Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Honey Brown First Tasting

I brewed a brown ale with a small amount (less than half a pound) of honey on May 28th and here, fully 2.5 months later, (1.5 months after bottling) I am doing a recorded tasting.

Let me start by noting that this beer does not really fit the category of brown ales, instead it is really a sweeter lighter porter.  That being said this one seems to have come out pretty disappointing but I felt I should at least record my thoughts to have as a reminder.

Aroma- Dark brown with light tan and ruby highlights.  Extremely small head fades immediately into light carbonation bubbles on the surface.  Not too impressive looking.

Smell- A lot comes off here but nothing too good.  Slight waxiness (maybe the honey?), light fruitiness (too high ferment temp?) some astringent roast and a bit of sweetness.  Not what I was going for but the nose can be deceptive sometimes.

Taste- A bit of astringency and a flat, one-dimensional sweetness with a bit of a thin alcohol bite at the finish.  This is nothing like a brown ale with no part really coming together the way I would like.

Mouthfeel- Thin with just a small carbonation prick, much thinner than I would have liked.

Drinkability- This beer is light years from what I had hoped.  I fear the one month in primary may have been a touch too long for a beer this small and a bit of autolysis has touched this. Additionally the honey seems to have only worked to thin this beer out more than I had hoped.  While this is not a terrible beer (it is drinkable without forcing it down) it is not very good and definitely not something I would pay for.  All in all I feel that this beer could have used a drop in the chocolate malt and some serious increases in lighter caramels to give it a more rounded character.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Session Belgian IPA

I brewed this beer in honor of my father's birthday and styled it largely after one of his favorites: Flying Dog's Raging Bitch.  As my father is (quite) a lightweight but also enjoys to have a few beers regardless of strength I wanted to knock down the ABV on this from the normal belgian IPA strength and, due to the decrease in OG, also knocked down the BU's somewhat.

Appearance - A very clear amber with a bit of a reddish tint that almost appears violet.  A small head of about one finger fades quickly into a thin white film. Pretty good in terms of looks, wasn't going for anything in particular in this category but it seems to be my clearest beer so far.

Smell - Wow, right up front there is a ton of fruit. Some is yeast derived ( cherries, plums, apricots) and a lot is from the American hops (orange) with a bit of sweet candy malt also present.  When I first tasted this prior to carbonation I feared the dry hopping and overall hop presence may have entirely outshined the yeast, the aroma now seems to favor more towards the Belgian side than the hops.

Taste- Like the aroma the hop taste seems to have faded very quickly.  Part of the problem is the under attenuation and residual sugars which I blame likely being due to the extract.  This puts the beer far from the level of bitterness desired and adds sugars which detract from the hoppiness all around.  That said the belgian yeast components do come through with a bit of fruit and spice and the hops make their presence with the nugget definitely apparent.  A bit of bitterness at the very end alludes to the 40 IBU's estimated.

Mouthfeel - Fairly full bodied, again likely due to underattenuation, but also highly carbonated.  The carbonation does allow the bitterness and hops to coat the mouth somewhat but again the residual sugars shine a bit more than I would have hoped for.

Drinkability/Overall - This beer met some expectations (my dad does seem to enjoy it) but it did not work quite right. I blame the low attenuation (about 72%) on low fermenting temperatures (around 68) and extract which is generally not mashed at low temps.  While I do enjoy this beer quite a bit and love where the aroma is I think more flavor hop additions should have been used, and with this high amount of residual sugars a bit more bittering as well.  One of the most important things about this beer to me is how much better it got as it warmed, I pulled it straight from the fridge and everything was much stronger and simply better by the end.  I'm not a huge hophead but this is definitely one I will make again.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Northern California

So this is very much a backpost but I feel it is important.  In early June I visited one of my older brothers who fortunately happens to live in Napa.  The trip was great and loaded with lots of camping, poker, a concert, some games of Madden and lots of tastings of all natures.  Sparing the details here are a few highlights of breweries and beers:

  • Silverado Brewing Company - For some sort of "completeness" to my Napa beer tastings my brother decided we would stop in here despite having placing them on his "worst of napa" list.  We did a sampler and got the garlic fries.  The fries were AWESOME, as ubiquitous as they are in this region my brother claimed they were the best he had ever tasted.  Served with Rice Bran Oil and a healthy amount of parmesan and garlic they were great.  The beers were nothing amazing with most being somewhat boring, but the coffee stout was near the top of my list as far as coffee beers go and the others were passable if nothing special.
  • Calistoga Inn and Brewery - This was near the end of my trip but is a nice little brewpub with good, but not great (at least not nearly as good as Silverado's), garlic fries and the best red ale I have ever tried. The caramel and citrus components played very well and didn't come off with any "cardboard" or "stale bread" flavors that I have noticed in other red/ambers (e.g. Fat Tire).  It's also a nice little place in a quaint little town not too far from a nice little hike where Robert Louis Stevenson honeymooned at a silver mine.
  • North Coast Brewing Co. - Having seen this brewery's beers offered in Maryland I had some expectations.  I tried an '08 old ale with my brother that he had been saving for a special occasion.  It was delicious with a nice blend of light hoppiness, moderate bitterness, alcohol warmth and some warm sweet cherry character that made it all around great, and according to my brother more rounded than when it was fresh.  We then hit up the brewery and, while I was a bit disappointed by some of the fair (Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Brother Thelonious Dark Belgian) their take on a Saison (Le Merle) is the best I have had to date.  I left with a corked bottle under my arm to cellar.
  • Anderson Valley Brewing Co. - This "solar powered brewery" is a really cool spot to hit with some great drinks.  Me and Matt got most, but not all, of the items as samplers and we were both blown away by the Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema.  While other beers here were decent, the Summer Solstice was super creamy, had hints of vanilla and other spice and was just the thing for a hot California day. I bought a 6-pack (in cans, sweet!) and only one made it back to Maryland, which has since been consumed. This wasn't meant to be a long keeper but seems to be a beer that anyone would enjoy.
  • Russian River Brewing Company - To say I had high expectations for this brewery may be an understatement.  Looking solely at ratings for their beers this would easily be the highest rated brewery in the country, and likely the world.  Their Pliny the Elder (and Pliny the Younger) are amazingly well received IIPA's and their whole line of sour/belgian styles is very popular with those who enjoy that style.  Having had only one or two lambics I didn't know what to expect.  The sampler featured almost every beer they brew including a great hoppy brown and a tasty American IPA.  Many of the Belgians were quite different from what I'd had before but were for the most part enjoyable and I ended up buying a full pint of Supplication to go with my pizza.  Supplication is quite different, the best I could explain it would be that it tastes a bit like a Belgian Strong Dark with cherry yogurt character.
As for wineries here is a (very short) list of the ones I felt worth stopping at again and worth remembering:

  • Prager Port Works - Their "Aria" is an interesting white port with notes of vanilla and hazelnut.
  • Breggo  - Though I didn't buy any of the wines here they were all quite tasty and well worth the visit.
  • Yorkville - Bought they're Sweet Malbec, I like Malbec's and I like dessert wines, this one really stuck with me.
  • Girard - Make a lot of nice wines including one Cab that was great (if pricey) and a 2010 Cabernet Blanc that I couldn't resist purchasing.
  • Indian Creek - Liked all their wines but especially enjoyed the slight smoke on the 08 Syrah.
There were many others that had good wine but were overpriced or simply didn't seem exceptional enough to buy.

All in all it was a great trip with lots of experiences (both related to and entirely separate from the alcohol)