Saturday, May 31, 2014

#21 Oaked Arrogant Bastard Clone - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 7.8%
IBU: 94
Serving Temp: 38F
Carbonation: 2.8 vol
Grade: B+

It took a full month from brewday before this beer was really ready to drink, but at that point it magically turned awesome.  It started out thick, sweet and boozy, but as the flavors evolved and melded, the bitterness--both from the hops and the oak tannins--awoke and brought the beer back into line.

I really love the color of this beer.  It's a brilliant deep dark red-brown, much like the Irish red I did for St Patrick's day, with a light beige head.  A lot of light beige head.  I need to re-balance my tap lines because every beer is coming out half foam, but that's not the beer's fault.

The aroma I'm not as in love with, and that is the beer's fault.  It's got a rough edge to it, similar to what I find in Belgian beers (especially saisons and mixed-fermentation brett beers), or maybe soggy wood.  It doesn't really detract from the beer if you don't sit there and sniff at it, but an enticing aroma is a great way to score early points with the drinker.

The flavor more than makes up for it. I feel like this is a malt forward beer, with an intense, deep malty-sweetness at it's heart and all the alcohol you would expect from such a strong beer.  However, the hop bitterness is certainly up to the task of restoring balance, and last night I even had this beer described as particularly hoppy.  And if there wasn't enough flavor happening already, there's also the oak doing its thing in the background.  It's not especially bold, but it gives a bit of earthiness that complements the Chinook hops particularly well while melding nicely with the rich malt.

I have to say that since this beer turned the corner I'm really loving it.  There was nothing overtly wrong with this beer, which is step one, but there is also a level of balance that is hard to achieve.  Stone's recipe is a shining example of how finely balancing a few ingredients can achieve a superior product to more extravagant concoctions.

Update 6/12/14:  Last night I got to taste this beer head to head against the real Arrogant Bastard and Oaked Arrogant Bastard.  Overall I'm surprised how close of a match it is.  The color and aroma of all three are identical, the original AB had more hop flavor, but the vanillin in the oaked version seemed to smooth it out, bringing it much closer to my clone.  Mine is still sweeter and boozier than the oaked beer which was a bummer; the Stone brew has a nice clean dry finish that I think we all preferred, but the bitterness lingers for a few seconds after the rest of the taste has dissipated, which some like (me) and others don't.  I think switching to oak chips with their rougher character would go a long way to increasing the bitterness, but a little more bittering hops wouldn't be out of place.  At 90 IBU (est.), there isn't a whole lot more room for iso-alpha acids, so an increase would run little risk of over-bittering.  All-in-all, I'm happy with how this came out and would highly recommend this recipe as both an Oaked Arrogant Bastard clone and just a great beer.

Grading System

I've been making some changes to the tasting notes, pulling important stats to the top like alcohol content and recommended serving temperature, which I hope will make the blog easier to use.  But one of these additions, the new grading system, might need a few words of explanation.

Everyone will have their own opinions of a beer and enjoy each one in different ways, so it's not meaningful to try to assign a beer an absolute quantitative value.  However I think it will can be interesting to compare how a beer turned out relative to the expectations or goals for that brew.  I'll spend a good deal of time talking about that in the review, but the letter grade will give a quick summary for those of you unwilling to wade through the volumes I compose.  Please don't take this as a measure of how much I think you should like the beer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#22 Oatmeal Pale Ale - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Yeast Starter 5/18/14:
Yeast character won't be a focal point of this beer, so I'm reusing the Whitbread yeast I saved from the American wheat I brewed about a month ago.  I harvested the yeast from that beer, used some on the Arrogant Bastard, and saved the rest in the refrigerator.  I was a little worried about the yeast health after sitting for a month, so I prepped a .3 gal starter with 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient.

When I went to open the jar of yeast, it exploded all over my mom's kitchen.  Apparently the yeast--who I thought were done fermenting and would sleep peacefully at 40F--had scavenged residual sugars from the small bit of wort left in the jar and produced enough carbon dioxide to turn the glass jug into an IED.  Apparently that's why they advise you to vent stored yeast the first couple weeks of storage.  (EDIT 5/27/14: Apparently I'm not the only one to make this mistake.  Check out this article from this month's issue of BYO.)

Brewday 5/25/14:
This was a good brewday; friends John, Melanie, Dana and Pat, all came up to help out with the brew and see the process which was a lot of fun.  It helps to have an extra set of hands (or four) and some company for the 7-hour undertaking.  I have a hard time multitasking--making the day entertaining while still juggling all the balls in the air for the brew itself--but I hope everybody had fun.

For this beer, we tried out a new mash process.  I've been doing brew-in-a-bag since I moved to all-grain, but this time we finally broke in the mash tun.  I've had the cooler with a PVC manifold since I bought my brewing equipment--an entire HERMS system in fact--but I had been waiting for the guy who sold me everything to help get it patched up and all the hoses and pumps in place.  I haven't seen him since.  I finally gave up on that and just went with the simplified single infusion mash (4 gal) with a two-stage batch sparge (2.5 gal each).  Everything went surprisingly smoothly for a new process: no major mistakes, nailed the mash temperature (151F) and pH (5.45), no stuck sparge despite the high percentage of oats, and got a nice bump in efficiency (55% to 65%).

After the (surprisingly mild) hot break, the boil developed an oily sheen.  There were no bittering hops in this recipe, so it was something from the grain, not hop oils.  I've read that oats can cause head retention issues because of the high lipid content, so I'm thinking that was it.  As the center of the kettle continued to bubble, the oils settled into a thin film around the edges and formed a scummy residue with the break proteins still floating on the surface.  Now there is always scum on the top of the brew kettle, and I've heard removing it can improve flavor and clarity, but also that you can remove head-forming proteins.  I don't know the best way to handle it, but this time I went ahead and skimmed what I could.

Another change in this batch was the switch from Irish moss to Whirlfloc tablets and it made a noticeable difference.  I wish I had snapped a picture after the boil, because the protein coagulation during chilling was much more dramatic, with big coral-formations of denatured enzymes looming underneath the golden wort.  I was worried the high percentage of oats might make for a cloudy beer, but this was certainly the clearest wort I've had.  Unfortunately the false bottom didn't strain as much of this out as I hoped, so a large percentage of the trub wound up in the fermenter.

Wort chilled to 60F, 30 sec O2, yeast pitched from decanted starter, placed in fridge set to 66F.

1 Day: The heater failed to come on, so the beer temperature was stuck around 62F.  I tightened the bulb and bumped the temperature to 68F.  It looks like the yeast got a healthy start regardless and are swirling vigorously.

6 Days:  Added dry hops, 2 oz Columbus and 2 oz Cascade.  It was two much hops to get them all submerged, but hopefully over the next few days they'll all settle into the beer.

14 Days:  This beer is just a mess of hops.  4 oz is too much to do at one time, next time I do something hoppy I think I'll do a two-stage dry hop a la Pliny the Elder.  Gravity has dropped all the way to 1.009--more than I expected--for 81% apparent attenuation, exactly the same as the Arrogant Bastard clone with the same yeast.  The hops are really popping right now as expected.  Can't wait to try this carbed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

#22 Oatmeal Pale Ale - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Many breweries have oatmeal stouts, but few use oats for anything else.  About two years ago I was at Elysian Brewing in Capitol Hill and saw they had an oat IPA on tap.  Now this shouldn't really be that surprising, Elysian is always cooking up odd recipes, and like everyone else in Seattle, is obsessed with IPA, so this was fairly classic them.  The beer had the hop flavor of an IPA, but with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel that hid the intense bitterness normally associated with the style.  I really enjoyed it, but have never seen it since.

Several months later I was at a grocery store looking for something to enjoy on a sunny Friday afternoon and came across Fort George Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale.  I really enjoyed the last few beers I had from them (if you haven't had Vortex IPA or BB Cavatica Stoutyou've made a huge mistake), and remembering the Elysian version I decided to give it a shot.  I was disappointed.  Maybe the cans were old, but instead of smooth and flavorful it was bland and particularly bitter.

Well now it's my turn to see what I can brew with the concept.  Personally I think oats are one of the most boring ingredients you can use; everybody knows how tasteless oatmeal is on its own, but when you mix it in a beer it seems to suck all the flavor out.  That's great in a breakfast stout where it can take the edge off an overdose of coffee, or in the Elysian beer where it tempers the bitterness of the hops, but it's a double edged sword as Fort George showed.  That made this recipe a fun mental exercise at least, hopefully with a fun end product too.

For my recipe, I'm going to start with an oat heavy grist, then hop burst with big doses of Cascade and Columbus hops.  I've gone round and round on the varieties--Chinook to Simcoe to Cascade to Columbus to now a 50/50 split--but I think I've finally found what I'm looking for (unlike U2).  The Columbus has a big, sticky, mouth-filling flavor that should compliment the oats nicely, with just enough roughness to test how well the oats smooth them out, then the Cascade adds a bit of citrus to brighten things up and round out the classic American hop character.

It all sounds so good in my head, but we'll have to wait and see if I actually know what I'm talking about.

Oatmeal Pale
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.00 gal
Estimated ABV: 5.1 %
Estimated OG: 1.051 SG
Estimated FG: 1.012 SG
Estimated Color: 5.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 41.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 80.5 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt           Name                                     %/IBU         
8 lbs         Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           80.0 %
1 lbs 8.0 oz  Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                   15.0 %
8.0 oz        Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)    5.0 %
1.00 oz       Cascade [7.50 %] - Boil 20 min           14.6 IBU
1.00 oz       Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] - Boil 20  27.3 IBU
1.00 Tablet   Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15 mins)          -
1.00 oz       Cascade [5.50 %] - Boil 0 min            0.0 IBU
1.00 oz       Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] - Boil 0   0.0 IBU
1.0 pkg       British Ale Yeast (Wyeast Labs #1098)    -
2.00 oz       Cascade [5.50 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days      0.0 IBU
2.00 oz       Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] - Dry Hop  0.0 IBU

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, 152F, 60min
Total Grain Weight: 10 lbs
Estimated Cost: $26.90

Update 5/31/14:  Looks like I'm not the only one thinking oats these days.  The beer that just won Central's brewing competition was also an oat pale ale.  Check out the article here for more info.

Friday, May 16, 2014

#20 Hoppy American Wheat - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 4.7%
Serving Temp: 38F
Grade: C-

Ah, spring has arrived.  The sun is out, and hops are blooming in my glass, if not in the yard.  It's wonderful timing that we finally have a week of warm weather just as my first summery beer is ready to drink.  After the scare with the lactic acid, I was worried I may have ruined the beer, but thankfully that wasn't the case.

As you can see when poured into a glass, this is without a doubt a wheat beer.  It's firmly translucent, cloudy feels like the wrong word here because the haze is so pervasive, with no hints of clarity even around the edges.  Despite the low pH (which can be hard on head retention), the nice light foam hangs around for quite a while, clumping into a thick white island in the middle of the glass.

The smell oddly reminds me of German hops.  I was aiming for bright citrus with a bit of pine for balance, but there's also that strange something I remember from the Hallertau I used last year.  Maybe the wheat is playing tricks on my nose, since wheat beers are usually brewed with German hops

The taste at first is dominated by the wheat.  As I make my way down the glass, the citrusy side really comes out, both in the aroma and in the flavor.  The acidity brightens it up and helps cut the thick body a bit, making it a very pleasant drink for this warm weather.

My biggest complaint is a little something ... off.  I'm going to blame this on the lactic acid.  It's not something I can put my finger on, but there's a weird mustiness in both the beginning and end of the sip that shouldn't be there.  It does remind me of the lactic acid as I added it to the boil but even more of that last second before a sour beer hits your tongue.  You know the feeling: the aromas start to hit the back of your throat and there's the brief fear of "Oh no, this beer is not right, what am I doing!"  Then you taste the sourness, your face turns itself inside out, and you lose all hope of identifying those subtle foreign flavors.  My beer tastes far different, but that same ghost haunts the glass.

All that's easy to fix though: double check your math.  But what did I learn about the recipe?  First off, I think I wanted something more hoppy.  I took it easy on the hops since this was supposed to be a fairly light beer, but maybe the low attenuation (66% ADF) masked the hops more than I anticipated.  As it is, it's nice and "balanced" for an American wheat, but maybe I really wanted more of an IPA.  (Can't believe I'm saying that, I must have a case of "Lupulin Threshold Shift.")  As for the hops themselves, Amarillo and Centennial got along as well as I hoped--Centennial brightened the Amarillo, and Amarillo smoothed the rough edges of Centennial--but I'm not sure what I think of the net effect with the heavy, malty wheat.  Better attenuation would have helped lighten the body but the wheat seems to paint its flavor in broader strokes across the palette than barley, so the pairing with crisp citrus hops is an awkward one.  The Amarillo + Centennial duo could really shine in smaller varieties of IPA, but I'll have to think more about what would go well specifically with wheat.

Recommended Pairings:
Grilled Chicken
Grilled Vegetables
Anything else grilled
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