Saturday, July 25, 2015

#42 Dark Mild #2 - Tasting

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

ABV: 3.3%
IBU: 15
Serving Temp: 38F
Carbonation: 2.6 vol
Grade: B

For all the struggles on brewday, this beer turned out pretty clean.  I thought this beer was lost after two clogged tubes in the lauter manifold, but we soldiered on and managed to get it into the boil kettle.  I'm glad we didn't give up because I love having a low alcohol dark beer on hand.  The recipe isn't perfect, I think I may be the only one who drinks it at this point, but it's a significant improvement over my last attempt at a mild.

This beer pours a nice dark brown, not quite stout-like, somewhere around a brown porter.  I'm serving this beer with more carbonation than your typical English ale--I have the XPA (extreme!) on tap on the other side which I don't want to serve flat--so it comes with a tasty-looking pile of tan foam.  Unfortunately it quickly dissipates, almost fizzing away.  There are many components that contribute to foam stability--Dr. Bamforth has a whole book on the subject--but I think this beer lacks the hop oil to bind the bubbles together.  There's only half an ounce in 5 gal, which isn't much.

As I take a sip, I notice the aroma is surprisingly strong on coffee, and the flavor initially follows as well.  I think the combination of all the roasted barley (and maybe the brown malt as well) gives it more edge than I anticipated.  But after that, I feel like the middle of this beer is kind of watery.  My more charitable friends go with "easy-drinking" ... but most stick with watery.  After that the finish isn't too bad.  The esters from the English yeast come out with a slight malt nuttiness, all smoothed together by the oats.

It seems like after being whipsawed between the coffee and the (ahem) "extreme drinkability," my tongue doesn't know what to think.  If I were to brew this again with the same intentions--a clean, chocolatey, low ABV beer with as much body as it can muster--I think I would scale back the roasted barley and remove the brown malt entirely to ease the coffee edge.  Instead I would add a bit more oats to improve the body and then load it up with Vienna malt.  In such a low gravity beer, it's hard to get enough malt flavor so that it doesn't taste watery like this edition was, and the Vienna packs a lot more maltiness than even the Maris Otter I used here.  I found this technique worked very well in my American session ale, and I think would be perfect for a malt focused beer like the mild.

But even that might not be enough to raise the body, so I would increase the OG as well.  We overshot the mash temperature (160F vs 156F) which was good because it dropped the attenuation down to 65%, resulting in only 3.3% ABV.  However, that opens the door for a littler more malt to bump it back up to maybe 3.7%.  That's still plenty low, and lets us pump up the flavor.

Once that's all in place, we can start looking at more subtle variables like yeast, hops, and water.

Yeast: The British Ale II yeast was nice, faintly estery, but not too much.  Of course I wonder how it would have gone with the Denny's 50 yeast, but it also whet my appetite for a more estery English mild.  I could definitely see raising the temp with this yeast and letting it run wild, maybe with a less roasty malt bill.

Hops:  Hops aren't the focus here, but it would be nice to have a few more to help the head retention.  Amarillo is pretty high alpha-acid, so swapping that for something lower would allow me to use more in the bittering edition without throwing off the flavor.  Overall bitterness was about right though.

Water:  What about adding some sodium?  I've never added much (if any) sodium to a water profile, but supposedly it can enhance the perception of fullness in a beer.  This seems like a good recipe to experiment with that.

So overall this was a decent beer, but the recipe isn't really there yet.  And to make matters worse, I think I'm the only one who really likes the style.  This reminded me how nice it is to have a dark, low alcohol beer to come home to, but nobody else really feels the same way.  I guess this probably won't be a recipe to put into production.

#33 Wild Pear-Apple Cider - Tasting

Recipe     -     Tasting

ABV: 6.2%
Grade: B+

As a homebrewer, this is one of those experiments that is just flat out cool.  I was able to take juice that was "going bad," and with the help of some microbes from ancient groves on the other side of the world, turn it into an interesting and tasty finished product.  It's certainly not perfect, but that's not keeping me from drinking it, and I learned a ton about cider making.

Now a note on the labeling.  I usually label each bottle with a batch number, then if I split it (like I did this one), I assign letters to the sub-batches.  The first one is usually what amounts to a control trial--the least adventurous ingredients or process, the one I'm most familiar with--with subsequent.  In this case, that was the half fermented with the English ale yeast, but I can't help think of the Spanish half first, so we'll start there.

Spanish Variant (33b):
When this was fresh, this was a really cool cider.  There was a crisp tartness from apples and wild bugs--not as biting as most cider from Asturias--that was balanced out by a touch of sweetness and the almost gritty tannin of the pears.  It all came together in a very tasty way.  Unfortunately, since then it has started to oxidize.  The crisp, brightness has been replaced by the cardboard/rat's nest kind of thing that just ruins a cider.  Interestingly enough, not all bottles have aged the same way; there are still a few here and there that remind me what this batch was like in its heyday ... and why I need to do this again next year.

English Variant (33a):
Uncarbonated, this was just kind of bland compared to the Spanish batch.  The ale yeast added a bit of esters that I always perceive as musty in cider, and didn't pop with a bright acidity from the wild yeast and bacteria.  However as it continued to mature, the smaller population of bacteria seemed to continue to work, bringing it closer--but not quite--to the Spanish half.  When it was fully carbonated it seemed to transform into a different beast all together.  The prickliness of the carbonation seemed to complement the tannin of the pears in a way reminiscent of the Etienne Dupont I recently shared with my sister.

It has also been interesting to see that this beer has not oxidized near as quickly as the uncarbonated half.  I knew that when yeast wake up to ferment the priming sugar, they will scavenge the oxygen remaining in the package, but it's surprising how dramatic the difference is.

This cider showed so much promise at bottling that it's disappointing to see it decline so quickly.  There is a French saying that "air is the enemy of cider," and after tasting the effects of oxidation I understand what they meant.  I wish I had fresh juice to get started on the next batch while the lessons are still fresh, but I guess I'll have to wait for fall.
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