Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ruminations on Brewing American Pale Ale

So, first off, apologies for the dearth of posting over the past several months.  It has not been for a lack of brewing, I assure you, but more for a lack of "interesting" brewing and life getting in the way.  My wife and I recently found out we are having a baby boy so efforts have been focused on that department of late.  Also, I've put together a kegerator and have basically just been brewing some hoppy beers that I like to have on tap -- many of which I have already posted about in the past.  There have been a few brews that I've done that are still conditioning that I'm hoping will be post-worthy, so keep an eye out for those.

Recently my brewing has really centered around creating approachable, easy-drinking, medium-strength, "hop-flavor-foward" beers.  After doing many of these over the past few years and changing my process and ingredients, I think I've finally found a method that results in beers that at least I like to drink.  I don't think that I am the only one who is embracing this trend either, as I'm starting to see more beers straddling the Hoppy APA/Session IPA categories.

Thus, here are some of my musings on various process matters and techniques that I've found to have been successful.

Water Profile
Obviously in a hoppy beer, the hops come roaring onto center stage and steal all of the credit.  Don't get me wrong, I think hop selection and usage are incredibly important, but I'm beginning to think that water chemistry can be argued to be just as important...if not more so.

Full disclosure, I do not hold myself out as an expert in water chemistry.  In fact, I think that my approach to building a water profile for low-medium ABV hoppy beers is in direct opposition to what is commonly preached by homebrewers with more of a chemistry background.

The general advice that I've encountered in my homebrew career has been to accentuate hop character by increasing the PPM of sulfate.  Sulfate ions present in beer serve to increase a drinkers' perception of "dryness" in the beer, thereby increasing the drinkers' perception of hops.  Conversely, the Chloride ion (not to be confused with chlorine or chloramine) is another water salt that many say to keep diminished.  Chloride tends to add a fuller, maltier mouthfeel to the beer, with many arguing that this muddles hop character.

A common metric cited to measure their combined impact is the sulfate/chloride ratio.  A ratio of over 2 will indicate a beer that trends toward hoppy, whereas a ratio of 0.5 will tend to produce a beer that is more on the malty side.  I have several issues with this metric.  First off, beers with a 200pm SO4/100ppm Cl ratio will have a very different character than one with a 20ppm SO4/10ppm Cl ratio, however the metric would be identical.  Also, when people refer to sulfates as producing a "hoppier" beer, it seems to me that they are referring to hop bitterness.  Hops have three different contribution to a beer experience (other than antiseptic properties): bitterness, flavor, and aroma.  In some beers, especially American pale ales, hop bitterness is not necessarily a characteristic that I want to emphasize -- at least not instead of hop flavor.

In my case, I've been increasing the chloride concentration while also adding sulfates but to a concentration far less than commonly recommended.  Generally, I've been utilizing a water profile focusing on a 100ppm Ca, 75ppm SO4, and 150ppm Cl.  To me, this water combination results in a beer that is "dry" when mashed low, but allows the malt backbone to be noticeable.  The characteristic is hard to put a finger on, but I can really only describe the mouthfeel as "fluffy".  Additionally, since the sulfates are lower than traditional IPAs, you get a ton of hop flavor without bitterness (provided you use a lot of hops, see later section).

Another issue with water profile that I feel is commonly overlooked is mash pH.  I know a lot of homebrewers that are advanced enough to be mindful of mash pH simply try to get it into the 5.3 - 5.5 range in order to maximize conversion of starches.  I've observed with most of my beers where crispness is an ideal trait that a mash pH of 5.2 lends a noticeable briskness to the beer that is lacking at higher mash pH.  It's not really a bite of acidity, but just a little bit more sharpness.

For the longest time once I switched to all grain brewing, I used regular, domestic 2-row as 90-100% of my grist in almost all of my "American" style beers.  It wasn't until I brewed a clone of Russian River's Row 2, Hill 56 Simcoe single hop APA that I realized the benefit of using a blend of different base malts.  Instead of just using 2-row, Vinnie replaced half with Pilsner.  The character was so noticeable that I've been using different blends of base malts with Pilsner, 2-Row, Maris Otter, Golden Promise and some local 6-Row all in varying amounts.  The blending of base malts is something I want to explore more in a variety of different styles.

I generally agree with the idea that you don't need crystal malts in APAs and IPAs, except for maybe a small amount in an APA.  My recommendation is that if you are looking to add a touch for color or a tiny bit of sweetness that you keep crystal malts under 5% of the grist.  A lot of recipes call for Cara-pils, but in my opinion, if you are doing everything else right in the brewing process you should have plenty of head stabilizing proteins.  If you find your beers don't have as much head as you would like, think about adding a little bit of flaked wheat or oats.  Both will add body and protein without much sweetness.

Hop Selection
When it comes to selecting hops, I think that the citrus/melon/grapefruit hops really shine in a pale ale.  Hops like Simcoe that bring a lot of pine and resin to the table don't, in my opinion, lend a character that is desirable in a low ABV beer.  Don't get me wrong, I love a really dank, resiny IPA and DIPA, but I do think that resiny flavors mesh well with bitterness.  Since we are trying to make a pale ale that has restrained bitterness, resinous hops should play second fiddle to more fruit-forward hops, if they are even included at all.

While these beers excel at showcasing new hops through a single hop experiment, using a blend of hops with complementary flavors takes them to new heights.  Using blends like Mosaic/Nelson/Hull Melon or Galaxy/Citra/Mosaic/Amarillo lends a taste to pale ales that I can only describe as the juiciest tasting Starburst you've ever eaten.  I've become a big fan of utilizing a hop's flavor wheel to develop new and interesting combinations.

Once you've settled on your hop blend, how you use these hops in the boil is of paramount importance.  With my pale ales, 95-100% of the hops are tossed in at flameout or after.  I'll usually do a small bittering charge with Magnum to ~ 15 IBU, but the rest of the hops are resigned to the end of the boil.  I usually will shoot for a total IBU calculation of 40-50, although since most of the hops are steeped post-boil, these calculations should be taken with a grain of salt.

My flavor hop additions come in two punches.  The first takes place as soon as I turn the flame off.  If I'm using a blend of hops totaling 6oz, half of these will go in at flameout for a 10 minute steep.  During this time, I use a large spoon (or you can use a pump, if so inclined) to get a whirlpool going in the wort.  Once that's swirling, my lid goes on and the timer starts.  After the 10 minutes, I drop my immersion chiller in and ready the remaining hops.  As the wort drops below 180F, these hops go in.  At this stage, the wort isn't hot enough to extract much bitterness from the hops, but it is extremely good at extracting flavor and aroma.  Additionally, since there isn't a strong rolling boil, the volatile oils aren't driven off from the wort.  From this point on I chill as normal and transfer to my carboy for fermentation.

Once fermentation has subsided, I'll add between 4-6 oz of hops as a dry hop.  I generally will use the boil hops in amounts similar to their usage in the boil, but sometimes I will change things up or add a new hop that wasn't present in the boil.  Experiment with this part, there really isn't a wrong answer.

English yeast all day, e'ryday.  There's just something about the way that hop flavor expresses itself in combination with English yeast.  I know most hoppy beers these days, especially on the West Coast, are brewed with American yeasts that are generally high attenuators.  I get it.  Dryness accentuates hop perception.  The point that I'm hopefully making throughout this manifesto is that hops have multiple avenues to express themselves.  When you use a really high attenuating American yeast, you are more likely to accentuate hop bitterness than hop "flavor".

I've been addicted to WY1318 London III for the past several months ever since I had heard that Hill Farmstead uses it in their hoppy beers.  It's also been rumored to be the house hoppy strain of Tired Hands.  I haven't been fortunate enough to have HF beers, but I do live 10 minutes away from Tired Hands and I can tell you that if it isn't the same yeast, it's really fucking close.  Fellow homebrewer Ed, over at his blog, detailed some of the great positives of this yeast with a clone of Tired Hands HopHands.

WY1318 is listed as a low attenuator, but in my experience it's probably in the middle of most strains.  To compensate, I generally mash on the low end -- usually in the 147-148F range.

As when brewing any beer, yeast health is key.  Always do a starter a day or two before your brew day.  I've been using the Homebrew Dad Yeast Calculator along with the method of overbuilding your starter and savings some of the clean, fresh yeast to use in the future.  Marshall over at as detailed this process beautifully here.

Fining & Packaging
When it comes to clarity with American pale ales, my general philosphy is that if the beer is super pale, you can leave it cloudy and it looks delicious (see photo up top).  If you have more of an amber hue to your beer, you have to fine and clear it otherwise it just looks like muddy poo.  Standard boil measures like irish moss or whirlfloc have never been powerful enough in my opinion to results in a truly clear beer.  Also, when the effect of dry hopping post-fermentation take hold, boil fining doesn't matter anyways.

If you do want a crystal clear pale ale, unfortunately you will be needing the ability to cold crash your beer for at least 24-48 hours.  If you do not have any means of temperature control, you'll just have to deal with somewhat cloudy beer.  When you crash your beer and it drops below 50F, take around a 1/3 of a cup of water and microwave it until it hits 150F.  At this point, stir in a tablespoon or so of Knox Gelatin and allow it to dissolve.  If your water temperature is above 150F, the gelatin can "bloom" and actually become Jello.  This won't help us.  Once your gelatin is dissolved, simply add this mixture to your carboy and let it settle out for 24 hours.  By this point, the gelatin should have dropped your beer crystal clear.

When it comes to packaging, I can't stress highly enough how important it is to keg your hoppy beers.  Keeping oxygen away from your pale ales will dramatically improve their flavor and their keeping ability.  I purge my kegs with CO2 before beer hits it.  Then after kegging I clear the headspace out by purging the kegs 3-4 times.  Crank the PSI up to 40 for a 24 hours and then drop to serving pressure and enjoy.

To sum all of this up, here's the condensed version of all that garbage above:

  • Super hoppy American pale ales are fantastic
  • Turn conventional water chemistry for hoppy beers on its head and bump up chloride concentration
  • Aim for a mash pH on the low end ~5.2
  • Use hops that have similar but complementary flavors - no Simcoe/Mosaic combos
  • Add half of your flavor hops at flameout, add the rest after the temperature drops below 180F during chilling
  • Use English yeast and mash low
  • Make a yeast starter and over build it to save some yeast for your next batch
  • Keep yellow beers foggy, crash/gelatin anything with a hay or deeper color
  • KEG!  KEG!  KEG!

Example Recipe
Alright, enough pontificating.  This is one of my favorite recipes that I've been working on.  Most recently, this beer took 1st in American Ales at the 2014 HOPS BOPS and then went on to take BOS.  Additionally, it recently won me People's Choice at the 2015 Extreme Homebrew Challenge in Philadelphia.  Enjoy!

SDBC Seymour Butz
Est OG:  1.057
Est FG:  1.013
ABV:  5.8%
IBU: ~50
SRM: 4

60% Pilsner
38% Domestic 2-Row
2% Caramel 30L

0.40oz Magnum @ FWH (17 IBU)
1.00oz Amarillo @ Steep 10 min (5 IBU)
1.00oz Citra @ Steep 10 min (7 IBU)
1.00oz Mosaic @ Steep 10 min (7 IBU)
1.00oz Amarillo @ Wort Below 180F (2 IBU)
1.00oz Citra @ Wort Below 180F (3 IBU)
1.00oz Mosaic @ Wort Below 180F (4 IBU)
1.00oz Galaxy @ Wort Below 180F (4 IBU)

1.00oz Amarillo @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.00oz Cita @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.00oz Galaxy @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.00oz Mosaic @ Dry Hop 4 Days

2000ml starter of WY1318 London Ale III

Mash @ 147F for 60 minutes

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Le Diable Rouge (100% Brett Saison) -- Brew Day

Get ready for one of the nerdier statements I've ever written: we are living in a really exciting time for yeast experimentation. Meh, perhaps I've written nerdier.

But really,who gives a shit about hops now?  Year of the Yeast baby!

It seems like almost every month a new boutique yeast company springs up with a product lineup not only stocked with sacc (and usually really cool sacc strains) but also showcasing really interesting and sometime hyper-local brett and bacteria strains.  I've gone on such a spending spree with some of these new strains that I have no idea when the hell I'm going to be able to use all of them in a beer.

But alas, that was not the case today.

I've really loved the results of doing 100% primary fermentations with various strains of Brett, but thus far I've only done this in hoppy beers.  The more citrusy/fruity hops showcase beautifully alongside the complementary esters of a 100% brett fermentation -- so much so that Brett IPAs don't even really seem all that cool anymore.

For this batch, I was really interested in experimenting with an amber/red saison grist, a 100% Brett primary fermentation and a blend of berries post-fermentation.  I was inspired to do this brew after hearing about Yazoo Brewing's Lignage a Trois, a red 100% Brett beer aged on raspberries in red wine barrels.  I haven't been fortunate enough to try Lignage a Trois, but it sounds fucking delicious and almost a perfect combination of ingredients to play off of the Brett's primary fermentation character.

I decided to go ahead and use The Yeast Bay's Amalgamation Brett blend in this batch.  I used this previously in a 100% Brett IPA with interesting results.  In that beer, it initially came out wonderfully fruit and then began to change over time.  At around the two month mark, it got excessively funky and seemed to continue attenuation, so I set the bottles aside for a bit.  Then, at around the three month mark, it really turned into a beautiful beer melding the two stages together to create a fruit-forward, yet somewhat funky, IPA.

I plan to taste this one at around the 6 week mark and try to decide what sort of berries to age it on.  Right now, I'm thinking something along the lines of equal parts raspberries/blueberries/blackberries, but I haven't ruled out figs if the character from the Special B shines through.

Le Diable Rouge sitting next to my House Brett Saison

Le Diable Rouge (100% Brett Red Saison)
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.066
Est FG: 1.006
Est ABV: 7.7%
IBU: 28
SRM: 14

42.1% Munich Malt
42.1% Vienna Malt
7.00% Flaked Oats
3.50% UK Crystal 70/80
1.80% Carared
1.80% Melanoiden Malt
1.80% Special B

0.30oz Magnum @ FWH (14 IBU)
1.00oz Hallertau Mittelfruh @ FWH (9 IBU)
2.00oz Hallertau Mittelfruh @ 10 min (5 IBU)

2000ml starter of The Yeast Bay Amalgamation Brett Blend

Mash @ 150F for 60 minutes

2/16/2014 -- Thank you former President's for giving me the day off to brew today.  Everything went of without a hitch.  Mash efficiency of 85%.  Gathered 5.5 gallons of 1.066 wort.  Huge Brett starter started fermenting the batch within 4 hours.  Bubbling away at 72F.

Friday, January 30, 2015

La Calamité (Sour Brown Ale) -- Brew Day

So, here's to hoping my wife doesn't read this one!

Sometimes, when all you want to do is have a nice, leisurely night at home brewing some sour beer when your wife is out of town things can go pretty wrong.  Not wrong in a beer sense, but more in a "fuck, if my wife saw this she'd never let me brew in the kitchen again" sense.  More on this later.

I've been continuing to build out my sour beer pipeline in order to make the patience required for these beers a little easier on myself.  It's really nice having a new one roll off every 2-3 months...the hard part is waiting that 12-18 months before the first one is packaged and ready to go.

My plan this time was to brew a sour brown ale (really almost in between a Flemish Red and and Oud Bruin).  The batches of sours I have going and the options for fruiting a beer like this really open the door for a lot of interesting combinations when this guy finally matures.  I was particularly excited for this batch as this was the first time I've been able to deploy some of the souring bugs from Al Buck's East Coast Yeast.

The grain bill for this batch fell roughly in line with what Jay Goodwin from The Rare Barrel indicated is their Flemish Red-inspired recipe when he was hosting an episode of The Sour Hour on the Brewing Network.  I decided to add just a touch more Carafa to darken it up a little bit more.  As far as hops go, I just added a touch of Willamette to keep the IBUs around 4 to ensure some decent souring from the Lactobacillus in the blend.  This batch did not get a starter as most blended culture producers do not advocate this in order to not throw the blend out of whack.

Now, on to the good part.  My chilling setup involves using a copper immersion chiller whereby I drape the input hose through my kitchen window to hook up to a garden hose on my pack patio.  The output of the chiller then goes through a vinyl tube into my kitchen sink.  Easy enough.

Except, I'm a moron.  This time, I didn't make any attempt to acknowledge the position of the output hose in my kitchen sink and did not realize that it was in fact pointing out of my sink and eerily towards my countertop.  Thus, upon going outside and turning my garden house on full blast -- followed my some ill-timed tinkering with some shit outside -- I returned to my kitchen to find my countertop covered with water, the output hose shooting said water dramatically close to my new laptop which then had the fortuitous path of draining into my kitchen drawers.  Thus, this beer will be known as La Calamité.

Let's hope his beer turns out better than the brew day would imply.

La Calamité (Sour Brown Ale)
Est OG: 1.063
Est FG: 1.007
IBU: 4
SRM: 13

69.0% Belgian Pilsner Malt
16.3% White Wheat Malt
4.50% Flaked Oats
4.50% Aromatic Malt
4.50% Caramel 60L
1.10% Dehusked Carafa III

0.20oz Willamette @ FWH (4 IBU)

1 vial of ECY20 Bug County

Mash @ 160F for 60 min

1/30/2015 -- Brew day went fine until I flooded my kitchen.  Gathered 5.5 gal of 1.063 wort.  Fermenting after around 24 hours at 67F.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Turncloak (100% "Brett" IPA) -- Brew Day

This beer is the last of the brews that I have planned to potentially send on to NHC if they pan out alright.  This is the third beer that I've done that has featured a 100% Brett fermentation, the second featuring Brett Trois.  Well...kind of.

Apparently, Omega Labs had the strain genetically sequenced and it appears that Brett Trois isn't actually Brettanomyces at all, but in fact it is Saccharomyces.  Seeing as the brewing community had been assuming this was a Brett strain that was cultured out of bottles of Drie Fonteinen, I imagine there are more than a few 100% Brett fermented beers that will need to be reclassified.  Not so wild anymore, eh?  Well, shiiiit.  I feel betrayed.  This beer has now been named The Turncloak because I just feel so fucking betrayed.

The thinking behind this beer is that I really liked the fruity character that my last Brett IPA achieved, although there are some aspects that I wanted to change up.  For one, I think a lower IBU and a blast of late hops really shine in an IPA like this.  The last Brett IPA had a touch of an astringent bitterness that didn't mesh wonderfully with the yeast characteristics.  Additionally, after nerding out to 2.5 hours of Chad Yakobsen talking about how to design Brett beers on YouTube, I'm adding a little bit of flaked oats to provide some mouthfeel as Brett is usually lacking the ability to produce glycerol during fermentation.

For the hop bill, I've decided to use some new-to-me hops, Ahtanum and Delta.  I wanted to anchor the beer with Galaxy, one of my all time favorite hops, and combine it with some hops that have some more complex, fruity flavors.  I plan to use a massive dry-hop on this one and then crash and fine with gelatin.  I've noticed that gelatin strips hop aromatics from the beer, also found here, so I'm going to compensate with a larger dry hop.

Although it may not be a Brett beer, I'm hoping it still makes a killer IPA.

The Turncloak - 100% "Brett" IPA
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.066
Est FG: 1.005
Est ABV: 8%
IBU: 71
SRM: 4.4

11.25lb 2-Row Malt
3.750lb White Wheat Malt
1.000lb Flaked Oats

1.50oz Centennial @ FWH (45 IBU)
2.00oz Ahtanum @ Steep 10 minutes (5 IBU)
2.00oz Delta @ Steep 10 minutes (5 IBU)
2.00oz Galaxy @ Steep 10 minutes (15 IBU)
0.50oz Centennial @ Steep 10 minutes (3 IBU)

2.00oz Ahtanum @ Dry Hop 5 Days
2.00oz Delta @ Dry Hop 5 Days
2.00oz Galaxy @ Dry Hop 5 Days

1250ml starter of White Labs Brett Brux Trois

Mash @ 152F for 60 minutes

1/19/2015 -- Brewed by myself.  Hit 84% mash efficiency.  Gathered 5.5 gallons of 1.072 wort.  Fermenting away at 65F in my basement.  Blew the airlock and sprayed some crap all over.

1/21/2015 -- Raised temp to 75F over a couple of days.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Feast (Maine Beer Co. Dinner "Clone") -- Brew Day

Is it really possible to "clone" a beer that you've never had?  I'm guessing that this will come nowhere close to Maine Beer Co's new, incredibly well-received foray in the DIPA category, but seeing as how much I love their offerings, even something close would be an accomplishment.  Their new beer, Dinner, has a score of 100 on Beer Advocate and to my knowledge can only be purchased the brewery.

I've always been a huge fan of the Maine Beer Co lineup since I met the brewers at a dinner here in Philly for Beer Week a couple of years ago.  That same year, we ended up taking a min-vacation up to Portland, ME (a truly beautiful place) and we had the opportunity to stop by their then new facility in Freeport.

MBC truly excels at brewing hoppy ales with their Peeper, Mo, Lunch, and Another One.  Given the score for Dinner on Beer Advocate, I can only imagine that they continued on with their track record of crushing hop-forward brews.

Maine lists the ingredients, both malt and hops, for all of their beers, along with starting gravity and ABV.  The brewery does not list any IBUs which they say "they don't calculate" which leads to me to believe they utilize a substantial whirlpool addition of hops and aren't comfortable with the whirlpool addition IBU estimates that the industry is tending to use.

Given some of the vitals, it is quite obvious that they use a very attenuative yeast.  I"m not going to attempt to match their attenuation, and in fact I'm actually going to be using a yeast that seems to be less attenuative than what I would normally use.  Around 2 weeks ago, I was lucky enough to log onto FB at the same time that Love2Brew offered up a new batch of East Coast Yeast products.  So, naturally, I snagged some ECY29 Northeast Ale (Conan) yeast along with some Bug County that I'll hopefully be putting to use sometime soon.

For the malt bill, I deviated somewhat from what they had indicated.  Their bill leans heavily on 2-Row, but I'm opting for a blend of Maris Otter and US Pilsner for a little bit of complexity and crispness.  According to their website, they also use C40, Carapils and Dextrose.  I'm assuming both of the crystal malts are used in a low proportion and the dextrose is added to further dry out the beer.  I'm also upping my OG a little bit to hit the ABV target with the less attenuative yeast.

For hops, none of those listed were obviously bittering hops, so I opted to throw some Citra in for that purpose as I've had decent results with Citra single-hopped beers.  Falconer's Flight seems to be a favorite hop of MBC, but I've never particularly liked it -- probably because its a proprietary blend of hops already on the market and something about that irks me.  The rest of the hop timings were basically a shot in the dark with the hop bill increasing quite a bit for a whirlpool addition.

Brew day went flawlessly, with me hitting the targets at every part of the brew day.  I'm pretty excited for this one.
Crazy weird pre-fermentation separations
The Feast (Maine Beer Co. Dinner "Clone")
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.075
Est FG: 1.012
ABV: 8.33%
IBU: 79
SRM: 7

7.50lb Maris Otter
7.50lb Pilsner Malt
0.75lb Caramel 40L
0.50lb Carapils
1.00lb Corn Sugar (add at end of boil)

1.00oz Citra @ FWH (37 IBU)
1.00oz Falconer's Flight @ 10 min (10 IBU)
1.00oz Simcoe @ 10 min (13 IBU)
1.00oz Citra @ Steep 10 min (6 IBU)
1.00oz Falconer's Flight @ Steep 10 min (6 IBU)
1.00oz Mosaic @ Steep 10 min (6 IBU)
2.00oz Mosiac @ Dry Hop 4 Days
2.00oz Simcoe @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.00oz Citra @ Dry Hop 4 Days

1200ml starter Northeast Ale (Conan) ECY29

Mash @ 149F for 60 minutes

1/14/2015 -- Brewed by myself.  Hit all targets perfectly.  Finally getting the system dialed in post-purchase of the new grain mill.  Gathered 5.5 gallons of 1.075 wort.  Beautiful orange-golden color.  Fermentation began within 6 hours at 63F.

1/23/2015 -- Added dry hops.

1/27/2015 -- Cold crash.

1/28/2015 -- Added gelatin.

1/29/2015 -- Finished out at 1.013.  Bottled to 2.4 vol.  Great aroma.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Le Chien Bourgeois (Biere de Garde) -- Brew Day

I've always had an interesting association with Biere de Garde.  Somewhere around 8 years back when I was out to dinner with my wife (then girlfriend) and her parents (my later in-laws), I had a wonderful beer with a great amber color, noteworthy rustic qualities and a taste that can almost be described as an ale with slight apple/pear undertones.  That beer was Jenlain Ambree.

Now, granted I was barely 21 then, so I had no idea what I liked or did I realize how into beer I would one day get.  I barely remembered the brewery name, but it was a beer that I casually searched for whenever I went to the liquor store, but I was never able to really find again -- I realize that this beer is basically everywhere now.

Fast forward to present day.  My wife and I went out to a nice dinner here in Philly for our annual Christmas date, and the restaurant had Jenlain Ambree on the bottle list.  When I ordered it up, it really tasted almost exactly how I remembered it.  When I think of a well-cellared, malt-forward beer, this is really the beer the comes to mind.  And, seeing as I love to play around with new-to-me brewing styles, I figured I had to cook up one of these.

This style is one that has a ton of misconceptions around it.  For one, a lot of people use a saison yeast.  This beer really DOES NOT have the peppery, phenolic characters of its Belgian brethren.  In fact, this beer isn't even from Belgium, but instead is from northern France.  Like saison, this is a beer that was traditionally produced in artisanal farmhouses in the spring for drinking in the warmer summer months.  It is usually lagered for a period of time, in my case this will hopefully be around a month, although I would love for it to go longer.

The grain bill that I chose was, as usual, cobbled together from a variety of sources.  There are several Jenlain Ambree clones floating around, but I didn't feel like the malts in the bill would really hit on the flavor notes that I was picking up.  For the yeast, I decided to go with the Wyeast Kolsch.  I've used this yeast in the past for malt-focused beers and it has performed admirably when fermented on the cool side of it's temperature range.  There is a seasonal BdG strain from Wyeast that is rumored to be the Fantome yeast, but it wasn't available at this time, nor do the flavor descriptions of it really sound all that like Fantome's beers, so call me skeptical.

I'm brewing this one by myself, quite a bit more lonely than when we had friends over for the last one.  My mash efficiency came out to a ridiculous 86%, so I imagine I might have to dilute a little bit of this with some water before I ferment it out.

This beer, along with my latest Wee Heavy, my Brett Saison and some more brews down the line will all be submitted (provided I get all the slots I want) to the 2015 NHC.

So, in all honesty, this brew day got a little fucked up.  As soon as I got the boil going, I realized that I had neglected to put in the Amber malt.  My bad.  I ground it up and tried to mash/steep it on its own, fully realizing that there's no diastatic enzymes in Amber malt.  Anyways, then I added the brownish liquor that came out of that.  Then, later on, when I went to go chill the beer, I came out to find that my hose had frozen over the previous night.  Luckily there was some snow on the ground here still, so I used mother nature to chill this batch.  Let's hope I didn't completely fuck this one up.

Le Chien Bourgeois (Biere de Garde)
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.080
Est FG: 1.013 (but probably lower...hopefully?)
Est ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 23
SRM: 13

13.5lb Pilsner Malt
2.75lb Munich Malt
1.00lb Aromatic Malt
0.63lb Caravienne Malt
0.25lb Amber Malt
0.10lb Dehusked Carafa III

0.40oz Magnum @ FWH (14 IBU)
2.00oz French Strisslespalt @ FWH (7 IBU)
0.75oz French Strisslesalt @ 20 min (2 IBU)

1250ml starter of Kolsch WY2565

Mash @ 147f for 60 minutes

1/10/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Fuck up abound (see above).  Mash efficiency came in quite strong.  Gathered 5.5 gallon of 1.080 wort.  Bubbling away at 58f in the fridge.

1/13/2014 -- Upped temp to 62f.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Cooper (Bourbon-Oaked Robust Porter) - Brew Day

Like most beer nerds, I'm obsessed with Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout.  The velvety, luscious, pancake syrup of a stout blends perfectly with the character that the charred bourbon barrels add to the base beer.  There beer is paired perfectly with fireplaces, bear rugs, well-trained dogs eating a bone laying next to arm chairs, and other bourgeois endeavors.
My HPRIMS system...Hand-Powered Recirculating Infusion Mash
There are a myriad of clone recipes out there, all with seemingly varying success, but I decided to take a slightly different tack.  Instead of full-on trying to clone the beer, I thought about what beer in my recipe database would lend itself to this type of process.  The one that I kept coming back to was my batch of The Peon, a Hill Farmstead's Everett-inspired porter.  This porter, while lower in alcohol, had the same velvety, syrupy sweetness that I get from BCBS.

For this iteration of the recipe, I did a mash more in line with what Sean Hill of HF uses.  Namely, a shortened mash time -- 30 minutes -- with the dark, roasted grains only added for the final 5 minutes. Additionally, I upped my IBUs a bit for this beer, as some of the oak additions, detailed below, should add some vanilla-like sweetness that would probably benefit from some balance.

For the oak addition, I went with 1.50oz of Medium Toast French Oak (I happened to have a lot of this on hand) that had been soaking in Maker's Mark for several weeks.  After primary fermentation, the bourbon will be strained off of the oak and the bourbon-infused oak will be added to the beer.  The beer will sit on the oak for at least a couple of months or until I feel the bourbon and oak character has melded well.  I'm not ruling out adding actual fresh bourbon to the batch as well, although I'm hoping I don't have to do this.

The Cooper (Porter with Bourbon-Soaked Oak)
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.080
Est FG: 1.026 (but will probably finish higher)
Est ABV: 7.2%
IBU:  46
SRM: 42

14.5lb Maris Otter
1.25lb UK Caramel 40L
1.25lb Roasted Barley
1.00lb Carapils
1.00lb Pale Chocolate Malt
0.50lb Caramel 80L

1.1oz CTZ @ FWH (46 IBU)

1000ml starter of WY1028 London Ale

1.50oz Medium Toast French Oak soaked in Maker's Mark

Mash @ 159f for 25 minutes (non-roasted grains only)
Mash @ 159f for 5 minutes (add dark grains)

12/20/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Efficiency came in a little lower than usual, around 75%, probably due to the large grain bill.  Had to add a little DME to the boil to bring up the gravity.  Gathered 5.5 gallons of 1.082 wort.  Bubbling away within a few hours at 64F.

12/28/2014 -- Added 1.50oz of bourbon soaked oak.

1/15/2015 -- Added 1.25 beans of Madagascar Vanilla, cut and scraped.

1/23/2015 -- Bottled to 2.2 vol.  Finished at 1.030.  Blended in some fresh Makers Mark to taste.