Wednesday, February 26, 2014

#35 - 6° Dubbel

This is the first of a series of the beers (and second of the posts) in the same theme of Belgian Trappist styles.  The first beer brewed in the series was this  6° Dubbel with an 8° Tripel and 10° Quad coming later.  I designed each of these recipes attempting to be fairly to-style.

In addition to the 3 to-style recipes I also plan to make a 7° spiced dark ale mimicking speculoos cookies, a blend of the Dubbel and Quad with a spice tincture made from ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, white pepper, black pepper and cinnamon, and a 9° Golden Strong by adding honey and sage to the Tripel.

This Dubbel is designed to showcase the complex raisin and caramel flavors from Special B malt, Candi Syrup Inc.'s D-90 and D-180 and the estery and phenolic flavors from Wyeast 3787.

My first tasting gave a less than desirable perception of clean and bitter.  When tasting again at racking to secondary the yeast and sugar elements came through much more clearly giving the impression that this will be a nice Belgian ale that ranks up there with commercial examples of the style.
Racked to secondary after 3 weeks of vigorous fermentation.  Fairly dark but still within style guidelines.

3 tinctures: Sage (for the Golden Strong), cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, white pepper, cardamom ginger (for the Speculoos influenced dubbel/quad blend) and a separate ginger/cardamom/clove one (that might be used to balance the heavy levels of nutmeg an cinnamon or might find use elsewhere).  The sage is extremely pleasant, herbal and sweet with the cinnamon slightly dominating its tincture and giving a "fireball" impression, and the third has a very different sort of sweet and hot ginger character that I go back and forth on my opinion of.

Monday, February 17, 2014

#34 - 8° Tripel

Continuing my themed set of trappist style ales I brewed an 8° Tripel. Like the 6° Dubbel (brewed prior to the tripel but aging longer, post to come) this beer uses primarily Belgian Pilsner and a little Munich malt with some sugar additions, Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast and a simple continental European hop bill featuring Styrian Goldings and Hallertau (and in the Tripel's case a little Strisselspalt as well).  The Tripel however should turn out quite different with less dark malts, a much higher hop bitterness, flavor and aroma and the sugar additions being white sugar and honey rather than the complex dark candi syrups leading to hop/yeast balance rather than malt/sugar/yeast.  As the name suggests this beer will also start with a slightly higher gravity (1.080) for an added alcohol oomph.

Trying to work in the same kitchen that my girlfriend was using to make bread led to some issues with tight space and a few spills.  In the end I lost about half a pound of the pilsner malt trying to add it to the mash tun and lost about half an ounce of hersbrucker hops when trying to vacuum seal.  I made up for the pilsner malt with more white sugar.  Pitched 12 oz. of slurry harvested from my Belgian Session IPA on December 26th (about a 50% over-pitch according to Mr. Malty).

In addition to wanting to brew to-style Trappist beers in each of the 3 major varieties (dubbel, tripel, quad) there was an additional goal to this themed series to experiment with tinctures and blending.  Unlike the Dubbel which will be blended with the Quad to create my 7° beer, this beer will have additional sugars (largely honey) added to bump up the equivalent starting gravity just 1 Belgian degree (up to the equivalent of a 1.090 OG) to create a Belgian Golden Strong ale.  Similar to the 7° beer which will be spiced with a number of warming festive spices this beer will have a simpler tincture of sage added to lend some floral, sweet and savory characteristics.

Extremely vigorous fermentation led to me replacing the airlock with a blow off tube.

Gravity down all the way to 1.006 after getting to 1.008 at moving to secondary.  Bottled just under 2 gallons with 1.5 oz of sugar. (as brew #34 despite the Dubbel actually having been brewed before it).  ~2.5 gallons were mixed with 12 oz. of honey for what will be the Sage Golden Strong.  Taste is surprisingly high in bitterness with some noticeable alcohol, fruity yeast derived flavors and a touch of honey like sweetness.

Bottled the Golden Strong with most of the sage tincture (roughly 1/2 cup worth of extract from 2/3 cup vodka, 1/4 cup sage mixture).  Taste is sweet and estery up front but dry and bitter in the finish with the sage giving a citrusy, herbal character that I might have liked to see even more of.

Sage version tasting notes.  Very tasty, noticeable but not overpowering sage presence.

Straight Tripel tasting (with side by side notes of Sage Golden Strong). Also a good beer, though not as true to style as I was hoping.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#33 and #33B - Belgian Session IPA Double Tasting

I brewed this Belgian Session IPA/Belgian-American Pale Ale just over 6 weeks ago.  Tasting it during the time since, I have found it to be one of the best beers I have made to this point.  At a recent brewclub meeting it received rave reviews from all who tasted it including Michael Tonsmeire.  Unfortunately, it was so popular that it was gone by the time Charlie Papazian unexpectedly showed up to the meeting.  Getting such positive feedback felt great and made me want to review the half of the batch which had a green tea tincture added.  Today I'm doing a side-by-side tasting of each.

#33 - Straight

A- Slightly hazy coppery orange with a one finger bright white head.  Pretty perfect looking for a dry hopped beer in my opinion.

S- Hops dominate with tropical fruit (pineapple, mango) and light citrus (tangerine).  There is also a light fruity cherry character in the mix which appears to be from the Westmalle yeast strain.

T- Like the nose hops again dominates with the yeast seemingly lending a hand as pineapple, mango, peach and nectarine lead the way before a moderately bitter, lightly tannic, finish.

M- Relatively light but still mouthfeeling and moderately carbonated.  Like the color I would say this is exactly where I wanted it.

O- A very pleasant beer that nicely showcases Mosaic hops (most members at the homebrew meeting were able to pick this out without being told any other details).  Still, there are enough other elements to keep this complex and the low starting and finishing gravities and moderate bitterness makes this very drinkable and enjoyable.

#33B - Green Tea Version

A- Identical to the straight version.

S- This version comes off less fruity with the green tea coming into the mix as a lemon-tea character that seems to round out the other flavors nicely.

T- Like the nose, the flavors seem rounded off a bit with the tea.  Up front the flavor is again tropical fruit with light citrus, though not as pronounced as in the other version.  In the finish the tea character seems to round out the bitterness so that the finish is smoother.  The tea doesn't seem to dominate and I wonder whether someone who didn't know about it would guess it, but with the knowledge that it is there, and the immediate comparison to the straight version, it shines through.

M- Again, fairly dry but right where I would like it.

O-  Having only had one bottle of the tea version and not noticing the tea strongly at that time, this tasting really surprised me.  The tea is far from dominating, but shows through just enough to affect all the flavors around it.  While I might have liked a more assertive character from it, the experimental half came out nicely without being identical, a success by any measure.  In the end, I arrived at 2 similar, but equally good, beers.

Forgot to post the following blog entry on the results of this beer in a competition so I'm just adding it here.

The DC Homebrewers' (my local homebrew club) Cherry Blossom festival was the first brewing competition I have entered.  Being a BJCP sponsored event this competition holds a little weight and had almost 240 entries.  In addition to entering my Belgian Session IPA (As an American Pale Ale) I also helped steward the event.  In this post I have decided to focus on my competition results and compare them side by side with my own personal tasting to see how strongly I agree or disagree with the judges opinions.

Judge 1- Floral hops dominate the nose. Faint citrusy notes, crowded a bit by estery sweetness, faintly perfume-y. 7/12
Judge 2- Nice pine-laden hop aroma, a bit solventy, otherwise very clean. Little if any malt aroma. 9/12

Judge 1- Dense, fomy head. Brilliant clarity, absolutely no haze. Deep red-gold color. 3/3
Judge 2- Pale amber color, good clarity, just off white head, creamy and with good retention 3/3

Judge 1- Low-to-moderate floral and citrus hop flavor, competing with significant perfume ester flavors. No perceptible malt flavor underneath.  Dry finish with persistent hop bitterness. Faint cardboard flavor - oxidized? 9/20
Judge 2- Minimal malt flavor or body, but a good hop flavor from the start. Bitterness is subtle, and flavor is a bit one-dimensional with the fairly simple hop flavor going from start to finish. 11/20

Judge 1- medium light body, medium carbonation. Slight astringency, likely from hops.  Very drinkable, although the body could be fuller to support hops.
Judge 2- Slightly thin on the body, medium carbonation.  No astringency or warming, but - bit lifeless due to thin body. 3/5

Overal Impression
Judge 1- A beautiful looking beer, but the estery characteristics and slight body prevent the full expression of the hops.  Try fermenting at a lower temperature within the bounds of the yeast temperature recommended range. 6/10
Judge 2- A nice hop flavor beer, but lacks the malt and nuance of the style.  Boost body with specialty grain additions, or try a higher starting gravity. 6/10

Judge 1- 28/50
Judge 2- 32/50

My take:
Both judges seemed to be pretty similar here and both hit the nail on the head: this beer is too thin and too estery to be a true American Pale Ale.  The Belgian yeast (and the Palisades hops) both played into giving this beer a stronger estery and perfumey character than one expects in this style and the yeast definitely dried it out to a point where the caramel malt couldn't shine and instead the hops and yeast derived characteristics took center stage.  In retrospect I wonder whether this beer would have fared better in the Belgian Specialty Ale category though I fear it would have been deemed too clean there.  In the end both judges gave very accurate descriptions of the beer and some accurate feedback (given that neither knew the true reason for the dryness/fruitiness was the strain of yeast chosen).

If I were to enter another BJCP style competition I would likely only do so with a beer brewed intentionally to style, something that I have a hard time doing.  That said, I think it was a good event and my beer scored a pretty average score overall, respectable for my first time, especially given that the beer was far out of style.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

#32 - Best Bitter Recipe and Tasting

This is a replacement post for one that disappeared while I was creating it and will probably be a little short on detail.

I brewed this Special/Best/Premium Bitter in the Fall when my desires turned to beers which were fairly light in alcohol but had both moderate malt and hop characteristics, as displayed by the previous brewed Altbier.

The base of this beer was primarily English Pale Malt.  I had originally planned to use Maris Otter but they were almost out at the LHBS so I augmented with equal parts Golden Promise and a non-specified Maltster's British Pale Ale malt.  Part of this recipe design came from tasting a wort sample made with Victory malt and the craving for a traditional pint of bitter as I experienced in London, leading me to use .5 lbs of crystal 60 malt.  Hops were entirely East Kent Goldings to have a very traditional flare and Bedford British yeast was used after being unable to find the intended strain and reading rave reviews on The Perfect Pint.  Below is a tasting now more than 3 months after bottling.

A- Slightly hazy copper.  Pours with a thick off-white head that recedes to a half finger layer and leaves good lacing.  It certainly looks the part of a bitter.

S- Malts predominate on the nose giving toffee, cookie and fresh bread with the EKG aroma having fallen to just a touch of woodiness if you really search for it.  Hop aroma was certainly better when fresh, but it never exactly leaped out of the glass.

T- While malts again dominate up front with a toffee and biscuit character, the EKG hops shine through much more here with the characteristic flavors of light citrus, savory herbs and wood.  There's also the slightest peppery character that I don't recall being there when fresh.

M- One of the biggest changes in this beer over time is that it has unfortunately grown increasingly carbonated.  I had envisioned this beer having a very low carbonation to mimic the traditional cask ale.  While the beer was great at this level after a few weeks it slowly rose beyond that point to upper levels of carbonation that would be more fitting for a Belgian style than British.  The mouthfeel in the end comes out a bit overly spritzy and dry instead of the full bodied but sessionable body expected for the style.

O- This beer came out alright but not phenomenal.  When I first tasted it I thought I might have a contest entry, but over time the aroma and taste went down and the carbonation went up, leaving this one just an ok beer and not a strong representation of the style.  That said, it is nice to have a nicely balanced beer that I can have a few of without feeling the effects and to that end, its a fairly good beer.