Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Czech Pilsner Tasting

It is commonly thought that clean, lightly hopped, pale beers are the hardest styles to brew.  The thinking is that, in a beer without too much character of its own, any flaws are easily noticeable. After my first attempt at a pale lager I can easily understand where this thinking comes from, and, while I tried to avoid many of the flaws that can occur by pitching a heavy amount of yeast and fermenting at a cool temperature, I still wasn't able to completely nail this one.

A- Pale gold (looks lighter than pictured) with a moderately tall head that fades to a thin layer.  Fairly, though not brilliantly, clear.  Looks like a pilsner, though the clarity and head retention could be better. Gelatin in the keg might fix the clarity and a touch of wheat in the mash might help with the retention, though I don't know that either is necessary.

S- A bohemian Pilsner should have some malt, balanced by some spicy Saaz, and maybe a touch of diacetyl on the nose.  While all three components are here, they are not in the proper balance with the buttery diacetyl showing first and heaviest, the sweet malt also coming through, and the Saaz hops being just perceptible.  Serving at nearly 50F might accentuate the diacetyl, but it's higher than it should be regardless.

T- Grainy, lightly buttery, sweetness is swept aside by a refreshing, spicy, moderate bitterness that lingers for just a moment on the tip of the tongue.  Again, a little bit high in the diacetyl though not as noticeable and better balanced by the hops than in the nose.

M- Moderate carbonation with a moderate to light body.  The diacetyl here seems to be adding to the body, keeping it from being overly thin.  No complaints with the mouthfeel of this one.

O- For my first attempt at this style, and for lagers in general, I'm fairly happy with this beer but can see a few obvious flaws.  Not doing a diacetyl rest until after fermentation had fully completed clearly detracted from the overall character of this beer.  Other than the one (moderate) flaw the beer is well rounded, and really pretty tasty.  This is a beer that I could see both BMC drinkers and beer nerds drink, but not rave about.  If I were to brew it again I would only make slight changes to the recipe (maybe a touch more finishing hops) and a slight tweak to the fermentation process (diacetyl rest before the end of fermentation) but all around I'd say this is a winning recipe, and the water chemistry, grain bill, and yeast definitely worked well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#45 - Imperial India Pale Ale

After brewing a number of brett saisons and sours over the last year, I've dialed back the funk and overall weird factor in the last few months with an Oatmeal Stout, Bohemian Pilsner, and, today, an imperial IPA.  The beer is inspired in part by a beer that I've never had (Heady Topper) and a number of clones of that recipe (which I've also never tasted).  My recipe is, in no way, a Heady clone but instead attempts to use some of the best aspects of it (4 varieties of American hops, high levels of pale malt, sugar to dry out, around 100 ibu's) in an entirely unique way that should suit my tastes.

The malt bill is fairly simple: 14 lbs British Pale Malt (in place of the Pearl used for Heady), 1 lb Carahell (in place of any caramalt/etc), and 1 lb of Turbinado (in place of white sugar).  For the hop bill I decided to go with Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, and Amarillo.  While I originally had Palisades in the mix, I subbed them out for Chinook in order to get more of the classic pungency and pine of American hops that seems to be missing from my hoppy brett Saison which also featured large doses of Amarillo.  For the yeast I'm hoping that the lightly peach character of Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale will give a somewhat similar profile to what is often described for the Alchemist's Conan strain (which is also said to originally derive from a British ale strain).

When I first began brewing and writing this blog I didn't have much of a taste for hoppy beers with IPAs being more of a novelty that I could respect but not enjoy.  Overtime that has changed and I've become more interested in the world of hops and, with that, some of my best brews to date have been either straight to style American IPA's or interesting takes on the IPA style.

I have high hopes for this beer but it is my first time brewing an Imperial IPA (or Double IPA depending on your preference) and it is still not a style that I tend to gravitate towards, with most examples of the style having an overly bitter profile that voids any complexity from the hops and malt bill.  In the end, I'm hoping this one will be balanced enough and provide a nice alternative to on tap to the roasty Oatmeal Stout, the moderately bitter but otherwise clean (and halfway done lagering) Bohemian Pilsner, and (a just kegged) Cyser.

After rapid and forceful fermentation for the first 48 hours the airlock is now mostly still. Loosening the bucket revealed a a thick, gelatinous krausen that looks a bit like a thin dough. Pulled a small sample: cloudy, with thick haze, not sure if it is just active yeast or some proteins. Smell is extremely hoppy with taste being biting bitterness and alcohol. A little worried about this one in a few ways at this point but I am hoping another week and some dry hopping will calm it down.

Pulled a sample, flavor is much improved, piney, citrusy, and fairly bitter. Gravity all the way down to 1.012. Added dry hops (1 oz Cascade, 1 oz Chinook, 2 oz Amarillo, 2 oz Nugget). Planning to keg in the next 3-5 days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#44 - Pilsner Brew Day - My First Lager

With my keezer finally in place and currently only occupied by 1 5 gallon keg and an assortment of bottles now is the first time in my life that I have a great chance to ferment a lager.  I'm also heading to New Zealand at the end of the week, giving a perfect time period to crank the chest freezer temp up a little for lager fermentation temps.

Knowing that now was the time to brew a lager the only question was, what lager would I start with? While I've long wanted to brew a BMC-ish "plain" beer (complete with adjuncts and light hopping), my recent trip to Europe introduced me to so much lagered goodness.  While I originally thought about brewing my favorite newly discovered style from Europe, the Czech Černý (which seems to sit somewhere between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwartzbier), I thought better of it due to already having a dark, roasty beer on tap and wanting something more pale and balanced.  The German Oktoberfest style beers I drank in the Wiesn tents, and the Helles and Dunkels I drank in the bars and beer gardens, were well crafted and easy drinking, but I've already had more of them than I would want for a few years.  So then, what lager to brew? Why not the most influential lager that set the bar for countless styles and the vast majority of beer consumed: Bohemian Pilsner.

While in Prague I was fortunate enough to enjoy a number of Pilsners including the original, Pilsner Urquell, in both its usual filtered and special unfiltered version (the unfiltered version is rarely seen outside of the city of Plzen but I happened to be in Prague the same weekend as Pilsner Urquell's brewing anniversary of October 5th).  Both of these, and a number of the other Pilsners offered in the Czech Republic, were excellent and I wanted to go for as classic of a Pilsner Pivo (beer, in Czech) as possible.  In my eyes there are 5 traits that make a Bohemian Pilsner what it is:
  • Soft water
  • Pilsner Malt
  • Lager Fermentation
  • Saaz Hops
  • Decoction mash
While I had these characteristics in mind, in order to fully design my recipe I looked at the most recent issue of Brew Your Own magazine which focused on German and Czech Pils. I also reviewed the four Bohemian Pilsners to have won gold at the NHC. Some notes that I found interesting:

  •  In addition to Saaz, Sterling was a common hop choice
  • Nearly every recipe used a small percentage of slightly darker malts in addition to Pilsner (often Vienna and/or CaraPils)
  • Not all recipes required a decoction with some using a single infusion mash
  • Diacetyl rest was often (though not always) mentioned as necessary
  • Long, extremely cold (~32F) lagering periods and extremely soft water were musts
With all of this in mind I decided to stick with the traditional Saaz, use a little CaraPils and CaraMalt (would have been CaraHell but HBS didn't have it), but avoided doing my first decoction and instead used a slightly more complicated grain bill and a step infusion mash.

2 days before brew day. I built a 1 gallon starter at room temperature (~68) with 2 packs of Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager.  While 2 packs might not have been necessary, lagers typically require significantly more yeast than Ales and I wanted to make sure that mine took off without a hitch.

Brew day. I purchased 6 gallons of distilled water and added in 3.5 gallons of filtered Arlington, VA water, with no other water chemistry treatments.  Cooled wort to ~60 post fermentation before moving wort and starter to 42F chest freezer.  Will pitch yeast tomorrow once cooled and bring temps up a little.

Yeast was pitched yesterday morning and chest freezer temperature raised to 48F. Fermentation slowly showing signs of life.

Temperature increased to 60F for diacetyl rest.

Temperature decreased to 35F for lagering.

Gravity down to 1.013 (exactly what was predicted pre-brewing!).  Taste is moderately hoppy and grainy, maybe a slight off-flavor, not sure if it is due to using some older Saaz for bittering or an aspect of the Budvar yeast but it comes off a bit earthy.  Hopefully a month or so at lagering temps will bring this down but already tasting like an interesting and respectable pilsner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lambic #3

What can I say? I have a sour beer problem.  With my lambic #2 currently very funky but not sour at all I wanted to brew another beer with the yeast cake from my first few sours.  My Sour Mix #1 started with Wyeast's Roeselare blend and has since had dregs from Drie Fonteinen and Cantillon, BKYeast's C2 brett isolate, and American Ale yeast added.  Popping open the top of bottle storing the mix of yeast and bacteria gave such great aromas that I'm confident in the direction this one will head.

This beer is all about the yeast/bacteria so I kept it as simple as it comes for the recipe: 5 pounds dry malt extract, 2 ounces lambic blend hops (1.2% AA) for 60 minutes and my Sour Mix #1.

Brewed on stove top with 6.5 gallons of unfiltered Arlington water with K-Meta added.  1 tbsp phosphoric acid 10% and 1 tsp each of gypsum and calcium chloride added prior to boil.  Extract and hops added at full boil and boiled for 60 minutes prior to chilling. OG measured at 1.054.

With no signs of active fermentation taking off I added yeast from my Saison Blend #1 (Wyeast French and Belgian saison yeasts).  Some bubbles appearing in airlock after 12 hours.

Gravity down to 1.006.  A little fruity, slightly bretty, a touch bitter.

.5 ounces Pinot Blanc soaked medium-plus toast Hungarian oak cubes (and about 8 ounces of the pinot) added to primary.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#43 - Oatmeal Stout

After a long time off from brewing a dark, malt driven beer I found myself really craving a refreshing, chewy, hearty stout.  I also have been eating a lot of oatmeal recently and really wanted the creamy smoothness and slightly nutty flavor of oats to come through in the finished product.

I based this beer off of the two successful porter/stout beers I have made in the past with some influence from my English pale ale.  The beer is intended to take the middle road between sweet and bitter, but the malt character should definitely be the driving factor.  One other important aspect of this beer is the yeast, Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale. I have wanted to try the strain for a long time and see this beer as an opportune way to build up a culture of it that I can use in anything that could use a bright, peachy yeast presence, from balanced bitters to extremely hoppy double IPAs.

Tasting Notes:

A- Pours with a beautiful big cascading beige head.  Opaque, very dark brown body with some noticeable yeast and hop residue at the bottom.

S- The stonefruit notes of the yeast lead with pear and peach.  There are also some mild roast notes of toast, nuts, and just a touch of dark chocolate.  Pretty much exactly what I want a stout to smell like.

T- Starts with light sweetness, toast and nuttiness, followed by some dark chocolate roast and a moderately bitter finish.  The fruit of the nose is much more subdued, just barely coming through.

M- Slick and creamy, while a little low on the carbonation (the gas disconnect was not properly attached initially so this may have been slightly rushed).  I can still get behind a lightly carbonated stout.

O- Very happy with this one.  While I would have liked more coffee character it is still an oatmeal stout where the oatmeal and roast both come through without being overly strong to make this anything more than an easy, cold weather drinker.  I'm also very happy with the yeast character as it stands out, without dominating or calling too much attention to itself.

Brewed on stove top.  OG of 1.052, a little odd tasting at this point, though maybe I just don't remember what a stout wort should taste like.

Fermentation has slowed dramatically.  Gravity down to 1.022; hopefully it will keep dropping over the next few days.  Taste is good: a bit biscuity, grainy, and nutty with a definite oat slickness and a touch higher bitterness than expected.

Gravity still reading at 1.022.  8 ounces of maple syrup added, hopefully this will ferment and rouse the yeast.  The beer might not attenuate any further due to the high mash temp and large amount of oatmeal.

My inaugural kegging. Set force carbonation to 30 psi to quickly carb for dispensing in a couple days.

Poured a tiny sample, gas disconnect seems to have not been fully attached.  Will re-attach and begin force carbonation over.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Picnic Tap Keezer

Today I took one step forward in my quest for great beers when I finally decided to take the dive into kegging.  My new setup is very simple with just a 7.0 cu. ft. chest freezer from Home Depot with a Ranco temperature controller and a 5 gallon ball lock keg and 5 pound CO2 tank and regulator inside.

While I've been relatively happy with bottling for nearly 4 years now, there's a number of reasons that made me finally decide to purchase a chest freezer and kegs for a keezer build:

  1. Carbonation Consistency - I've often been disappointed by overcarbonated beers, with a few being very undercarbonated as well.  Overcarbonating a beer can detract from the flavor (carbonic acid gives a bite and heavy carbonation makes it harder to taste subtle flavors), from the body (beers feel more "seltzery" and less full bodied) and detract from the overall drinking experience (difficult to pour, have to wait for heads to fall, can cause dregs to mix in).  Undercarbonated beers are generally not as big of an issue but sometimes leave beers feeling flat and watery, not how beers should float around in the mouth.
  2. Bottle bombs - This is sort of a 1.a since this is just an extreme case of carbonation issues.  I've had a few batches of bottles that have been overcarbonated to the point of exploding over the years which have scared the crap out of me.  The issues with using too much priming sugar or having an infection cause increased carbonation isn't much of a concern due to kegs generally not being naturally carbonated, the cold crashing process reducing yeast and bacteria viability, and the significantly higher levels of pressure that kegs can handle compared to bottles.
  3. Oxidation - This is also a two part issue.  One issue is with general oxidation of beers, with several of my batches that were aged for a long time or moved to secondary experiencing oxidation effects that greatly detracted from their flavors.  The second issue is with hoppy beers, where flavors fade quickly and fade even quicker when naturally carbonated in bottles.  The move to kegging (at least the having access to carbon dioxide part of it) allows me to purge secondaries and kegs with CO2 and package hoppy beers (in keg or potentially bottling from keg) with less oxidation.  A few of these topics were discussed in Mike Tonsmeire's recent post about IPA tips.
  4. Cold Storage - the purchase of a chest freezer for kegging provides a large space for kegs (and potentially bottles) to be stored cold. Previously I had to find space in my fridge, not always an easy task, and there was certainly never room for the 20+ gallons of beer that I have now. In the past my beers were often stored at room temperature which helps to deteriorate their quality.
  5. Secondary Fermentation Temperature Control - While I plan on using the chest freezer for kegs (~40°F) and not as a primary fermentation fridge (55-65°F) this very cold temperature could still occasionally be used for extended secondaries or lagering, a capacity I didn't previously have.
  6. Light - The 3 factors which degrade beer: oxygen, heat, and light.  While brown bottles do a decent job keeping out light and I haven't noticed any light-struck skunkiness in my beers, kegs are even better, making sure that even pale, light beers (where these skunked qualities often show up) would be protected.
  7. Versatility - As mentioned earlier, I can still bottle beers, now I just have the option not to, and that's a beautiful thing.

It's interesting to note that ease of use or time saved aren't being mentioned here.  While hopefully these are positive aspects there is a bit of a learning curve with kegging and, even though I've spent a long time researching how it is done and how I'd like to build my setup, there are still going to be mistakes and issues.  Additionally, while I hope the cleaning and sanitizing process isn't quite as tedious as it is for bottling, there are still multiple parts to clean and sanitize on a regular basis from the keg and its parts, to the tap lines, to the keezer itself.

It is worth mentioning that the biggest downside to kegging seems to be the sheer amount of equipment required, which both costs money and takes up space.  I currently have just one keg and the cost of my system has already ran over $600 (although I was able to buy the $200 chest freezer  with gift cards so it didn't feel like as big of a hit).  Part of the reason for the cost being so high is that I went with all new equipment, rather than used versions which are usually about half as expensive.  Moving forwards I could easily see spending another $500 to get all of the bells and whistles I'm currently looking at (and that's still with picnic taps).

I put my oatmeal stout on tap today and am trying to quickly pressurize it to have it ready within a few days.  I'm very excited but also a little anxious; I'd hate to only have one beer on tap and it not be very good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#42 - StarTropics - Hoppy Brett Saison

With the end of summer quickly approaching here in DC (and me preparing for my trip to Munich for Oktoberfest!) I found myself with a free weekend, a few empty carboys, and a desire to make one last saison during the hot season.

For this beer I wanted heavy hop flavors and lots of bitterness, backed up with enough malt to keep things balanced, interesting, and ready for Autumn.  I also wanted to further explore the combination of Nelson Sauvin and Brettanomyces that I tried a few beers back so for the yeast I used the slurry from the Brett Saison as the primary (rather than in the secondary) and added Crooked Stave dregs to add even more varieties of fruity and funky Brettanomyces.  I also kept Nelson Sauvin as a major component of the hop profile but added my two favorite citrusy American hops: Cascade and Amarillo.

As I've done with many beers, and particularly often recently, I plan to experiment with this beer after the primary ferment, though this time I don't have preset plans.

1.061 OG
1.008 FG
62      IBU
7.0% ABV
10     SRM


Maris Otter Pale (UK)
8.5 lb
61 %
3 °L
Vienna (US)
4.5 lb
32 %
4 °L
Caramel/Crystal 60L (US)
0.5 lb
3 %
60 °L
Victory (US)
0.25 lb
1 %
28 °L

Nugget (US)
0.5 oz
60 min
Cascade (US)
2.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Amarillo (US)
3.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Nelson Sauvin (NZ)
1.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Cascade (US)
2.0 oz
5 min
Amarillo (US)
1.0 oz
5 min
Nelson Sauvin (NZ)
3.0 oz
5 min

Name                                         Average Attenuation
Brett Saison Blend                         87.50%

Brewed on stove top with no issues.  Whirlpool hops actually done as 20 minute hop steep.  OG measured at 1.058 (with a slightly low reading hydrometer).  Fermentation took off within 8 hours.

Fermentation still fairly active, gravity only down to 1.022 so this one should have a ways to go. Flavor is a melange of peach and white wine with just a touch of the bitterness showing through under the still high sweetness.

Gravity down to 1.007 with fermentation at a near standstill but the Brett will probably continue working away for a little while.

Running way behind on this one due to getting delayed on my return from Europe but finally added the first wave of dry hops (1.5 oz Amarillo, 1 oz Cascade and .5 oz Nelson Sauvin) to the primary.  Gravity down to 1.006 and tasting super funky without much hop presence prior to the dry hop additions.  Had been hoping to keg this, but getting the kegerator in place has also fallen behind schedule so I will probably just bottle in 8-10 days after another round of dry-hopping.

Racked 3 gallons onto the second wave of dry hops.  The remainder (about 1.5 gallons) was split between two 1 gallon jugs, one with 4 oz. demerara sugar and paradise seeds and the other with lime juice and a tangelo tincture I have been holding onto for a while.  My entire apartment is currently engulfed with amazingly fruity and citrusy hop aromas.

Bottled 3 straight gallons as #42, Demerara version as #42B, and Lime/Tangelo version as #42C.

Approaching two years in the bottle and this one is tasting pretty good. Hop character has certainly faded but the Brett character still gives a lime and pepper impression.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nelson Brett Saison Tasting

I really enjoyed the fresh, kiwi/white wine/melon character of the straight version of my Prairie Artisan Ales' 'Merica inspired beer.  The Brett version took a little more time to grow on me however, which is why I am only now getting around to a formal sit down and review.

A-Burnished gold with some definite haze to the point of being fairly opaque.  Some of the clarity is likely due to the dry hopping, while some also seems to be condensation on the glass.  The small white ring of a head lasts for a long time around the edges of the glass.

S- Immediately upon popping the top there is a huge pineapple character that comes out.  In the glass the scent continues to be heavy on the Brettanomyces derived fruit and funk, with the hops playing a strong supporting role.  There is strong pineapple, barnyard, mango, decaying grass, and subtle orange rind in the beautiful bouquet.

T- This one is certainly dank, earthy, and citrusy.  The kiwi/melon I found to be more dominant in the straight version are subverted by the funky Brett here.  Bitterness is moderate, just enough to part the slight grainy sweetness in the middle and help transition to a long funky finish.

M- Dry with moderately low carbonation.  I had purposely primed without much sugar in case the Brett had continued doing its work but this definitely could have used more bubbles.

O- A solid beer.  The hop character is much lower than the straight version (likely due to the 2 weeks in secondary after dry hopping).  This seems like a decent introductory Brett beer with the funk being noticeable but not overwhelming and the hops giving off a nice tropical fruit character without being overly bitter.  A good beer that I would like to build off of in the future.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

#39- Spiced Dubbel Tasting

A- fairly cloudy, medium dark brown, small tan head that lasts. Cloudier and darker than desired, but some of this might come from the spices.

S- sweet belgian esters of bubblegum and banana give way to heavy phenols with cinnamon, clove, black pepper and light herbal notes.

T- much like the nose the fruit an sweetness lead with moderate spice following. The spice seems more subdued than the aroma would suggest. The beer finishes with a confusing blend of earth, clove and a touch of alcohol heat.

M- fairly dry with moderate carbonation.

O- not a very good beer. Not too surprising considering it is a blend of a Dubbel that suffers from oxidation and a quad that ended up causing bottle bombs.  These darker Belgians are some of my favorite commercial styles and yet I seem to struggle more to brew them than any other style... Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Side by Side Black Saison Tasting - #41 and #41B

Finally getting around to tasting my second iteration of black Saisons. A few weeks in the bottle seem to have settled these down to the point where much of the flavors I noticed at bottling- earthy funk, orange, grassy hops - have become much more subdued. The white pepper however is still bracingly strong and I would cut the amount used by half were I to do this again.

Appearance(both)- The white pepper version appeared to have a little more dregs in the bottom but both beers appear identical in the glass, with a very dark mahogany color with garnet highlights and an off white one finger head that fades slowly leaving patchy lacing. So far so good.

Smell- orange, cocoa, apple, light nuttiness, black pepper, grass/hay earthiness

Taste- surprisingly light in flavor, lightly fruity (raspberry), some earthiness, a very small appearance from the dark malts with touch of coffee when I search for it. Finishes with a bit of piney bitterness that just beats out some slight caramel/sugar sweetness and flavors on the end.

Mouthfeel- feels higher in body than would be expected for the low FG and yeast strain. Carbonation is moderate. Pretty good mouthfeel all around.

Overall- a bit lacking. The orange character seems subdued and calling this "hoppy" is a misnomer...the hops really have to be searched for. Maybe the most surprising element of the beer is the subtlety of the roasted malts, with only the occasional glimpse of ash, cocoa, coffee, etc. I had feared this beer might be dominated by these characteristics but the even moderate amounts seem underwhelming. All of that said, the beer goes down smooth with nothing too off putting, I could see those who dislike "dark beers", "hoppy beers", "Belgian beers" or "craft beers in general" finding this one fairly drinkable.

#41B White Pepper Version (with a touch of clove and ginger)

Smell- huge white pepper (somewhat herbal and very peppery) with only a touch of clove able to compete at all. As it warms some of the fruity berry character makes its way into the mix.

Taste- like the nose the pepper dominates. While only lightly spicy on the palate the flavor dominates most of the subtle characters present in the base beer with only the burnt sugar presence in the finish seeming to off a complementary element.

Mouthfeel- again, surprisingly moderate in body and carbonation. Doesn't overemphasize the pepper, in a beer where pepper is already overdone.

Overall- with the base beer coming out a little underwhelming in the flavor profile this beer is easily dominated by the high level of pepper. While white pepper may not have been a bad addition to the overall character, it should have been much more restrained to keep this from being a purely pepper flavored beer. The ginger and clove also seem lost in the mix, though they were never intended to be major components. Fans of white pepper like myself can find some enjoyment and novelty in this, and it certainly isn't undrinkable, but it really does miss the mark.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

#40 - Nelson Saison Tasting

While the Brett version of this beer is still in secondary and nearing its bottling date, the straight version of this beer is running down to its last few bottles just about a month after bottling and less than two months since the brew day.  I'm hoping there will be some of this version left once the Brett version is ready, so that I can compare the two side by side, but it's hard to guarantee that with a beer that goes down this well in the summer.

A- Hazy light gold with a very small but very stable half finger head that leaves a little lace.  I likely poured a bit too much of this one out of the bottle as others I've had have had quite a bit less haze and sediment.

S- Up front is definite melon, pine, white wine, French Saison yeast funk, and just a touch of onion.  The hops are definitely the centerpiece, though the yeast seems to add to the overall spiciness and funkiness.

T- The taste is much more subdued than the nose, while still being very flavorful. Smooth kiwi/Sauvignon Blanc and moderate pine lead the way with a touch of melon, some earthiness, and light fruitiness mixing in. The onion and melon from the nose don't seem to have as much presence in the taste, making the flavor much less "dank" than the aroma.  The finish is very dry and leaves a piney bitterness that seems to hang around on the back of the throat and build in presence moments after the finish.
M- The carbonation is fairly low, but, surprisingly, this doesn't hurt the beer at all in my opinion with the flavors still fully shining through and hitting all parts of the mouth and nothing about the beer coming off as watery or weak (though it doesn't seem as strong as it's 7+% abv).  The body is nicely dry and smooth, exactly what I would expect from this yeast strain.  It's hard to tell how much the water chemistry (moderate additions of gypsum and phosphoric acid in the mash) plays in but it seems to have helped accentuate the moderate bitterness and hop character. 

O- For a recipe so simple, this beer has a ton of complexity and character.  The combination of the hops and yeast, with the malt tame enough to completely stand out of the way, this beer is a really easy drinker that has me trying to figure out what the flavors are and where they come from.  The bitterness in the finish draws me back for refreshing sip after refreshing sip.  Definitely a good beer that I could see myself brewing again or using as a basis for other beers in the future with additional hops/spices/fermentables in the mix.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#41 - Hoppy Black Saison v2.0

With how successful my first black saison came out, its amazing that it took me this long to brew another.  This recipe takes most of what I liked about the first recipe with a focus on moderation and complexity. The recipe this time, just as the first, calls for moderate amounts of a complex mix of dark roasted grains, moderate crystal malt use, moderate bitterness, moderate late and dry hops, and moderate spicing (orange peel).  The recipe also calls for French Saison and Candi Syrup as it did the first time, which should again give wonderful, complex elements that can't be found in the hops and malt alone.  This is a recipe that worked out surprisingly well the last time and it seemed as though doing lots of things, but doing so in moderation, allowed each component to come through without any dominating.

The major changes between this recipe and the original version are the change from extract to all-grain, using commercial candi syrup instead of homemade, and significant changes to the hop schedule.  The hop schedule was designed to still emphasize both citrusy American hops and spicy European hops while using what I have on hand, and the change to candi syrup is mainly for convenience but also due to how happy I was with the flavors it developed in my dubbel and quad (despite the other issues those beers experienced).

In order to minimize the harshness of the roasted grains the chocolate malt, black patent and roast barley were all added right before mash out.  Because the dark malts were added so late I used a similar water chemistry profile to my last brew (a much paler saison) with 5 grams of gypsum, 1 gram CaCl, and 8 tsp 10% phosphoric acid.

Brew day hit a few snags as the initial mash in only brought the mash to 145F instead of the intended 150F. I decided to turn this into an opportunity for a step infusion mash and after 20 minutes at 145 the temperature was adjusted with boiling water to 152F for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes at 160F and a final 10 minute mashout at 170F.

I also forgot to add the Candi Syrup late in the boil and will now wait to add in the next few weeks. The measured OG came in at 1.042, but I realized my hydrometer was off, reading water at only .995 (and was reading my Brett'd Saison at sub 1.000).  Assuming this .005 difference is consistent, that puts my OG closer to 1.047, which is only slightly less than I would expect given the lack of Candi Syrup at this point.

Wort tasted very sweet without much other flavors from the malts, orange peel, or hops showing through at this point.  The plan is to let this ferment to completion (likely around 2 weeks) before 2 short dry hop sessions.  Half the batch may end up receiving brettanomyces or a different twist depending on where the flavors stand, while at least half will likely be bottled as is.

Efficiency: 67.0% Batch size: 5.0 gal
Fermentable Amount Use PPG Color
 2-Row (US) 9.0 lb 80% Mash 37 1  °L
 Candi Syrup D-90 1.0 lb 8% Late Boil 32 90  °L
 Caramel/Crystal 60(US) 0.5 lb 4% Mash 34 60 °L
 Chocolate (US) 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 34 412  °L
 Roasted Barley (US) 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 33 300  °L
 Black Malt 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 32 500  °L

Hop Amount Time Use Form AA
Palisades (US) 0.5   oz 60  min Boil Pellet 13.0%
Cascade (US) 0.5   oz 15  min Boil Pellet 7.0%
Opal (DE) 1.0   oz 5  min Boil Pellet 6.5%
Strisselspalt (FR) 1.0   oz 4  days Dry Hop Pellet 3.4%
Cascade (US) 0.5   oz 4  days Dry Hop Pellet 7.0%
Palisades (US) 0.5   oz 1  min Whirlpool Pellet 13.0%

Name Lab/Product Average Attenuation
French Saison Wyeast 3711 82.5%

Name Amount Time Use
Phosphoric Acid 8.0 tsp 60.0 min Mash
Calcium Chloride 1.0 g 60.0 min Mash
Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) 5.0 g 60.0 min Mash
Bitter Orange Peel 0.25 oz 5.0 min Boil
Sweet Orange Peel 0.5 oz 5.0 min Boil

Mixed the 1 lb. of D-90 Candi Syrup with about a quart of water, boiled, cooled and added to the fermentor.  Activity (which had completely died down) picked up again within an hour.

Bottled with 2.95 oz of sugar. 25 of the 12 oz. bottles were bottled straight, while another 24 were bottled after adding the white pepper and a little bit of the ginger and clove tinctures.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#37 - Alsatian Identity Tasting

While this beer has been ready since the early spring I've been waiting to give it a full review until it was given more time to calm down.

A- slightly hazy light gold color with a huge, fluffy, white head that seemingly lasts forever.

S- grain, hay, banana, pepper, sweet bready malt, light farmhouse "funk"

T- sweeter, fruitier and more intense than the nose implies. Some alcohol and juicy fruit esters. A light spicy/herbal character comes through in the middle which lends a strangely rustic feel and has me sipping more to search for it, not sure what it is out of yeast derivatives, malt (rye maybe?), the European hops or some combination of the above. As it warms the alcohol presence is surprisingly apparent, though not necessarily hot. Bitterness in finish is moderate to light with a dry, fruity, slightly spicy finish.

M- thin but not watery with high but not unbearable or gushing carbonation.

O- this beer is hard to pin down. The fruitiness and slight heat are detracting and it seems the yeast was definitely strained, yet other parts of this beer seem almost magical and draw me back for another sip, if only that character dominated instead of the esters I would be extremely happy.

Monday, July 7, 2014

C2 - Cranberry Cider #2 (Recipe and Tasting)

In early January of this year I found myself in possession of a 2 quart container of Trader Joe's Spice Apple Cider and a pot full of homemade cranberry sauce leftover from the holidays...what's a guy to do but ferment the two out in a free 1 gallon container?

To begin, I boiled the cranberry sauce (with a little bit of blueberry pie filling, since that was on hand as well) with 3 quarts of water and added to the fermenter with pectic enzyme.  After a week I poured off the rose colored liquid, ditching the thick sludge, and added back to the fermenter with just less than both quarts of cider.  The cranberry sauce was made with orange, ginger and cinnamon - all ingredients also found in the spiced cider, so it seemed like a nice match all around.  After a very vigorous fermentation that shot yeast up and out of the 1 gallon jug, the mix slowed down and seemed dormant after 3 weeks.  At 6 weeks I bottled with 3 beer carbonation tablets added to each.  At bottling the warm, uncarbonated cider, was very, very good resembling a phenolic grape based rosé with just light hints of the cranberry and apple acids and esters.

Tasted the cider today. Quick notes below.

A- pink tinged, peachy. Clear unless fully poured, at which point cranberries, yeast, and other sediment begin to show.

S- tart, berry, holiday spices, only vaguely apple-y.

T- off dry, tart, lightly spicy (cinnamon),
light cranberry, some orange peel.

M- very thin, extremely light carbonation just above still.

O- as with my other cider this is something that I find interesting but unremarkable and that others don't seem to care for, as they expect much more sweetness and apple juice flavor.  I find that it has a real multi-seasonal aspect where it could be consumed as enjoyably on a blistering summer day or a festive winter holiday and really anywhere between.  Not one I'll brew again but a worthwhile use of the random odds and ends I had on hand.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

#40 - Nelson Brett Saison ('Merica-ish)

Two things I've planned to brew many times but have not followed through on are a super hoppy Nelson Sauvin beer and a Brettanomyces spiked Saison.  Prairie Artisan Ales' 'Merica has been getting a lot of hype recently, and generating plenty of imitations and inspirations from homebrewers, with a recipe that combines Brett and Nelson.  While I haven't actually had the beer, it seems hard to go wrong with a SMaSH Saison using delicious hops and Brettanomyces.

One spin I decided to take on the beer is to use Fawcett Pearl malt for the grist in order to emulate another popular beer I haven't had a chance to try: Heady Topper.  With such a simple malt and hop bill one of my focuses for this batch will be the water chemistry with additions of 6g Gypsum (about the same amount per gallon as Ed Coffey's (Ales of the Riverwards) clone, 1g CaCl and 8 tsp of 10% phosphoric acid.  All of the additions were intended to both bring down the mash pH and emphasize the hoppiness.

Recipe Type: All Grain
Yeast: Wyeast 3711
Yeast Starter: 2L
Batch Size (Gallons): 5
Original Gravity: 1.048
Final Gravity: 1.006
IBU: 30
Boiling Time (Minutes): 60
Color: 4 SRM
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 14 @ 73
Secondary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 21 @ 75
Tasting Notes:

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5 gal
Boil Size: 6.5 gal
Estimated OG: 1.053 SG
Estimated Color: 4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU

11 lb Pearl Malt (2.0 SRM) Malt 100 %
8 tsp 10% Phosphoric Acid
6 g Gypsum
1 g Calcium Chloride
0.25 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (60 min) Hops 11 IBU
0.50 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (15 min)Hops 11 IBU
0.25 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (5 min) Hops 2 IBU
1.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (1 min) Hops 2 IBU
1.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (Hop Stand) Hops 2 IBU
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (4 days) Hops 0 IBU
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (4 days) Hops 0 IBU

1 Pkgs French Saison (Wyeast #3711) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion
Total Grain Weight: 11 lbs
Single Infusion
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 16.00 qt of water at 161 F 150.0 F
15 min Mash Out Add 8.00 qt of water at 212 F 168.0 F

Brewed this today and had a pretty good time of it.  Hops smelled surprisingly piney, less fruity than I would have expected on opening, but when moving the wort to the carboy I was blown away by the luscious, complex, gooseberry like aroma.  I split the "whirlpool" hops (actually more of "hop stands" thrown directly into the wort) into 3 groups to try and add to the complexity of bitterness/oils/other components extracted. I have high expectations for this more complex hop addition which is based on the lessons I learned from my last beer which only used flameout hops.  I also remembered to add Irish Moss, which I forgot in my last batch.

The negatives: I once again got a very low efficiency from the Morebeer milled malt hitting just 59% efficiency and 1.048 SG when originally planning for 65% and 1.053.  This likely throws the beer further into the bitter range than I would have liked but at 5.5+ abv and only ~30 ibu's it shouldn't be too far out of style. For future reference I'll need to either get my own mill or just anticipate this type of efficiency and plan recipes accordingly. I also spilled about half an ounce of Nelson Sauvin pellets on the floor trying to vacuum seal them...I'll still have ~7.5 oz. to use after this batch though so hopefully they taste as good in this batch as I expect and I have the desire to use that much again.

Added 1.5 oz. of Nelson Sauvin dry hops directly to the fermenter.

Racked 3 gallons to secondary with BKYeast C2 and Orval dregs. The remaining amount was bottled plain. I ended up with closer to a gallon than the 2 gallons I had expected due to a huge amount of dry hop sludge preventing further bottling. Taste was almost all hop derived with citrusy and tropical flavors, a surprisingly lack of spice from the saison yeast, though it may show more as the hop character fades in the next few weeks. The Brettanomyces spikes version will likely be bottled in 3-4 weeks.

Popped a bottle of the "clean" version open for an initial tasting.  Very hop forward with white wine, pine, lime, and tropical fruit flavors.  Very dry but not a lot of yeast character showing through.  Will do a more thorough tasting in a few weeks.
Brett version is showing tiny signs of secondary fermentation with a ring of krausen/pellicle around the top.

Added dregs from a Prairie Ale. It wasn't my favorite beer (nor was the Orval) but should put this one close to the real thing in terms of Brett and wine yeast added.

Tasting of the straight version.  Great flavor with tons of the Nelson Sauvin character.
Plan to bottle the Brett version sometime this weekend.