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.