Friday, January 31, 2014

#17 Dark Mild - Tasting Notes

We had some friends over for game night last night to break in the new kegerator, and downed several pints of both this and the pseudo-Kolsch.  I can't believe I'm already drinking this mild after only 12 days, instead of waiting 5+ weeks.  As Steve put it, "this must be what it's like to be a professional."  If only drinking beer made me more professional...

The beer turned out good and clean.  It's a deep, dark brown that's actually surprisingly clear (translucent?) when held to the light, despite the fact that the dark color lets little light through.  The English yeast and roasty chocolate malt are definitely the most prominent flavors here, with the malt flavor and sweetness in a supporting role, with a nutty finish.  That's right, I said it.  I've frequently heard ales described as "nutty," especially bitters and brown ales, but I never understood how that descriptor is applicable to beer.  Until now.  The aftertaste of this beer is definitely chunky peanut butter.

The body of the beer is medium-light, definitely lighter than it looks, but not watery.  Considering it's only 3.3% alcohol, that's not bad.  I really expected this beer to be more chocolaty and porter-y I guess, considering the high percentage of crystal and chocolate malts, but the finished beer is definitely it's own style.  Each flavor component seems to come across distinctly.  This could be a result of the low gravity, low attenuation, yeast strain, water profile, hard to tell, but it certainly reveals that I chose a simple recipe.  I could see this being a good style on which to experiment with a more complex grain bill.  Before brewing, I listened to an episode of the Can You Brew It podcast on Eagle Rock's Solidarity, and their 10-malt grain bill makes more sense now.

Overall I would say this was a decent beer, but not a style I'm anxious to brew again.  If I do, I'll certainly rework the recipe, probably adding another dark malt and using a mix of crystal malts.  It's been a fun experiment, and encouraging to have it come out so clean and drinkable, but there are too many more appealing kinds of beer.

EDIT 2/22/2014: Now that I've had this beer on tap for awhile, it's kind of growing on me.  It's not that the flavors have changed, but it's wonderful to have waiting for me when I come home from work.  Especially during the winter, I frequently crave the dark, rich flavors of a porter or imperial stout.  Half a pint of this beer offers a nice low-alcohol alternative to opening a $10 bomber of something stronger.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

#16 Americanized Kolsch - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I think this is the first beer that I've brewed that people really liked.  It's light, it's clean, it's hoppy, not too bitter, generally the things that make for a popular beer in Seattle.  I have a feeling that since this batch is the inaugural keg for my new kegerator it will go pretty quickly, so I better take some notes while I can.

It's a pale yellow color, similar to a macro lager.  I took samples as the keg was carbonating, and I found the  Kolsch yeast took forever to drop out, but once it finally did the beer improved significantly.  Kolsch yeast is known for being a slow flocculator, and this was readily apparent as it conditioned alongside the dark mild brewed with Fuller's yeast.  However even after the yeast dropped out, the beer remains a bit hazy, probably from the polyphenols in the dry hops or maybe the wheat proteins.

As I take a sip, my first impression is that it's more of a pale ale or session IPA from the signature Simcoe hop aroma and light clean body.  The Kolsch yeast gives it a smoother feel than the pales and IPAs I've brewed with the Chico yeast though.  As I swallow, the malt peaks forward, especially the wheat, leaving a noticeable french-bread finish.  I notice I must be drinking this too quickly because I'm stranding big gobs of foam on the sides of the glass as I drain the beer.  Thanks again Kolsch yeast for the great head retention.

This is certainly not a classic Kolsch: the hops--American ones--are far too prominent, the OG and FG are a tad high, the yeast flavor (initially) is too prominent.  The hallmark of Kolsch is subtlety, and while the flavors here couldn't be characterized as bold, they are just a bit strong for the style.  If I were to adapt this to actually brew a Kolsch--which I plan to eventually do--I would drop the dry hop (duh) and also reduce the wheat by maybe 25%-50% to rein in the breadiness.  Also, the Vienna malt was not as prominent as I hoped.  Next time I might swap it for Munich and drop the percentage a hair.  At bottling I worried the hop flavor and bitterness may have been too prominent, but now that it has faded a bit I wouldn't touch them.  A faint hint of Simcoe flavor, while not strictly to style, can be a unique touch that adds a unique touch to a well balanced Kolsch package.  (EDIT: This seemed true at first, but over time the pine flavor has subsided in favor of some sort of stone fruit.  Lower than expected attenuation could be a factor, as sweetness can accentuate the fruity flavors of American hops, but maybe next time I'll try it with chinook or a chinook-based blend.)

As I explained in the recipe post, this was never intended as a classic Kolsch.  It was intended as something I would want to drink after skiing, and I think it definitely hits the spot there.  The malt character leans a bit further toward the soft bready side than I intended; I would have liked a bit more of a grainy, dry, toast flavor.  Regardless, this makes a great session beer, not in the sense that it is low alcohol, but in the sense that it's quite drinkable, and its arsenal of flavor is still apparent after a pint, or two ... or how ever many it took to put together this post.

Friday, January 17, 2014

#17 Dark Mild - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

When Steve and I were getting ready to brew together last November, he suggested we brew a brown ale.  It would be a good idea to brew something different from all the IPA's, IRA's, IIPA's, IPL's, IIIPA's and other over-hopped palate wreckers you find year round in the PNW.  And when was the last time you had a really good brown ale?   ...   Well that didn't work out.  We ended up brewing yet another pale ale, this time an ESB.  When we got the chance to brew together again, we decided to revisit the idea of a brown ale.

The term "brown ale" is as descriptive a name as it sounds: not very.  While it is certainly of English origin--otherwise it would be something outlandish like geuze or dunkelweizen--it seems like more of a broad descriptive term that Americans just assume should be a rigid style.  In Designing Great Beers, Ray Daniels breaks the genre into distinct styles for northern England, southern England, and the United States (see the BeerSmith blog or a synopsis).  I wasn't particularly struck by any of the descriptors here, but Daniels also mentions that before the advent of coke-fired maltings and pale malt around 1700, most English beer would have been brown in color and made from brown wood-smoked malted barley.  We considered doing something in this vein but ended up going a different direction.

If you read the ESB recipe post, you might remember that I spent a couple weeks in Europe last February.  One of the beers that caught my attention while we were nestled beneath Castle Rock in Nottingham, was Nottingham Brewery's Rock Mild.  The beer was rich and chocolatey, but only 3.8% ABV.  Steve liked the idea as if fit the goal of getting as far away from IPA's as we could.  Milds are similar to bitters but often with less hops or lower alcohol or darker color or something--it's all a bit murky (Daniels notes that some English breweries have even been known to swap labels as their portfolio changes).  The key here is that the beer was dark and malty and certainly low alcohol compared to American beer.

Like with the ESB, here we will be trying to extract as much flavor from as little malt as possible.  And again, like with the ESB, I'm going with a fairly simple approach so I can learn a bit about the ingredients.  I couldn't find a recipe to work from that would get me close, so I put this together from scratch.  It should be an interesting experiment.

Dark Mild
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.00 gal
Estimated ABV: 3.2 %
Estimated OG: 1.039 SG
Estimated FG: 1.014 SG
Estimated Color: 20.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 21.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 55.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 66.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt           Name                                     %/IBU         
8 lbs         Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM)         84.2 %
1 lbs         Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM)    10.5 %
8.0 oz        Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)               5.3 %
1.00 oz       Goldings, East Kent [6.30 %] - Boil 60.0 21.2 IBU
0.25 tsp      Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins)              -
1.0 pkg       English Ale (White Labs #WLP002)         -

Mash Schedule: BIAB, 156F
Total Grain Weight: 9 lbs 8.0 oz
Estimated Cost: $19.22

Sunday, January 5, 2014

#16 Americanized Kolsch - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Friday (2 days til brewday) I prepped a starter with .4 gal of water and .5 lb of DME.  Everything seems normal, nice clean krausen the next morning and day. Sunday (brewday) the krausen seemed to be just starting to drop.  I don't like adding this much starter volume to a beer (especially a lighter one) because the starter never ferments as clean.  I usually prep the starter earlier and plan a few days to cold crash and settle out the yeast so I can discard the fermented beer, but with such a slow floccing yeast I don't think everything would settle out in a timely fashion.

As of this beer, I am no longer using water from our house.  While the water is definitely safe to drink, it smells and tastes like iron, and has a visible yellowish tint.  I was told it would be "fine" for brewing, but from everything I've read this is certainly not the case.  I think this could have caused played a part in some of my bad early all-grain batches, but the off flavors could have had a variety of causes.  Unfortunately I don't yet know enough about brewing water chemistry to really get the perfect water.  For this batch I'm going to buy distilled water because I know it won't have any contaminants (or any dissolved minerals for that matter), making it a conservative option and a definite improvement over my past water.

The brew proceeded fairly smoothly until it was time to transfer to the fermenter. The wort came out to 5 gal at 1.070 in the kettle after chilling, with 4 gal making it to the carboy. I topped up to around 5 gal, giving an estimated SG of 1.056. I then remembered I had to add the full volume of the starter. Somehow that means it was filled right to the top, with foam pouring over the edge. Don't know where the extra half gallon came from. I used the auto siphon to pump out half a gallon to leave headspace for the krausen and called it good. The OG should still be pretty similar (~1.051), so the 58% efficiency still seems reasonable, but the hops may drop a bit. That's not too much of a deal considering the small change and it was already highly hopped.

45 sec. of 02 added.  Full yeast starter pitched at 54F.  Temp set to 59F.

3 Days:  Looks like there has been a blowoff.  About a half inch or inch of krausen, hard to tell from Hope's picture.  Though the temp was set to 59F, it looks like it was at 61F due to the thermal mass of the less active pineapple wine in the fridge with it.  Temp bumped to 62F.

1 Week: Temp bumped to 68F.

2 Weeks: Racked onto 2 oz of Simcoe leaf hops.

3 Weeks: Racked to new keg!  Stoked to have this on tap at the apartment.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

#15 Pineapple Wine

Recipe     -     Tasting

Every so often inspiration strikes and I come up with a brilliant idea.  Most of the time I wake up the next morning and realize it wasn't as great an idea as I thought.  Sometimes I go ahead and do it anyway.  That's the story of this recipe.

Shortly after I started brewing, I thought it would be really cool to ferment pineapple juice.  I've always thought Caribou Lou sounded tasty until I actually tried it, so this would be an opportunity to improve on that idea and make something potable.  Nobody actually makes anything like this (except one place in Maui) so that's not a good sign, but emboldened by the success of the apple cider, I decided to go for it anyway.  To kick things up a notch (and mirror the Malibu rum) I think I'll age part of this on coconut.  Will it be raw or toasted?  I don't know maybe both.

Pineapple Wine
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.00 gal

5 gal   Pineapple Juice
2 lbs   Corn Sugar (Dextrose)

.35 oz  Raw Flaked Coconut
.35 oz  Toasted Flaked Coconut
.2 oz   Amarillo Hops

4       Campden Tablets
1 tsp   Pectic Enzyme
1 tsp   Yeast Nutrient
1.0 pkg Lalvin 71B-1122

Estimated Cost: $52

I've read that many yeast strains struggle in such an acidic environment.  In fact, I use an acid sanitizer to kill wild yeast and bacteria on my brewing equipment.  This yeast strain is particularly good at fermenting the malic acid in the pineapple, breaking it down into lactic acid (the same kind found in sour beers) and smoothing out the flavor.

I added the campden tablets 24 hrs before the yeast, then the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient 12 hrs before.

Yeast rehydrated and pitched at 59F.

3 days: No apparent activity.  It was next to the more active Kolsch, so the fridge dropped the wine's temp to around 58F.  Controller bumped to 62F.

2 weeks: Looks like it had a nice healthy ferment after the bump in temp because of the yeast scum remaining on the glass.  Plenty of thin pulp settled to the bottom of the fermenter on top of the yeast.  Racked to secondary, but only got 4 gal without the lees.  Topped up with almost 1 gal of water to avoid oxidation, but thinking back, this may have been a bad idea, it already tasted great.

Racked onto coconut after a month and a half in secondary.  One gallon on raw coconut, one gallon on toasted coconut, and half a gallon onto .2 oz of amarillo hops.  Because why not.  You can see the degree of toast in the image above.  The rest of the wine was racked into a fresh carboy.  Returned to temperature control at 68F.

Bottled 3/9/14:
I bottled all of the pineapple wine after one week on the adjuncts.  The temperature in the refrigerator go screwed up, so when I went to check on it, it was all the way up to 85F.  This probably increased the flavor extraction, but after the wine chilled it tasted ok, so I doubt it was that big of a deal.  I had planned on blending the different varieties if the coconut was too much, but decided just to let it ride; I didn't get a very good read on them as I was pretty congested and the wine was too warm.  There are only a few bottles of each variety anyway, so we might have to do some blending experiments later to prepare for batch two.  Because I'm pretty sure there will be another.

#16 Americanized Kolsch - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I've spent the last few batches brewing pretty much by the book-- fairly basic recipes for some styles and clone recipes of famous commercial examples for others--but this one is going to be a little bit different.  It's more of the "I think this would be cool to try so I'm going to brew it" variety.  Pull up a chair and let me tell you a story about where this recipe comes from:

Once upon a time (or during Christmas vacation with the family), a man (me), was stranded in the wilderness (or eating lunch in the ski lodge in Idaho) with nothing to drink.  He wandered for days searching for something to parch his thirst (actually they recently remodeled so I did have to search a bit), when at last he stumbled upon a golden chalice...

I was excited to try some Idaho beer; the only one I had had prior was Payette Brewing's Mutton Buster and it was pretty delicious.  Unfortunately there was no more mutton to be busted, so i took the only remaining local option: Galena Gold Ale from Sockeye.  Based on the name I guessed it was just a blonde ale, but turns out it was supposed to be more of a Kolsch.  It wasn't great.  Drinkable sure, Budweiser would have been proud, but not exactly something I would order again.  I started to dream about what I would brew for that occasion and this is what I came up with:

Something cool, clean, crisp and refreshing as the Rocky Mountains (because after all I was in the Rocky Mountains), but with a little more interesting malt character, and a touch of American hops.  Nothing too bitter, but enough hops to dry it out and give it a bit of a piney aroma.  I liked the idea of using the Kolsch yeast to get a nice clean fermentation, and it fit with the alpine theme.  From Cologne, Germany, it is technically an ale strain but ferments well at cooler temperatures like a lager yeast, and produces a similar crisp beer as well.  The malt bill was roughly inspired by Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which I remember as having a nice dry yet malty character, but by the time I brewed I ended up using all different grains.  I didn't want the crystal malts to make it too sweet, so I went with Vienna and wheat for some variety, which turns out similar to an actual Kolschbier.  I have a good stash of Simcoe hops, so I decided it would be good time to do a single hop beer and really get to know Simcoe.  I ended up with a sizable hop load--closer to a pale ale here than a true Kolsch--but weighted towards the end of the boil and dry hop for maximum aroma.  As much as I've learned, this is a bit of a stab in the dark, so we'll see what comes out.  Even if I don't nail the nuances I'm aiming for, I'm sure it will be a great way to end a day of skiing.

Americanized Kolsch
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Estimated ABV: 4.7 %
Estimated OG: 1.048 SG
Estimated FG: 1.012 SG
Estimated Color: 4.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 41.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 55.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 60.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt          Name                                     %/IBU
7 lbs        Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           53.8 %
3 lbs        Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)                    23.1 %
3 lbs        White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)               23.1 %
0.30 oz      Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 60.0 min         13.6 IBU
1.00 oz      Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 20.0 min         27.4 IBU
1.70 oz      Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 0.0 min          0.0 IBU
1.0 pkg      German Ale/Kolsch (White Labs #WLP029)   -
1.50 oz      Simcoe [14.10 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days      0.0 IBU

Mash Schedule: BIAB, 148F
Total Grain Weight: 13 lbs
Estimated Cost: $23.71
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