Saturday, March 28, 2015

#41 Amarillo-Simcoe-Centennial XPA - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

This brewday was pretty ambitious.  I tried to brew the dark mild at the same time, plus I opened up the HopRocket, trying to fit that into the cold-side plumbing without having inspected it before hand to see how it works.  Well as you probably guessed, it was a bit of a mess.

To start things off, the mash temperature was way off.  I had some friends helping with the brewday which is the only reason we even got this thing off the ground, but I also should have inspected their work more closely.  It's hard to hit the strike temperature just right using a propane burner and aluminum pot as the pot continues to transmit heat to the water well after the flange is shut off.  Because of this, our strike water was likely well above the target temperature, bringing the mash to 160F instead of 150F.

Next we set to work on the hop back.  The HopRocket has 1/2" threaded fittings--the rest of the system is 3/8" hose barbs--so we had to rush to Home Depot for adapters.  Then there wasn't enough pressure to drain from the brew kettle through the hop back, the chiller, and into the fermenter, so we had to hook up the pump (also a first) and of course find out we didn't have fittings for that either.  Once that was all ready, we circulated oxi clean (haven't mixed up any home made PBW yet), water, and Star San to clean and sanitize the whole post-boil assembly.

After all those hurdles, we finally got the beer knocked out.  It flowed through the HopRocket without a hitch, though we'll see how much flavor and aroma comes through.  My initial impression was not as much as I expected.

Wort cooled to 68F, 45 sec oxygen.  Yeast pitched from smack-pack and placed in fridge at 65F.

1 Day:  Yeast is already throwing up a healthy krausen, unlike the mild...

3 Days:  Temp bumped to 70F.  Looks like there has been a bit of blowoff.  No surprise with an aggressive yeast like Chico and such little headspace.

5 Days:  Looks like there was a problem with the temperature controller (I'm getting real sick of this...) and the heater wasn't coming on.  Thankfully the yeast heated themselves up to 70F anyway (67F ambient).  I added the dry hops here as I'll be out of town for the next week.

15 Days:  Racked to keg.  Normally I would have cold crashed after 5 days to minimize extraction of unwanted flavors (not as much a concern with leaf hops) and drop any yeast still in suspension, but ... I forgot.  I was out of town and definitely not thinking about minimizing polyphenol load.

#42 Dark Mild #2 - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

This was supposed to be a fun brewday; a bunch of friends came up to hang out, brew (and drink) some beer.  Things didn't exactly go as planned.

To start with, the mash started a little warm (160F vs. 156F), so I stirred it until the temperature dropped close to the target.  Then the mash tun decided it had had enough of my shenanigans and refused to cooperate for the rest of the brew.  I got a stuck mash on the first runnings, which with my system means a piece of the PVC manifold came off and the tubing clogged.  I learned on the barleywine from hell that I can just dump the mash into a BIAB bag in the brew kettle and just forget about getting clear wort.

Well that was all well and good the first time, but then it happened again on the batch sparge.  I couldn't just dump it in the brew kettle since there was stronger wort in there, so we had to go first into the aluminum pot I use to heat water, then dump that into the brew kettle.  It was a mess.

I'm sure I could come up with something to fix all these mash issues I'm having, but I'm working on getting a whole new brewing system, so I'm not investing much time or energy into this one.

Wort cooled to 68F, 45 sec oxygen.  Yeast pitched from smack-pack and placed in fridge at 65F.

1 Day:  No sign of fermentation yet.  It's a bit disconcerting with the XPA bubbling along next to it, but not a serious concern yet.  Different strains behave differently, plus this package was a bit older.

3 Days:  Ok, things did eventually take off, so no worries,  Temp bumped to 70F.

5 Days:  Looks like there was a problem with the temperature controller (I'm getting real sick of this...) and the heater wasn't coming on.  Thankfully the yeast heated themselves up to 70F anyway (67F ambient).

15 Days:  Racked to keg.

Friday, March 27, 2015

#42 Dark Mild #2 - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Last January, Steve and I tried our hand at a mild ale, a low alcohol English ale with little hops and hearty malt flavor, that makes a nice complement when there's a hoppy beer on tap.  I put together a darker recipe, aiming for something similar to Nottingham Brewery's Rock Mild.  Our recipe was relatively simple and loaded up on caramel and chocolate malt, so the final product tasted fairly simple as well.  The chocolate malt did lend some roastiness, but it wasn't exactly a chocolate roastiness, and the finish was straight peanut butter.  I've heard the "nutty" tossed around to describe beer, but it wasn't until I brewed this that I understood what that meant.  The beer wasn't bad, but certainly not what we were thinking.

Well we're again brewing a hoppy beer and wanted a low alcohol complement, so it's time to give this concept another shot.  I think the key for this beer will be to trade the chocolate malt for roasted barley (300L, not to be confused with the darker black black barley at 500L).  In the stout I brewed last fall, it gave us a nice dark chocolate flavor until I screwed up the carbonation.  In addition, we're diversifying the grist, since malt flavors tend to come through much more cleanly in lighter beers.  Adding another caramel malt, and more dark grains should make it taste less boring and hopefully less thin.

After tasting my lastest session ale, I'm really excited about Wyeast 1450 for malty beers.  It emphasized the rich malt flavors without too much fruitiness on the top, even less than Chico which I always find has a slight apple crispness.  Unfortunately the homebrew shop didn't have any in stock, so I went with Wyeast 1335 - British Ale II.  The guy at the shop liked it in his milds, and I think it will be interesting to try a new yeast.  There are so many expressive English strains that I would love to try, but just haven't had the fermentation space to compare all of them.  Someday.  In the mean time, I'll settle for another shot in the dark.

Dark Mild #2
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 3.5 %
Estimated OG: 1.038 SG
Estimated FG: 1.011 SG
Estimated Color: 20.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 17.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amt          Name                                     %/IBU
6 lbs 8.0 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (2.0 SRM)           74.3 %
8.0 oz       Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (60.0 SRM)    5.7 %
8.0 oz       Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                   5.7 %
8.0 oz       Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM)               5.7 %
4.0 oz       Brown Malt (30.0 SRM)                    2.9 %
4.0 oz       Caramel/Crystal Malt - 120L (120.0 SRM)  2.9 %
4.0 oz       Pale Chocolate Malt (250.0 SRM)          2.9 %
0.50 oz      Amarillo [10.60 %] - Boil 60.0 min       17.0 IBUs
1.00 tsp     Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 mins)          -
1.00 Items   Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)        -
1.0 pkg      British Ale II (Wyeast Labs #1335)       -

Mash Schedule: 60 min Single Infusion @156F, No Mash Out, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 8 lbs 12.0 oz
Estimated Cost: $20.26

#41 Amarillo-Simcoe-Centennial XPA - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I found out the other day that my friend Judy has the exact same birthday as I do, so in anticipation of the event, my next beer will be her favorite style (and everybody's): IPA.  However I don't really need to have 5 gal of 7% beer beckoning from the tap everyday.  My plan is to scale this back just a bit--not quite to session IPA levels, but something like a pale ale with too many hops.  Because nobody is going to argue with that.  Now since this isn't strong enough to be an IPA, but compared to a pale ale has a little something extra, I think this beer could be called an XPA.  I'm not the first to brew something along these lines (3 Floyd's Alpha King, Drake's 1500) or use that name (Deschutes XPA, AleSmith X), but it has an X in the name and that automatically makes it cool.

The goal of this beer is to sum up my current thoughts on what an IPA should be: pale, dry. drinkable (or "chuggable" in my friend Steve's words), a perfect palette for hops to play on.  There's no reason it needs to be 9%--especially when you have to fight through malt sweetness--and I think the mid 5% range is right where I want it to be.  Pliny the Elder is a great example of the kind of malt base I'm looking for, but at 8%, the dry finish is more wizardry (and corn sugar) than a natural balance.  Those flavors could just as easily reside in a 5% package.  Clean American 2-row with just a touch of caramel and you're there.

Yeast is important, but I have to admit I haven't found a better yeast for IPA's then good ol' Chico.  I'd love to try some of the drier English strains, see if I can find one where the fruity esters complement the hops, but I don't have room for a split batch this time.  Maybe once my new brewing station is fully operational I'll have the capacity for some of these much needed experiments.

It's funny, but once this foundation is laid down, I feel like I could throw almost whatever hops on top and it would be a solid beer.  Maybe a classic 3 C's blend (à la Dale's or Universale)?  A southern hemisphere odyssey?  Experiment with something less famous like Ahtanum or Belma?  In due time I think all these are worth brewing, but this time I'm going to send Amarillo up to bat.  I've brewed several hop forward beers with it over the last year and I still have some left in my stockpile.  My previous attempts were okay, but I haven't quite hit the nail on the head; I haven't produced a beer that capitalizes on the smooth mango character while accenting it with a more piquant hop.  Simcoe is the obvious first choice, and for good reason, the two have pair beautifully in some of my favorite IPA's.  However, after my hoppy American wheat, I decided a touch of Centennial would add another sharp counterpoint to aid the Simcoe, and the lemony facet would slide in nicely alongside the Amarillo.  It's finally time to actually test that theory.

The amounts and timings I'm not real sure on, but on this batch I'll be debuting my new HopRocket, so that all goes out the window anyway.  I don't know what kind of  hop aroma/flavors to expect out of the hop back, so it will be a good experiment.  All 0 min. hops listed below will be placed in the hopback.

Amarillo-Simcoe-Centennial XPA
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 5.8 %
Estimated OG: 1.056 SG
Estimated FG: 1.012 SG
Estimated Color: 5.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 57.3 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amt        Name                                     %/IBU
12 lbs     Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           96.0 %
8.0 oz     Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)    4.0 %
2.00 oz    Amarillo [10.60 %] - Boil 60.0 min       43.0 IBUs
1.00 tsp   Yeast Nutrient (Boil 15.0 mins)          -
1.00 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)        -
1.00 oz    Amarillo [10.60 %] - Boil 0.0 min        0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz    Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 0.0 min          0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz    Centennial [10.30 %] - Boil 0.0 min      0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg    American Ale (Wyeast Labs #1056)         -
1.00 oz    Amarillo [10.60 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days    0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz    Simcoe [14.40 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days      0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz    Centennial [10.30 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days  0.0 IBUs

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion @150, No Mash Out, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 12 lbs 8.0 oz
Estimated Cost: $30.55

#39 Willamette Session Ale - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 4.5-5%
IBU: 36
Serving Temp: 38F
Carbonation: 2.6 vol
Grade: B+

Despite how terribly brewday went, I'm really excited about this beer!  The grain bill here is pretty cool, confirming what I thought when I first used it in the session IPA last summer, but I still have to come up with the right hops and yeast combination to complement it.

The beer is somewhere between a dark golden and a light brown.  It's interesting trying to describe this beer to people because it's too malty to be an American pale ale, too light to be a brown ale, not hoppy enough to be a session IPA, too American (in yeast and hops) to be an English bitter... I think the name I like most is just "American Session Ale."

I split the batch between two yeasts--good old Chico, and Denny's Favorite 50 from Wyeast--and I learned a lot about how they affect the beer.  I put the Chico variant on tap first, and it had a surprising amount of fruitiness.  It was sort of an appley crispness that seemed to clash a bit with all the malt flavors swirling around.  It's always hard to tell whether those flavors are from the yeast or the hops, so it was good to compare it to another yeast.  The keg made with Denny's yeast had significantly less fruitiness, with the malt more in the forefront.  This half attenuated even more than the Chico half, so there was a hint of dry toasted malt flavor that was hidden in the Chico version; a friend even described it as a "summer brown ale."  Both versions were just noticeably thin, and I think the oats I forgot on brewday would have gone a long way to filling in that emptiness.

For this beer, Denny's yeast was the clear winner.  I think this grain bill (more as I drew up the recipe than how I brewed it) is also solid, but the hops need a bit of work.  I wasn't really happy with Willamette; I haven't come up with the words to describe it, but it doesn't add what I was looking for and adds things I wasn't.  I'm not sure what it was I was looking for so it will take a bit of experimentation to figure it out.  Cascade?  Chinook?  Simcoe?  Fuggles?  Looking over descriptions of some hops I've never tried, I think Sovereign, Ella and Summer could be a good fit too.  Guess I'll just have to brew some more!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

How Long Does it Take to Brew a Beer?

When I tell people I brew beer, the most common question they ask is "How long does it take?"  (Closely followed by "Like in your bathtub?" or "So basically like Breaking Bad?")  It's a difficult question to answer since it can mean several different things:  How long does the brewday take?  How long does it take before the beer is ready to drink?  How much time do you spend on a single batch of beer?  On top of that, it can vary from batch to batch.  That's a bit much to cover to answer a casual question, so if you're interested here's the full explanation.

In terms of total time spent, maybe the longest stage of brewing is the preparation.  Researching the style (both in books and bottle), writing the recipe, outlining a process, more research.  However, it's not really fair to include all the time I spend daydreaming about beer at work.  If I could get paid by the hour for time I spent researching (and writing about) beer, I could quit my day job.  And all that doesn't even include time spent running to the homebrew store to pick up ingredients or making modifications to equipment.

This is what people most often think of when they think brewing--a giant boiling vat of mysterious ingredients which, under the bearded alchemist's watchful eye, transforms into that golden elixir we love so much.  In reality it's mostly cleaning.  Start to finish, brewday takes me about 8 hours for one batch.  The breakdown is roughly 1 hr of setup, 1hr to heat strike water and continue cleaning, 1 hr for the mash, 1 hr for vorlauf and sparge, 1 hr for boil, 1 hr for chill, and two more hours to rack to the fermenter and cleanup.  If I time things right, I can get another batch done with only a couple hours more, but this requires careful planning and that everything goes according to that plan.

Now that is of course only for my standard procedure.  Other brewers may do things differently: more involved mashing regime, longer boil, more or less time cleaning, etc.  If someone were to brew a Czech pilsner for example, the triple-decoction mash and 90 minute boil that are required when dealing with under-modified pilsner malt would both extend the brewday.  I use pure 02 to oxygenate the wort, but some homebrewers shake the wort or bubble air through it until they believe there is sufficient oxygen dissolved to support healthy yeast, maybe a 30-minute addition.  On the other end of the spectrum, extract brewers can skip the mash and sparge, going directly to the boil, effectively cutting the brewday in half.  There are a lot of variables to consider, but each brewer tends to find a rhythm in his brewery, and for me that 8 hour mark is a fairly good rule of thumb.

Fermentation and Conditioning:
Once the yeast are unleashed, the rest is mostly up to them.  There's not much for a brewer to do besides manage temperatures and keep from screwing things up.  It takes less than a week for the yeast to complete fermentation, converting all the sugar they care to digest into ethanol, carbon dioxide and a host of flavor components.

But at that point, the beer is rarely ready to drink.  The yeast often takes a few days to settle out, maybe it needs time for dark malt flavors to come together or fusel alcohols to mellow, maybe it needs time to lager, or maybe there is time set aside for dry-hopping.  It depends on the style of beer, but for something best fresh like a wheat ale or IPA, two weeks from brewday to packaging is fairly reasonable, lagers need roughly a month, and big stouts and barleywines can take up to a year.

The final step before a beer is ready to drink is packaging.  With modern force carbonation techniques a keg can be ready to drink in as little as 24 hrs.  On the other hand bottle conditioned beers take roughly 3 weeks to naturally carbonate in the bottle.  These are the two methods I practice, but there is all sorts of other middle ground with cask ales and force carbonated bottles falling somewhere in between.

Personally I tend to keg my low gravity, everyday beers since it is the quickest and easiest solution, requiring maybe an hour of brewer time to clean and sanitize equipment and take all the necessary measurements before siphoning over to the keg.  It's the kind of thing I can do on brewday while waiting for water to boil.  However if I brew a bigger beer that I shouldn't be drinking as frequently or something special that I want to horde, I will put that in bottles.  On the homebrew scale, bottling is a huge pain.  It often takes me an entire day to clean, sanitize, and fill each bottle individually by hand.  It is probably the single task I dread the most in the entire process.

So when you put that together what do you get?  Well start to finish, a beer can take anywhere from two weeks to a year to complete, but usually somewhere around four weeks.  However little of that time is spend actively brewing the beer.  Brewday takes me about eight hours, tending and packaging somewhere from two to ten, and "research" is always an ongoing process.  Most people quickly realize this is more trouble than it's worth to brew their own beer, but for some of us obsession seems to justify any investment of time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

#24 Westvleteren XII Clone - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 10.1%
IBU: 36
Serving Temp: 40F
Carbonation: 2.8 vol
Grade: B+

The best thing about writing about beer is that I get to drink beer while I do it.  It's even better when it's good beer.  It's even better when it's a beer as good as this one.

First things I taste is that it's super sweet.  Now I know I just finished saying how good this beer is, but it's a major flaw.  The prune flavor from the candi syrup is definitely at the forefront, but once you get past that there is a lot more going on: rich maltiness (more than I find in most American-made quads), a bit of burnt sugar from the syrup, all woven together by the yeast esters.  It's really a nice, smooth package.  The alcohol is surprisingly hidden; it's there if you look for it, but I would expect more for 10.1%.

Now a word about that under-attenuation:  As I wrote in the fermentation notes, the heater went out during fermentation and I don't think it ever got warm enough for this Westmalle yeast to really do its thing.  I've read that this yeast likes to be hot--up around 80F-- or it will drop out early, which I think happened here.  Thankfully when I added the priming sugar, the yeast just stuck to that and didn't overcarbonate the bottles like happened with the export stout.  That being said, a little more carbonation--maybe up around 3 vol--may have helped cut the sweetness.

I feel like this beer was really close to being the best beer ever, but because of the under-attenuation it definitely missed, so I really want to brew it again.  I think that the reduced sweetness will also cut the fruit flavors a bit, hopefully letting the other flavors come out a bit more.  I'm curious though if the maltiness would also be reduced.  Speaking of maltiness, the decoction mash was a huge pain in the butt.  If I were to do this again, I would definitely try it without the decoction to see if it really made a difference.  I don't think it's a big deal, but I'm worried it might be linked to that malty flavor I liked so much.  I guess I'll just have to brew it again and see!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

#37 Smoked Black IPA - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 7.1%
IBU: 91
Serving Temp: 38F
Carbonation: 2.7 vol
Grade: B+

I just got home from Burlington, Vermont, home of the Vermont Pub and Brewery and the first black IPA--Blackwatch--so it sounds like a good time to review my own black IPA.  Like with the saison, I want to make it clear that this is not a style I enjoy.  I don't like black IPAs, or really Chinook hops or smoked malt for that matter, so this recipe feels a lot like an alchemist boiling excrement and expecting to make gold.

So how did it turn out?  Bitter.  Lots of bittering hops plus dark malt combines for a beer that is borderline abrasive.  The only reason I say borderline is because people seem to love their abrasive ales these days, otherwise I would say the bitterness and black patent could be both dialed back just a bit.  Same goes for the smoked malt.  Bitterness is one thing, but it's real easy for smoked malt to detract from a beer if you get too much, and that's what ended up here.  I think maybe 1/2 to 2/3 the smoked malt would do the trick.

But on the other hand, I think the pieces are all there for an awesome beer.  The smokiness, when scaled back will fit surprisingly well with the dark malts.  The body is nice and light--the sugar really did the trick--and finishes exceptionally dry which I really like.  The hops are also perfect.  Chinook is definitely the hop I was looking for as the spicy and resinous flavors blend behind the aggressive malts, leaving only the piney bitterness poking through.

The hallmark of a special recipe is that the ingredients combine to form something better than the some of their parts (take water, malt, hops, and yeast for example), transforming the pieces into something new; balanced yet interesting, complex yet cohesive, flavorful.  I've brewed a couple beers that I felt that way about--the Oaked Arrogant Bastard Clone, Westvleteren XII Clone, and Jamil's Irish Red--but as you can tell, none of these were my recipes.  This beer may not taste quite that good, but I think with some refinement this recipe could indeed be something special.
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