Thursday, June 26, 2014

#22 Oatmeal Pale Ale - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 5.4%
IBU: 42
Serving Temp: 38F
Carbonation: 2.8 vol
Grade: B+

This beer came out perfect.  I think this is the first time I can say this (with the possible exception of the Irish red), but there is literally nothing wrong with this beer.  The brewday was technically precise, and it fermented clean, with all the flavors in their place.  But that means all my critiques on this beer are mistakes in my initial vision, not the execution.

So there it is, a nice clear golden color with a bit of hop haze, and a fluffy white head.  As hoppy as it is, there is surprisingly little lacing.  Instead it reminds me more of a Bavarian hefeweizen, where the foam is a dense pile of fluff that forms a little tropical island in your glass and slides neatly all the way down to the bottom of the beer.

Speaking of hops, this beer has a lot of them, more so in the aroma than in the taste.  It has that classic American hop smell (which makes sense considering I used two classic American hops), leaning neither toward the grapefruit of Cascade nor the dank side of Columbus.  The taste is hoppy and bitter but certainly not over the top in either respect, which is good because this beer finished surprisingly dry (81% attenuation!). The malt is as light, crisp and clean--or bland and boring--as you would expect from a pale ale.

Here in the malt subtleties is where we find out what the oats brought to the beer.  As I stated in the recipe post, oats are just bland.  Raw flaked oats don't add any flavor--no maltiness, graininess, or nuttiness--leaving the beer tasting even lighter and simpler than it is.  However the effect on mouthfeel is pretty cool.  Despite the extremely low FG (1.009), it still has that silky creaminess you would expect form an oatmeal stout.  The oats were a significant portion of the grist at 15% (oatmeal stout guidelines say 5%-10%) which I think was just right.  The flavor doesn't scream oats, but the effect is not unnoticeable.

Now that's all well and good, but the total package does not come together in a compelling way.  I realized after I brewed that I had a whole school of half-baked ideas swimming in my head, but unlike Jack Horner, when I stuck in my thumb, I pulled out a lemon.  The amalgamated recipe just doesn't do it for me.  I don't think I'll revisit this concept, but I learned a lot about oats in the process, so hopefully that comes in handy down the road.  Tune in next week for a session IPA that may or may not contain a small percentage of oats.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

#24 Westvleteren XII - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I am extremely glad I decided to take a dry run with the blonde in preparation for this beer because decoction mashes are tough.  There was a lot going on with boiling water and grain everywhere, stretching the brewday from 6 to almost 9 hours even with friends there to help.  I learned last time that the decoction calculations I got from my brewing software underestimated the required decoction volume.  The temperatures were way low after the first decoction, and even further off after the second because I didn't adjust.

I use BeerSmith for recipe formulation and mash calculations, but it clearly didn't handle the decoctions well.  I don't know what formula it uses, but on his blog, the BeerSmith himself posted the following formula as an example:

F = (TS – TI) / (TB – TI – X)
Where F is the fraction of the total mash, TS is the target step temperature, TI is the initial temperature, TB is the temperature of the boiling mash and X is an equipment dependent parameter (typically 18F or 10C).

This is a simplified formula replacing the specific heat of the mash tun, difference in specific heat between water and grain, and thickness of the decoction with the mysterious X term.  It's "equipment dependent" meaning it needs to be dialed in through trial and error, which is what I'm trying to avoid with these calculations in the first place.  I'm sure 18F is a good approximation for some systems, but its unclear at what scale.

Since I learned I'd be low on the last batch, I knew to increase my decoctions, but not by how much.  I ended up rounding up to 2.6 gal, but I was still 10 degrees low, so I added a quick infusion of boiling water to bring it back on track.  I upped the second decoction even more--from 1.25 gal to 2 gal--and that was much closer to the target.

After that, the boil went smoothly, with 120 minutes not only for increased boil-off and carmelization, but some time to keg the blonde and do a mini beer tasting.  I think the imperial stout convinced friends Jayce, Ryan, and Thomas to come out for the next brewday and learn to make some beer of their own, sweet!

Instead of making a starter, I harvested Westmalle yeast from the last batch.  I've read that most pro brewers believe their yeast performs best after a couple of generations (full fermentations, starter cultures don't count), so this should be an ideal situation for such a big beer.  I ended up with .25 gal of yeast slurry, but only pitched a rough .05 gal as per the Mr. Malty yeast calculator.  Belgians tend to underpitch relative to American brewers in general, and this calculator in particular, so I would have been fine with a little less yeast, but with the high gravity wort and this strain's tendency to flock out early I decided not to risk it.

Wort cooled to 66F, 30 sec oxygen, temp set to 68F+.

2 Days: Temp raised to 78F.

11 Days: Temp set to 72F.  Something went wrong here.  I was out of town, but when my mom went to adjust it for me, it was only around 70F.  I have no idea how hot it got during the more active phase of fermentation, but I'm hoping it got warm enough to attenuate fully before the yeast went to sleep.  There was certainly some blowoff.

3 Weeks: Wracked a full 5 gal to secondary.  This beer finished at 1.021.  That is way high.  Apparently the low temperatures did have a significant effect on the yeast since this was supposed to finish around 1.012.  The gravity sample was sharply sweet, tasting almost like the dark candi syrup.  However the warm feeling after swallowing is proof there was some fermentation going on.  There's surprisingly no booziness at this point, so aging doesn't need to take care of that, but hopefully the yeast (I pulled a bit off the top of the yeast cake when I wracked) continue to nibble away at the remaining sugars.  On a side note, it appears the top leaked during blowoff and dripped sweet residue down the sides of the carboy where some mold got ahold of it.  I don't think anything could make its way into the fermenter (or would grow anyway with the low pH), but I'll have to keep an eye on it.

9/27/14 (~3 Months):  I finally got around to bottling this beer.  Since it's been so long since I brewed this beer, I made sure to repitch some wine yeast (EC-1118) with the priming sugar.  When I went to measure the priming sugar, I couldn't find a calculator for aged beer; most calculate the residual carbonation for fresh beer based on the max temperature reached after the end of fermentation, but some of the carbonation will dissipate as the beer sits.  In his post on carbonating sour beers, Tonsmeire mentions that aged beer contains roughly .4 vol of residual CO2.  Using the table here, I estimated I would need about 7.25 oz of corn sugar to reach a target carbonation of 2.8 vol.  I made sure to stir in the yeast and sugar as I bottled, but I'm not sure if much yeast made it into the bottles; there was still a lot of it on the bottom of the bottling bucket when I finished.  The specific gravity of this beer hasn't changed, still 1.021, but it tastes a bit less sweet.  There's a lot going on this beer, and I think it will be really good if the high carbonation lightens up the sweetness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

#24 Westvleteren XII Clone - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

This beer will be, without a doubt, the most challenging beer I've attempted so far.  Imperial stouts can go south in a hurry, and it takes skill to craft a fine Pilsner (coming soon), but as far as I'm concerned, the highest order of alchemy is that which produces the Belgian quadrupel.  A relic of a thousand years of monastic brewing tradition, the Trappist abbeys produce a drink as deep and rich as any on earth.  If there were ever a Holy Grail, this is it.

The history of these breweries and there products is fascinating, but beyond the scope of this post, so I sincerely encourage you to check out the history chapter of Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus.  The book as a whole may be aimed at homebrewers, but that section is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in Trappist beer.

The abbeys at Westvleteren and Rochefort produce two of the best examples of the style--along with the former brewers for Westvleteren who now run the secular brewery St. Bernardus.  All three beers are strong and rich, though with a surprisingly dry finish, and a menagerie of subtle flavors including rum, plum, raisin, banana, clove, and burnt caramel.  I decided to try my hand at the Westvleteren recipe using the process notes from Brew Like a Monk and the recipe put together by HomeBrewTalk member "saq."  I'm hesitant to call this a "clone" of Westvleteren XII; my goal is just to brew an awesome quad, not an exact replica, but if that is the cream of the crop I might as well use it as a starting point.

Westvleteren 12 Clone
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 9.8 %
Estimated OG: 1.095 SG
Estimated FG: 1.021 SG
Estimated Color: 34.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 35.6 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 74.2 %
Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Amt          Name                                     %/IBU
12 lbs       Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (2.0 SRM)            57.0 %
6 lbs        Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM)          28.5 %
1.0 oz       Carafa III (525.0 SRM)                   0.3 %
1.25 oz      Willamette [7.50 %] - Boil 60.0 min      22.4 IBUs
1.00 oz      Hersbrucker [1.60 %] - Boil 20.0 min     2.3 IBUs
1.00 oz      Willamette [7.50 %] - Boil 20.0 min      10.8 IBUs
1.00 Items   Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)        -
3 lbs        D-180 Candi Syrup [Boil for 5 min]       14.2 %
1.0 pkg      Trappist High Gravity (Wyeast Labs 3787] -

Mash Schedule: Decoction, Classic Double, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 18 lbs 1.0 oz
Estimated Cost: $51.72

Saturday, June 7, 2014

#23 Belgian Single - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Brewday 6/7/14:
Sometimes you just have those days where nothing goes right: maybe you miss your mash temps (check), miss calculate your recipe (check), or leave a ball valve open (triple check).  I guess that's apt to happen when you try out a complicated new procedure like decoction mashing, so it's a good thing I didn't jump right into the quad.  I'm not going to craft a whole narrative for the day, but here's the play by play of what should have happened during the mash vs what did:

-Mash in at 132F to break down large proteins (but not small) and beta-glucans to maintain head while eliminating haze.  Rest 5 min.
-Pull first decoction and heat (~10min) to 150F, wait 10min, bring to boil (~15min), boil 10min.
-Return decoction to main mash (sacch1 rest), sit for 15min @147F.
-Pull second decoction, bring to boil (~15min), boil 10 min.
-Return decoction to main mash (sacch2 rest), sit for 20 min @160F.
-Mash in at 138F, stirred to bring it down to 135F over 5 min, held for 5 more.
-Pulled first decoction and heat (~10min) to 150F, wait 10min, main mash down to 131F -Bring decoction to boil (~10min), boil 10min.
-Return decoction to main mash (sacch1 rest), temp at 148F, sit for 15min.
-Pull second decoction, bring to boil (~15min), boil 10 min, main mash at 140F.
-Return decoction to main mash (sacch2 rest), sit for 20 min @ 150F.

As you can see, I lost heat in the main mash much more quickly than expected considering it was in an insulated cooler.  I think I must have been opening the lid to check the temperature too often.

I also miscalculated the boil off volume (forgot to key in a 90 minute boil for the pilsner malt), so my sparge volume ended up being too small.  Combined with less first runnings than expected and the lower temperatures, my efficiency dropped a solid 10%.  I completed the boil with 3.3 gal of 1.062 wort, but I only had .8 gal of good water left, so I used that to top up.  The result is a little stronger, both in sugar (SG 1.050) and bitterness (41 IBU), but it's still balanced and came in very close to the Westvleteren Blonde, though with all pilsner malt instead of with a little sugar.

Cooled to 70F, 30sec O2, yeast pitched from Wyeast smackpack, placed in fridge at 68F.

2 Days:  Fermentation looks to be going well, with temperatures edging up around 70F-72F.  Usually that would worry me, but with the Westmalle yeast, it sounds best just to let it ride.  Temp raised to 78F for the remainder of primary to help the yeast finish strong.

8 Days:  Krausen has dropped, but there's still plenty of yeast in suspension.  I dropped the temperature down to 72F to let it sit for the next week.

Friday, June 6, 2014

#23 Belgian Single - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

As an amateur brewer (in skill, not just pay grade) it can be nice to brew styles that are more open.  There's plenty of room to "experiment" ... or rather, when things go awry nobody notices.  I guess that's especially true of Belgian "styles" because Belgians don't really brew to style anyway.  This next beer is a light Belgian blonde / enkel / patersbier / table beer, which if you couldn't tell by the confusion with the name is even less of a style than your average Belgian.  The idea is for a beer light in color and body, dry and crisp, just enough hops to be noticeable, and that classic Belgian yeast character.  Generally something a Belgian would drink by the liter (not saying I support drinking in metric).  They aren't real popular here in the U.S., but I came across a few other brewing blogs with recipes (listed at the bottom) and the details in Brew Like A Monk helped lead the way.  Take a look at those resources for a real preview of the style as well.

However, the real reason I want to brew this beer is that it will be a test bed for the mashing and fermentation techniques I'll need for my next beer, a quadrupel.  The ingredients for that one will be expensive, and the target more defined, so I'll start with something cheaper.  The Trappist monks use a decoction mash, so I'll try my hand at that.  I've read that it doesn't really make that much of a difference with fully modified malt, but if the monks keep doing it then there must be a reason.  I'll try to keep this post short and leave the exact temps and times for the brewday post.

Another signature of Belgian brewing is the estery yeast character.  I tend to ferment my ales cool to limit esters production, but Trappist breweries often ferment in the 70's and Westvleteren as high as 82F.  While it's not difficult to set a different number on the temperature controller, it's worth taking a practice run to make sure the fermentation profile works as planned: flavorful esters without the harsh phenolic and fusel alcohol flavors.  Again, checkout the the brewday post if you're into specifics.

Belgian Single
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 5.1 %
Estimated OG: 1.046 SG
Estimated FG: 1.007 SG
Estimated Color: 3.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 34.5 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 77.4 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amt         Name                                     %/IBU
10 lbs      Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (2.0 SRM)            100.0 %
2.00 oz     Saaz [3.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min            18.9 IBUs
0.55 oz     Willamette [5.70 %] - Boil 60.0 min      9.9 IBUs
1.00 oz     Saaz [3.00 %] - Boil 20.0 min            5.7 IBUs
1.00 Tablet Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)        -
1.00 oz     Saaz [3.00 %] - Boil 0.0 min             0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg     Trappist High Gravity (Wyeast Labs #3787)-

Mash Schedule: Double Decoction, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 10 lbs
Estimated Cost: $23.45

One last note about the hops.  Originally I was going to go all Saaz, but it's surprising how little alpha acids they have (3.0%) compared to American hops.  I ended up supplementing the bittering addition with some Willamette I had laying around to keep the total hop mass down.  Ideally I would have liked to use something with lower cohumulone like Magnum, but I don't have any on hand and I really don't think it will be noticeable.

The Mad Fermentationist
The Perfect Pint
Odin Brewing
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