Thursday, December 7, 2017

San Francisco Brew Setup and Brew Day (Maisonette 9.1)

A little backstory on this brewday: In late November I moved from the D.C. area to San Francisco. A few months prior to my move my wife Alyssa headed out to the west coast without me. Her company paid for a moving truck to take everything from her apartment in Charlottesville. To take advantage of this I moved all of my kegging equipment (and most of my other possessions) and had them shipped to sunny California. 

I kept my brewing equipment in the D.C. area (3+ months without brewing seemed unbearable) and rediscovered my dislike for bottling. Moving to San Francisco presented me with a chance to either ship my brewing system or start anew. After assessing the shipping costs I decided to gave away my fermenters, kettles, grain, and just about everything else that didn't easily fit in my checked bag which was already carrying the rest of my life. In the end I brought my yeast bank, hops stash, grain mill + drill, thermometer, refractometer, and campden tabs (to treat chlorinated water). Unfortunately my kegging setup got fairly ruined from being in the chest freezer and ended up with everything covered in rust and mold. A few PBW soaks and lots of elbow grease later I was able to save the chest freezer and temperature controller but had to replace the disconnects, tubing, regulator, manifold. Note to self: don't do that again!
Starting anew with your brewing setup has its downsides (like spending ~$1000 to replace everything) but also plenty of positives:
  1. A chance to review your setup and determine what you like and what you don't: pretty happy overall with my system but it had lots of lifting, would like to minimize that
  2. A chance to buy shiny new toys that you've always wanted: I bought a nice small weight scale and got a mash tun with a thermometer
  3. A chance to get past those little breaks, defects, and missing components that you've just been working around: my old false bottom was loose and missing a nut, some of my old bucket fermenters were infecting everything that touched them

In many ways starting anew made me realize how happy I was with my setup: 1 boil kettle with thermometer + a 5 gallon stock pot, plastic cooler with false bottom mash tun, and plastic carboys. Pretty basic but simple to operate and capable of doing anything I've ever needed.

Some changes to my setup:
  1. Switch from the propane burner I've enjoyed to an electric stovetop, fortunately I'm able to get 5 gallons of mash water to 160 in under 25 minutes and 7 gallons at 160 to boiling in under 35. This adds a little more time on brew day but not too much and can't really be avoided in an apartment.
  2. My new mash tun has a thermometer. I went back and forth on adding this and ultimately feel like it was unnecessary but for only $10 more (it was on sale) than one without one its no big loss. While measuring mash temperature is hugely important and this should be convenient, it is inserted so high in the tun that I have to do a very thin mash (or a very large grain bill) to get it fully submerged.
  3. Fermenting in kegs. This isn't something I plan to permanently/regularly do but the plastic carboys I ordered are arriving later than most of my other supplies so rather than delay brewing I thoroughly cleaned and sanitized the kegs. Rather than use a blow-off tube or drill into a keg lid to fit an airlock I wedged a wine cork into the ring for the pressure relief valve to keep it open during primary fermentation.
  4. Immersion chiller: Without a garden hose I wasn't sure how I would be able to hook one up but have been looking at some kitchen converters because not having one is a pain.
  5. No grains in bulk: While I plan to buy some bulk bags of grain they aren't cheap to ship. I also had accumulated a lot of various crystal malts and roasted malts that I could grab in a pinch. Now I have to know what's on hand.
  6. Lots of small items: There are a lot of things I accumulated over years of brewing that I didn't think about when re-ordering but now regret not having. Some examples include water treatment salts, flasks, DME, mason jars, growlers, small fermenters (e.g. 1 gallon jugs).
  7. Not being able to compost: Throwing spent grains and hops/trub in a compost pile and rinsing out with a garden hose has been such a convenient way to dispose of brew day waste. Now I have to move all waste into a bag and throw in the trash. I also don't have a garbage disposal so I have to be very careful about what goes down the drain.


Beer and brew day: In order to break in the new system and keep things somewhat simple I went with another iteration of my tried and true Maisonette. This should also ensure that I have a delicious beer on tap in no time. The brew day went pretty well with no real difficulties although I omitted the usual turbinado sugar since I didn't have any on hand, leading to a slightly lower gravity than usual. I split the wort between 2 kegs (3 gallons in each 5 gallon keg) and pitched my Maisonette blend from the last batch in one and a fresh pitch of Wyeast Belgian Saison in the other. I also collected about 1.5 gallons of second runnings which was pitched with dregs from the DCHB Blend #5 in order to build up the culture.
4 ounces of hops in six gallons of a 1.035 beer
Updates:
Belgian Saison:
After 12 hours: light bubbles, but no real krausen
After 24 hours: Large krausen
After 96 hours: Fermentation still noticeably active. Gravity down to ~1.018 based on refractometer reading of 1.025. Tasting good but a little too sweet and worty at this early stage.
After 120 hours: Pressure relief valve closed to minimize oxygen.


Maisonette Blend:
After 12 hours: No real activity
After 24 hours: Still no real activity, Wallonian Farmhouse II from TYB added in case other yeast was completely dead.
After 36 hours: Still no real activity
After 48 hours: Finally bubbling away with a small krausen
After 72 hours: Still active bubbling in krausen
After 96 hours: Fermentation seriously slowed. Gravity down to ~1.003 based on refractometer reading of 1.015. Tasting okay but there's a little of the bubblegum from the Wallonian II that I don't love. Pressure relief valve closed to minimize oxygen.

Second Runnings Beer (1.015 OG):
After 12 hours: No real activity
After 24 hours: Still no real activity, my Sour Blend #1 (Roeselare+dregs) added
After 36 hours: Small krausen
After 72 hours: Krausen activity very slow, pressure relief valve closed to minimize oxygen.
After 96 hours: Gravity down to 1.003 based on refractometer reading of 1.015. Taste is fine, fairly clean and bland at this point. Reminds me of an under-soured Berliner.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Citrusy Farmhouse

When someone asks me what my favorite beer is I often have a tough time answering. My mind goes back to the great beers I've enjoyed and the fun experiences I have had around them: the time I had St. Bernardus 12 with friends shortly after turning 21, and the Westvleteren 12 I brought back from Belgium a few years later; the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell I was lucky enough to enjoy in Prague and the truly terrific bock I stumbled upon at Devil's Backbone; the first Russian River Sanctification I had when my brother introduced me to sour beers and the Cantillon gueuze I consumed after touring their spiderweb filled brewery.  Along with these commercial favorites there are homebrewed beers that come to mind: Scott's NEIPA, Sean's Rye IPA, and Mike's Anna dreg Saison. While all of these beers have been revolutionary, eye-opening experiences for me, Mike's beer was the first one to make me angry: angry that someone had already brewed the perfect mixed fermentation saison.

Knowing very little about the beer, Mike's blog post was not up yet at the time I brewed this beer and his responses my question on ingredients was: "some pale malts, some low alpha hops, some dregs from Hill Farmstead Anna" which wasn't enough to design a clone, especially when I didn't have access to Anna bottles. Still, I set out to brew something similar: a citrusy mixed fermentation farmhouse ale with mild-to-moderate tartness and mild-to-moderate funk.

While my End of a Spark citrusy farmhouse ale didn't give the exact flavors of Mike's it nailed the high citrus, moderate funk, and moderate tartness qualities I was chasing, while also using entirely different ingredients than his.

I took about a case of bottles of this beer to DC Homebrewers annual BBQ and competition hosted at 3 Stars Brewing. The beer was generally well received and even got an honorable mention from the judges!

Note: I had planned to take some pictures of this beer and do a full write up but accidentally took the last few to a blending session (post on that possibly to come). In all, this was an enjoyable beer that I would happily make again.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Pari-Gyle Oatmeal Stouts

Oatmeal stout has been a style I have made a yearly tradition with variations in 2014 (plain), 2015 (coffee), and 2016 (coffee and coconut). Something about a full bodied dark beer really hits the spot in the late fall early winter. This year I decided to return a bit to my original recipe with a tad more crystal 80 malt and a tad less roasted barley than the past couple batches. I did however keep the trend of splitting the batch, this year by doing a parti-gyle with an Imperial(ish) half and a Smoked Session version.


 A little about the thought process and ingredient selection: I had been considering brewing an imperial stout for a while but with just a few months left living on the East Coast I felt that a full batch of high gravity beer would be difficult to consume. On the other hand, while I really enjoy my Oatmeal Stouts I always like experimenting and didn't want a full batch of it. As I've done in the past I determined my target gravity/ABV of each half of the batch, used this simple Parti-Gyle calculator in order to determine the target gravity of the "total batch", then worked backwards to write the "total batch" recipe and estimate percentages for each half, before lastly making adjustments to the smaller half as needed.

The smoked malt was chosen based both off of my last smoked beer and what I had on hand (Applewood smoked malt that I'd received way back at the Baltimore NHC). I also used 3 types of oats (flaked, golden naked, and malt) because I had all of them on hand. The choice to use pilsner malt was also due to having a sack of it, I would probably opt for Maris Otter or a different characterful pale malt were I to do it over.

As I did with my Of Greater Things smoked helles I was able to add the smoked malt to the second "mash" of the Parti-Gyle.

The decision to use Imperial Organic Yeast's A04 Darkness and White Labs 095 Burlington Ale were last minute decisions when at the LHBS due to lack of Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale yeast and their descriptions seeming close to what I was looking for in each.

Both batches took off extremely fast and had blown out their airlocks and were overflowing carboys with krausen within 12 hours. I switched to blowoff tubes and let them keep going for two weeks, at which point each one was exactly at their estimated FG. Primed to have 2.0 volumes carbonation the beers seemed pleasant and promising at bottling.


Imperial Oatmeal Stout:
Appearance - Pours jet black and seemingly opaque with a half finger tan head that quickly fades to a ring. The head retention might be negatively impacted by proteins and oils in the oats and the high alcohol, along with the low carbonation level.

Smell - Dark fruits (cherry, dried cranberry, cabernet sauvinon) and toffee swell as soon as the bottle is opened with notes of toffee, toast, and dark chocolate in the mix and becoming more present as it warms. No distinct hop aromas, but there is a light touch of woodiness and a hint of ethanol booziness.

Taste - Less complex than the aroma with the roast malt dark chocolate character leading with some nice toast and biscuit malt character filling out the rest. Light toffee and fruit characters blend with moderate biterness (seemingly from both malt and hops) and a warming booziness that leaves a lingering dark chocolate covered raisin meets rum finish.

Mouthfeel - Low carbonation, not bad for style but maybe a touch lower than expected/intended. The mouthfeel is somewhat lighter than the 1.022 finishing gravity would imply with the lingering heat and dryness keeping it from feeling as full bodied as it may otherwise feel.

Overall - This beer got positive reviews at a recent DC Homebrewers meeting with one member asking for the recipe and others praising the balance and complexity, especially as it warmed. While the booziness is a touch higher than I'd like and the carbonation a touch lower I think the beer is a solid offering.


Session Smoked Oatmeal Stout:
Appearance - Almost identical to the Imperial half except for a touch lighter head color.

Smell - Again fruits are big but this time they lean more orachard (apricot/peach and a touch of orange). The smoke melds in as a prominent but not overwhelming (to my senses) component. Baked muffins and a touch of yeasty/fresh dough character also show through. The roast malt seems to be lost. No hop character. No booze apparent.

Taste - Mild smoke blends with light orchard fruit and a finish of semisweet chocolate. There is flavor to the beer but nothing very strong, mild toast, mild currant, mild apricot, mild chimney fire. Finish is equally balanced between low sweetness and a touch of bitterness. Chocolate and toffee come through more as it warms and the beer seems best at fairly warm temps.

Mouthfeel - This beer is more in need of higher carbonation than the imperial version due to the lower body and lack of power in the flavors. The beer comes off as fairly watery and lacking, with just a touch of the creaminess expected from an oatmeal stout. The very long mash and low for the style 1.011 finishing gravity keep it from really feeling like an oatmeal stout, or a stout at all. 

Overall - Perhaps session smoked porter would be more accurate due to the lack of body, but even then this beer would be lacking. There's nothing too offensive about this beer, but there just isn't much of anything to this beer. It's fairly easy to drink, and the smoke is nicely integrated, but this beer would need more oats and more roast to be entertaining at this strength.

General Impressions:
While I'm not in love with either of these beers I'm not unhappy with either as they are both free of off flavors, are balanced and drinkable, and have enough difference to make the split batch worthwhile. I probably would not do this again with these styles but could see doing something similar with either an increased malt addition for the second beer or taking the smaller beer in a completely different direction (Schwarzbier, Black IPA, or Black Saison?). For my next oatmeal stout I intend to use a more characterful base malt, a slight increase in roasted malts, and maybe even a little more caramel or toasted malts.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wedding Beers

I've brewed quite a bit in the last few months (I did 6 batches between late March and early June). The main reason for this is a single cause: beer for my wedding. I'm getting married in North Carolina in early July and wanted to provide a large supplement of homebrew to add to other beverages to be enjoyed. In planning for the big day I took a look at this useful blog post to get some ideas on how to go about brewing, transporting, setting up, and serving the beers at the wedding. While I did not brew nearly as much beer as some of the people I read about during my research, I was able to put together 4 batches with each one netting about a full 5 gallon corny keg. These beers were all brewed between April and June with details below. I was also able to convince one of my homebrew buddies to kick in a 5 gallon keg of his own NEIPA.

My car loaded with 4 kegs and supplies to serve them
While brewing four ~5 gallon batches wasn't much of a difficult task given the timeline, having the beers be at their peak and having (almost) nothing else on tap for a few months made the project tough. The fact that the wedding was outdoors, near the beach, in North Carolina, and in July also posed numerous challenges with getting, and keeping, the beer cold and making sure the bartenders would be able to pour it.
Last minute prep/icing down for the 5th time

Beach Formal Belgian Tripel - Brewed in April in order to have some time to age, higher than expected extraction rate led to this beer being stronger than planned (despite reducing the amount of sugar added). The beer started as 2 separate 3 gallon batches, one brewed with BE-256 and the other with S-33, before being combined to one fermentor after several weeks. While it came off fairly boozy at first, a few months has brought it together to a nice example of the style.

Shoreline Summer Ale - Loosely modeled off Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing Company this is intended to be a moderately hoppy blonde with tropical fruit forward character. The grist is somewhat of a trimmed down version of my most recent StarTropics NEIPA while the hops emphasize the classic combo of Citra and Mosaic. At kegging in early May this was one of the fruitiest, tropical, exciting beers I have made and I was disappointed I needed to wait so long to drink it (and worried that the character would fade). While the fruit flavors transformed over time the beer still retained some tropical fruit salad goodness, just leaning a little more towards overripe fruit than the super fresh mango and papaya it started with.

Lighthouse Little Saison - A variation on my go-to Maisonette Grisette the beer features mosaic hops and saison yeasts in a small platform that always excites. Not my best batch of this beer, and it picked up some accidental brett along the way (for better or worse), but a tasty and refreshing beer none the less.

White Wedding Wheat Ale w/ Orange, Ginger, and Chamomile - This one was the least based on previous recipes with just mild input from my Summertime Rye beer. Instead of remaking a previous beer, I wanted to brew something of a Blue Moon clone with more interesting fruit/herb/spice character. The end result is surprisingly chamomile forward with light orange and almost no ginger but is a refreshing and easy drinker. This beer (along with the Shoreline Summer Ale) used my house Ingl├ęs culture, a slowly evolving blend of British yeast strains that I occasionally add new yeasts to during pitching.

Hazy Gudenius NEIPA - Guest brewed by Scott Janish, of his awesome eponymous blog and the soon-to-be-awesome Sapwood Cellars. Brewed with Citra Cryo Hops, along with Otto Supreme and Amarillo, this one is an obvious crowd pleaser.
Serving at the wedding, fortunately someone knew how to operate ball lock kegs and CO2 to get the beers to pour while I was taking photos

Post wedding updates:
At the wedding the Lighthouse saison and Hazy Gudenius NEIPA were clear favorites and both were near empty at the end of the night while the others were somewhere between 1/3rd and 2/3rds full. The White Wedding and Shoreline had become a bit oxidized and were not as good as they had been when fresh but still drinkable and they got the least love. Overall I think one less beer or switching one for something super different (like a dark beer) might have been a good idea but none of the beers turned out bad and they were much more popular than the light beers we had the bar serve for those who didn't want homebrews. I wish I had taken photos of each of the beers when pouring them, but there was honestly way too many other things going on.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Batch #21 100% Brett Beer - Side by Side

I've recently been diving into the catacombs of the past (aka my parent's basement) to grab some beers that I brewed years ago to see how they're tasting now. In many of these cases the beers are oxidized - in some cases they may have been that way when fresh. In other cases, primarily with boozier or sour/brett'd beers they have aged gracefully, in some cases even gaining character. Today I decided to pop bottles of batch 21 and 21b side by side. This beer started as an ordinary bitter recipe which was brewed with 100% BKYeast C2 Brettanomyces yeast. The b version was put on 2 pounds of Blackberries (.8 lbs/gallon) to increase the sourness and play up the berry characteristics. I'm interested to see whether the beers have held up after about 4 1/2 years. Tasting notes below:

21 (100% Brett Beer)
Appearance - amber-brown, a bit hazy (high carbonation pulled up some yeast immediately after popping the top). Voluptuous head that lasts throughout.

Smell - Earth, malt (toast), grass, berry. It definitely has the "wild strawberry" green/earth/wood/berry character that has been seen in this yeast isolate. Some musty/funky aromas and slight cardboard give an impression of age.

Taste - Very similar to the nose with some woody and berry flavors throughout, a touch of bitterness on the backend with a lingering strawberry and earth impression. No real oxidation character, showing once again the power of Brett to help a beer age gracefully.

Mouthfeel - Dry and highly carbonated but not thin or aggressive, very enjoyable.

Overall - This beer has aged better than I expected and is drinking a bit like some of the Brett biere de garde's I have tried. I could definitely see this strain working well, probably not as the only yeast, in a mixed ferment biere de garde.

21b (100% Brett Beer w/ Blackberries)
Appearance - Similar in color but less hazy (very clear) compared to the straight version. Almost no head and absolutely no retention (possibly due to the berries, but also appears to be much less carbonated). I remember this beer having a more reddish/pinkish/purplish hue when fresh but that color appears to have faded.

Smell - Very different smell with berries/fruity pebbles dominating. Earth and toast are found further in the background but it smells fruitier/sweeter.

Taste - The smell is deceiving in this one as the taste is actually much less sweet than the other version due to a moderate acidic kick. Not acetic but very noticeable (possibly malic) acid blends with some moderate blackberry flavors.

Mouthfeel - Thinner than the other version and with very little carbonation this one falls a little flat. the mouthfeel may be the weakest part of this beer.

Overall - I highly enjoy the smell of this beer and could see why I preferred this version fresh but time (and lack of carbonation) have not been as kind to this version with the berry flavors and color seeming to fade. This one does come off somewhat vinous and is by no means unenjoyable.

Impressions/Takeaways - Once again my old beers with Brett have held up and retained some very enjoyable characteristics. I've been thinking a lot about Biere de Garde recently and drinking these makes me very much want to try the C2 yeast in one.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Rye Bitter #2

The last time I attempted to brew an English style bitter I decided to make the grist with Rye and Golden Naked Oats. I wasn't super happy with the results (the beer had an oddly pretzel like character to it) but remained intrigued with the idea. Nearly 2 years later I've decided to give this idea another go. The key goal is to get something that feels authentically English while doing something original and fun.
Tasting (3-19-17)
Appearance: Medium amber in color with a nice rocky head. Moderate haziness, its no milkshake IPA but far from crystal clear. Pretty much right what I was going for, so far so good.

Smell: biscuits, dough, candied fruit, light plum/cherry fruits, some woody/herbal hop character.

Taste: moderate biscuity malt and yeast derived fruit give way to a pleasant drying bitterness. Some lingering rye character and classic English hop flavor (a light blend of herbal, citrus, and wood)

Mouthfeel: low carbonation (CO2 kicked) and low to moderate body. Feels authentic and works.

Overall: this is a beer that I'm really happy to have brewed. Not exciting enough to wow people, not to any style to make it an award winner, just a nicely unique and enjoyable beer that I continue to reach for despite having a few of my favorites on tap. "Sessionable" without feeling weak or watery and interesting without pounding the taste buds into submission. Just a solidly good beer.

Monday, January 23, 2017

StarTropics 3.0

What makes a beer a beer? I don't mean to ask what beer is so much as what makes a particular brand of beer that brand.The bottle of beer in my hand is, at some level, chemically different than any other beer with the same label even if from the same six pack. At the professional level brewers work hard to have quality control so that every Budweiser tastes like a Budweiser and every Heady Topper tastes like a Heady Topper, but even then there is an acceptable level of variability.

When I first set out with the goal of making StarTropics I envisioned it as a cross between a red IPA and a Brettanomyces saison. The goal was to get a beer that had a gorgeous red color, tons of tropical fruit hop character, fruit and slight funk character from the brettanomyces, with a finish that was dry, slightly spicy, and refreshing. Over time the goal has been somewhat pared down, first transitioning to a 100% brettanomyces beer to reduce some of the funky and spicy character, then to dropping the brettanomyces all together. Today I am brewing a beer that has little in common with my original design: it is no longer intended to be red, or have a large amount of yeast derived characteristics. So is this still StarTropics or just a New England IPA that uses a hopping bill that I liked? Does any of this matter? Not really, but it's fun to think about the recipe creation process from all angles and sometimes the branding can be one part of what shapes a recipe.

This beer came out almost exactly how I had hoped for: light colored and fairly cloudy with huge hop aroma and flavor and only moderately high bitterness. The beer won (well tied) for crowd favorite at the DC Homebrewers annual BBQ competition where I got lots of great feedback. I likely won't change much about this recipe the next time I brew it except possibly to increase the dry hopping rate.

Doing a tasting after over a month in the keg, the cloudiness and hop aromas have faded some but still an enjoyable beer.
Appearance- Deep gold, moderately hazy, some hop particulate noticeable. Head is large and pillowy

Smell- Tropical fruit and pine lead the way giving - mango, papaya, resin, grapefruit. A little more typical American IPA and less complex than when fresh but still a nice mix.

Taste- Hop flavor - again tropical, light pine, citrus fruit - lead the way, some malt sweetness - not caramelly or malty as just a light sugar sweetness, followed by a moderate bitterness that builds slightly in the finish to fully balance and then overtake the sweetness.

Mouthfeel- Super smooth and silky medium body. Hard to tell how much the oats contribute versus yeast and other grains but the balance works great regardless. Carbonation is medium - the beer has been at 10 PSI in the mid 30s for a while now.

Overall - Even over a month old this beer is drinking very nicely. It's not the best NEIPA I've had (we can't all be Scott Janish) but it's one of the best hop dominated beers I have brewed.