppy bitter that uses a resurrected yeast and Brewers Gold hops. Can you guess which beer this one is going to be?

The first beer of the day is another variation of my standard special bitter recipe, consisting of Maris Otter, English dark crystal (75L), and a small amount of biscuit malt. Hopping is all EKG and the yeast is, of course, Bedford Bitter. Two things worth noting about this one. First, I have always been a rather vocal proponent of NOT adding aromatic, biscuit, or special roast to English bitter recipes, as I feel they are not needed in recipes that make use of high quality base malts, but alas, I am breaking my own rule for the sake of trying something new. I actually wanted to use some home-toasted malt, for a bit of that crackery/toasted flavor, but I didn't have any on hand. Secondly, this beer will be brewed with a moderately soft water profile, using around 125ppm of sulfate and low amounts of everything else. The goal here is to end up with a well balanced beer; slightly hoppy and biscuity/honeyed in flavor, with a crisp and clean finish. I am very much looking forward to getting this one on tap!

If you couldn't guess, the second beer is the somewhat legendary Crouch Vale Brewers Gold. Ever since I first came across this beer while browsing through a list of GBBF champions, years ago, I knew I had to brew it. Well, I finally found some Brewers Gold hops and after a bit of back-and-forth about what I wanted to do for a recipe, I settled on something that I hope will get me close enough to the real thing. While the very popular Kris England recipe (found here and here), calls for using only lager malt and adding all of the hops at 15 minutes from flameout, I decided to take a different approach. Having asked a few people that had brewed the recipe what they thought of it, it seemed like the general consensus was that it made a pretty tasty and moderately hoppy beer... but is quite bland compared to what most craft beer drinkers are accustomed to. I decided to use Golden Promise and divide the hopping into two equal parts, one at 15 min and another at flameout. The goal here is to end up with a beer that has more malt character than what the lager malt provides and is also a tad more floral/hoppier. However, I will be using the actual Crouch Vale yeast... the ex-Ridley's... WLP022 Essex Ale. I restarted the yeast from the bottom of my keg of English IPA and it looks to be in great shape.

Saving the yeast
Creek Bitter II: English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics: 
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.75
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 10
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
88.9% - 6.00 lbs. Maris Otter
7.4%   - 0.50 lbs. Dark Crystal (75L)
3.7%   - 0.25 lbs. Biscuit Malt

Hops:
------
0.75 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 22 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 8 IBU
1.50 oz. EKG @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 2 September

--------------------

Brewers Gold: English Golden Ale

Recipe Specifics: 
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.5
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 5
Anticipated IBU: 28
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Sugar:
------------
100% - 7.5 lbs. Pale Malt, Golden Promise

Hops:
------
1.50 oz. Brewers Gold @ 15 min for 28 IBU
1.50 oz. Brewers Gold @ flameout

Yeast: WhiteLabs 022 Essex Ale
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 2 September
 
The water profile for the Brewers Gold beer is a big change from the norm, using low sulfate (38ppm) and high chloride (70pmm). I wanted to see what type of effect this will have on a yeast that produces a fair amount of mineral character by itself. Will it be minerally or not? Nearly 100% RO water was used for both beers.