Sunday, October 26, 2014

Much Overdue Tasting Notes

So, I totally suck.  With our recent move, I actually just drank most of these beers without doing an in depth tasting and putting down some thoughts to improve on the brews.  There's a few in depth notes, but I screwed the pooch on a few of these.

The Southron Batch #2
So, no in depth notes on this one, but that's not all that depressing to me.  Overall, I was under impressed by this beer.  The problem lay in my attempt to combine some interesting ingredients I'd been using recently from several different styles.  The problem is that they came through quite a bit muddled.  Honey Malt and Flaked Oats are not entirely compatible in a hoppy IPA.  While the phrase "honey oat IPA" sounds delicious, in fact the manifestation of it is quite the opposite.  Don't get me wrong, it was entirely drinkable, but I think a drier, more simple recipe is what really makes the hops shine.

The Trapper (Chardonnay Oak Aged Saison)
Appearance - Pours a straw-colored, crystal clear beer.  I'm actually quite shocked at how clear this beer came out.  Can't complain.  The head is quite fluffy, but quickly dissipates to a light froth.  I'd take a couple of points off for that.  Despite how high I carbonated this, there isn't a lot of bubble action.

Aroma - I think there's a little too much of a fusel type smell on this one.  Could be some white pepper from a high fermentation temperature, but it's not an aroma that's especially pleasing nor present in many of the saisons I've made in the past.  This was my first attempt with actively heating a brew (and it was in the summer).  That probably has a lot to do with it.  Some wood character shines through with a distinct Chardonnay scent as well.  I'd probably go with a little more wood and a little less wine next time -- or a less flavorful wine (or no wine).

Taste - When this was around three weeks old, it wasn't all that pleasant.  It's quite a bit less green now at a few months old and the wood comes through nicely.  It's almost like a somewhat peppery, oak-aged helles.  There is definitely a bit of fusel alcohols in the background that detract from the beer.  Unfortunately, this one didn't turn out as I had planned in the flavor department.

Mouthfeel - As a saison should be, this beer is pretty thin.  The carbonation is probably less than ideal, which is surprising because I did pay a decent amount of attention to this factor.

Overall - I have to admit, this was a bit of a disappointment.  This was a beer that I tried to get creative on (perhaps too creative) and the slapstick nature of it is very apparent.  I think the idea is decent, it was just a flawed execution.  The changes I would make for the next time is maybe hop with more noble hops, ferment with WY3711 on a more restrained temperature schedule and carbonate to a higher degree.

The Acolyte (Trappist Single)
So this one got completely cashed out before I could do detailed tasting notes.  What I'll say is that it was a really nice, easy drinking Belgian beer.  The "Belgian" taste of it was quite restrained, but given the low OG, the yeast didn't really have much to work with.  In other words, it was a Belgian Single.  I think in the future, I'd prefer a higher OG, more ester-filled Belgian ale.  If you're looking for a nice, quaffable Belgian beer though, I'd give it a try.

The Scholar Batch #2 (Societe Brewing The Pupil Clone)
So no detailed tasting notes here either.  I think I preferred the first batch of this clone that I made, but I think I'm going to make some changes going forward with base malt, fermentation temperature and yeast.  Nonetheless, this beer ended up winning a Gold Medal and scoring a 40 at the Philly Homebrew Cup - Made on American Street Competition.  The color was a bit darker than I would have expected and next time I'm going to use a blend of Pilsner and 2-Row as base malts.  I'm going to use Super San Diego yeast but make sure that I have an appropriate cell count.  I've had issues with the health of this yeast from the online home-brew stores, so I'll be harvesting this from my latest batch to keep at my home yeast bank.  Additionally, now with my new fermentation chamber, I'm going to keep this thing at 65f for the duration of fermentation to get a nice, clean, hop-focused flavor.

The Scout (Modern Times Blazing World)
Appearance - Pours a VERY deep amber color bordering on black.  Some slight red hues around the edges, but it's largely opaque.  Fluffy lighter than tan head that's pretty persistent.  It's not really an amber, to be honest and the appearance is a touch muddled.  Not the prettiest beer.

Aroma - Tons of hops come through on the nose, potentially some berry from the Mosaic hops.  A lot of friends who are less familiar with hoppy ambers/black IPAs have been very surprised by the nose and were expecting something more stout-like.

Taste - Very smooth, hoppy flavors.  Some pine, some berry, some darker stone fruit type flavors but that could just be psychological with the darker color.  The flavor, like the color, is a little bit muddied as well.  I've had a difficult time getting some of these ambers to turn out how I want with some of the newer hop varieties.  I'm not giving up yet, but I'm beginning to think that maybe more traditional varieties like Cascade, Centennial and Nugget.

Mouthfeel - Moderate carbonation with a creamy mouthfeel.  I'm pretty happy with this aspect.  It's really a nice, chew mouthfeel.

Overall - I think that this beer has some potential with maybe a lower amount of roasted malts to slightly lighten up the color and possible some fining agents and a cold crash.  This beer hasn't scored that well in competitions, but the average friend I have has gone out of his way to complement it.  I've generally placed it in the Amber Ale category, which to be honest it doesn't really fit, so that's resulted in some point deductions.  Perhaps this would be a nice single-hopped Mosaic beer with a lighter color profile.

The Barista Batch #2 (Imperial Breakfast Stout)
Appearance - Pours a deep, dark, opaque black.  Forms a thin, tan head on the pour that lingers for a moment and bubbles away to a slight ring.  Head retention has always been a problem for me with the higher ABV dark beers, perhaps carbonation is the issue?

Aroma - Distinctly coffee from both the cold-press that was added but there's definitely a dark roast scent from some of the malts in this.  There's also a little bit of sweetness that comes through on the nose, not entirely unexpected given the FG.

Taste - Lots of coffee and roastiness.  The front of it comes off as quite bitter, but really softens within a second.  I think the higher than expected FG might have helped this one from being too much on the bitter side.  The balance between hops and malts is pretty spot on.

Mouthfeel - Nice and thick/chewy.  Could potentially benefit from a little more carbonation, but I'm being picky.

Overall - So, I really like this brew.  I think next time I might mash a bit lower or use a different yeast to get a lower FG.  This one is potentially a little too much on the sweet side, and although it balances some of the bitterness, I think a little more bitterness might be nice.  This brew took a silver medal in the Philly Homebrew Cup in the Spices, Vegetables and Herb category.

The Gambler (Sorachi Saison)
So, no detailed notes on this batch either.  Overall, I think the massive flameout hop addition led to a grassy flavor that just doesn't age out.  I also forgot to put a paint strainer bag on my auto-siphon (which is what I usually do) so a decent amount of hop material made it into the bottling bucket and then into the bottles.  Perhaps this contributed to the vegetal taste that sticks around.  I think this beer could be a success with a more measured hopping rate.  I haven't had a lot of success with excessively hopped saisons, and maybe this is for a reason.  Appearance, aroma and mouthfeel were all great.  It was simply the taste was a bit grassy.

Appearance - Pours a gorgeous, blood orange hue with a bright white, two finger, fluffy head.  The beer is semi-transparent, probably would be clearer if it weren't for the dry hops.  After a minute, the head drops down to a nice, white film that lingers for the entire beer.  Besides the slight clarity issue, appearance is great on this one.

Aroma - Lots of light, enticing fruit flavors in the nose.  A little bit of sweet apple with a lot of nectarine aroma in the back end.  The hops are definitely shining through.

Taste - Just beautiful.  It packs a ton of juicy, citrus, passionfruit flavor that you would expect could only be present in a higher gravity IPA or DIPA.  Lots of citrus up front with a blast of tropical fruit on the finish.  This is a really nice escape from the typical piney/dank West Coast APA.

Mouthfeel - Light to medium bodied, exactly as an APA should be.  Medium carbonation supports a lingering head.  No qualms here.

Overall - This is really a fantastic American Pale Ale and probably one of the better beers that I've brewed, which is surprising because I didn't really spend a lot of time crafting this.  The blend of Pilsner and 2-Row malts in a light colored beer is really a better base for hoppy beer than 2-Row alone.  This is going to become my House Pale Ale.

The Great Unknown (Modern Times Beer Neverwhere)

As I had mentioned in previous posts, I did a bit of a bulk yeast buy from The Yeast Bay outside San Francisco.  I've been itching to do a straight, 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA for a long time now.  The combination of super fruity, citrusy American hops along with the slight hint of barnyard funk, but also complementary fruitiness, of a brett primary fermentation has always seemed so interesting to me -- at least in theory.  As widespread brewing with brettanomyces is a relatively new endeavor in the North American craft brewing scene, 100% Brett IPAs are somewhat difficult to find in a commercial offering.

In a 100% Brett-fermented beer, the typical "horse blanket" funk of brett strains is relatively restrained.  Instead, the finished beer is similar to a clean fermented beer with just a slight touch of funk which grows as the beer is aged.  Obviously, in a beer like this, the yeast is pretty important.

The Yeast Bay recently released a blend of Brett, called Amalgamation, described thusly:

Amalgamation is the union of our six favorite Brettanomyces isolates from our microbe library.  Each isolate produces a unique bouquet of bright and fruity flavors and aromas, and the combination of all of them into one blend results in the coalescence of these unique flavors and aromas into something truly special.

Expect this blend to create a dry beer with a bright and complex fruit-forward flavor and aroma, accompanied by some funk on the palate.

Umm, fuck yeah, that sounds awesome.

Since this is my first foray into this style, I chose to go along with a recipe that has been proven for Brett IPAs -- that of Modern Times Beer Neverwhere, as taken from The Mad Fermentationist's blog. This recipe is INCREDIBLY high in its hop-driven fruitiness, so it'll be interesting to see how this is complemented by the sole Brettanomyces fermentation.

The Great Unknown (Modern Times Beer Neverwhere)
5.5 gallon batch -- 75 minute boil
Est OG: 1.064
Est FG: 1.012
Est ABV: 7.5%
IBU: 100
SRM: 4

11.25lb Pale Malt
3.75lb Wheat Malt
0.625lb Carapils

1.50oz Centennial @ FWH (50 IBU)
0.75oz Magnum @ FWH (35 IBU)
2.00oz Centennial @ Steep 5 min (6 IBU)
2.00oz Citra @ Steep 5 min (7 IBU)
1.00oz Chinook @ Steep 5 min (4 IBU)
2.00oz Citra @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.50oz Centennial @ Dry Hop 4 Days
1.00oz Chinook @ Dry Hop 4 Days

1400ml starter of Yeast Bay Amalgamation (stepped up to 500 billion cells)

Mash @ 153f for 60 minutes

10/26/2014 -- Brewed.  Brew day went incredibly normal.  Mash efficiency came in slightly low so I ended up adding a quarter pound of DME to compensate.  No big deal.  Gathered 5.5gal of 1.064 wort and pitched an incredibly active brett starter.  Set the fermentation chamber for 65.

11/7/2014 -- Dry hopped.

11/10/2014 -- Cold crashed.

11/11/2014 -- Bottled with 4oz of corn sugar to prime to 2.4vol CO2.  FG came in at 1.012,  Taste samples were really fruity, almost mango/melon.

12/9/2014 -- Tasting notes.  This is a really nice beer, but I'd make some changes around next time.

The Butler (English Mild Split Batch) -- Brew Day

English mild. This is a style that's almost always been on my list of "to-do" brews, but for some reason has never come to fruition. Maybe it's that I'm just not really a fan brewing low gravity session ales, or really even English ales at all. Maybe it's that I'd rather not waste a whole brew day on a very mild, easy-drinking beer when I could be brewing an epic hop-bomb. Either way, with our extended family coming in for Thanksgiving this year, I've used this as an excuse to brew up my first English Mild and add some diversity to my pipeline.

It's really hard to find good examples of this once popular session beer in the States. Really, the only Milds I have had are the ones made by American brewers inspired by the traditional English ale.  Goose Island Mild Winter is a really nice example if you ever see it in the stores. 

For this batch, I'm going to do something a little bit different than usual. Due to limited carboy space from my recent brewing on an epic scale and also from my burgeoning sour pipeline, I'll be putting this batch into two separate, three gallon carboys. Both carboys will get the same yeast, London Ale WY1968, however one batch will be getting about an ounce of whole bean coffee beans added the day before bottling. I'm thinking, and hoping, that this is a nice combination.

The real struggle in brewing these low gravity, session ales is to have enough body in the beer to make it feel more substantial than just brownish water.  I'm mashing this one at 158f to hopefully avoid the "weak coffee" feel that I've seen in a lot of other amber session beers.

The Butler (English Mild)
5.5 gallon batch -- 60 minute boil
Est OG: 1.033
Est FG: 1.010
Est ABV: 3.0%
IBU: 21
SRM: 17

6.0lb Maris Otter
1.5lb Caramel 60L
0.25lb Chocolate Malt (350L)

0.8oz Fuggles @ 45 min (12 IBU)
1.0oz Fuggles @ 15 min (8 IBU)

1 package WY1968 London ESB (no starter)

Mash @ 158f for 60 min

Split batch into two 3 gal carboys.  One carboy will get an ounce of whole coffee beans added one day before bottling.

10/21/2014 -- Brewed.  Efficiency came in around 80%, probably because of the light grain weight.  Gathered 5.5 gallons of 1.033 wort.  Fermentation kicked off within 12 hours despite a starter.  The initial fermentation looked surprisingly brett-like, which scared the shit out of me.  However, it died down after around 24 hours and I don't detect any brett characteristics.  It must have just been a sign of a low gravity fermentation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Sickle (Belgian Golden Strong Ale) -- Brew Day

The last non-hoppy light Belgian beer that I brewed was my Belgian Single, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The one change that I would have made with it though would be a little higher in gravity and taste a little more "Belgian-y". So, basically that's a Belgian Golden Strong Ale.

The recipe design for this one was essentially an amalgamation of various BGSA recipes that I found online, centered around Vinnie Cilurzo's recipe found in Brew Like a Monk.  I've always been a big fan of Russian River's Damnation, so I'm hoping that the recipe that Vinnie supplied is fairly close to the one he uses for Damnation.

Despite a fairly medium bodied mash temperature at 150f, this should finish dry from the Turbinado added at flameout and the high attenuation of the Belgian yeast strain.  As noted in a prior post, I did a relatively large yeast buy from The Yeast Bay in California.  One of the strains in the purchase was the Dry Belgian,

The Yeast Bay's website describes the strain thusly:

Dry Belgian Ale is single strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolated from a unique golden strong ale. The profile is a complex and balanced mix of apple, pear and light citrus fruit with some mild spicy and peppery notes. The apparent attenuation of this strain ranges anywhere from 85-100%, depending upon the mash profile and the grist composition.

For a yeast that's as dry as it is, it creates beers with a surprising amount of balance even without the use of specialty grains or adjuncts. While we haven't completed our own tests in house, this yeast is used at the brewery from which it was isolated to make big beers that are in the neighborhood of 12-16% ABV and sufficiently dry. Use Dry Belgian Ale as a primary fermenter in any big Belgian beer, or to unstick that pesky stuck fermentation.

To achieve high attenuation, we recommend fermenting with this strain at 70-71 ºF for the first 2-3 days, and then bumping up the temperature to 74-75 ºF for the remainder of fermentation.

The blogger over at Brulosphy did a test with this yeast for The Yeast Bay and had a pretty interesting writeup.  In his experience, this yeast attenuated below 1.000 and left very nice, subtle fruity and pepper Belgian esters without any of the bubble gum flavors that can be present in a warm-fermented Belgian.

I'm planning to carb this bad boy up to around 2.8 - 3.0vol to have it ready for Thanksgiving.  The brew day went pretty normal, with efficiency and OG coming in on target.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this finish much dryer than predicted by Beersmith, though.

I'm tired...touch meh.

The Sickle (Belgian Golden Strong Ale)
5.5 gallon batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.067
Est FG: 1.009
Est ABV: 7.7%
IBU: 32
SRM: 6

11.0lb Pilsner Malt
2.0lb White Wheat Malt
1.0lb Munich Malt
0.5lb Carapils
1lb Turbinado Sugar (add at end of boil)

1.0oz Styrian Goldings @ FWH (19 IBU)
1.0oz Styrian Goldings @ 30 min (12 IBU)
1.0oz Saaz @ Steep 5 min (2 IBU)

1000ml starter Yeast Bay Dry Belgian

Mash @ 150f for 60 minutes.  Ferment free rise in the mid 70s.

10/16/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Nothing to note during the brew day.  Strong fermentation started quickly. Krausen subsided after a few days.  Beer is still pretty cloudy, perhaps the yeast isn't that flocculant and could benefit from a cold crash.

11/6/2014 -- Cold crashed.

11/8/2014 -- Cleared up nicely.  Great clean Belgian flavor.  Bottled and carbed to 2.9vol.  Final gravity came in at 1.006, one of the driest beers I've brewed without brettanomyces.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Nanny (Kona Pacifier IPA Clone) -- Brew Day

And the brewing binge continues.  I cashed my last bottles of The Scholar IPA at our early Halloween this party, so I will be needing another batch of IPA for our Thanksgiving celebrations.  I had taken down the recipe for Kona Brewing's The Pacifier out of a BYO magazine from earlier this year.  The recipe caught my eye as being very high on the citrus/fruity element with its focus on Galaxy and Citra hops.  I always have a pound of Citra laying around and I've started to experiement more with Galaxy, so I felt that this recipe would be a nice fit for the holidays.

In addition, this is the first recipe that I'll be using my new Danby 4.4cuft mini fridge as a fermentation chamber.  I've always made nice IPAs, but I've gotten dinged in competitions for some flavors that have been contributed from a slightly higher than optimal fermentation temperature.  But I will get dinged no longer.  I've plugged the fridge into my Ranco dual-stage temperature controller and set it for 65f with a 2 degree differential.

The brew day went along normally with a somewhat higher than expected mash efficiency.  I still don't have a grain mill, so I'll be suffering inconsistent mash efficiencies for the time being.  Fermentation began pretty quickly with a 1000ml starter of WLP090, Super San Diego yeast.  I will be attempting to cold crash this beer as well (my virgin cold crash), so I'll update with the details on that.

The Nanny (Kona Pacifier IPA Clone)
5.5gal batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.064
Est FG: 1.009
Est ABV: 7.25%
IBU: 64
SRM: 6

9.0lb Pilsner Malt
5.0lb Pale Malt
0.5lb Carapils
0.3lb Caramel 60L

0.50oz Magnum @ WH (23 IBU)
0.75oz Galaxy @ 30 min (25 IBU)
1.25oz Galaxy @ Steep 10 min (10 IBU)
1.00oz Citra @ Steep 10 min (7 IBU)
2.00oz Galaxy @ Dry Hop 4 Days
2.00oz Citra @ Dry Hop 4 Days

1000ml starter WLP090 Super San Diego

Mash @ 148f for 60 minutes.  Ferment 21 days @ 65f.

10/15/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Higher than expected mash efficiency was offset with water added to the kettle.  Gathered 5.5gal of 1.063 wort.  Fermentation began by the time I came down to check on it in the morning.

11/2/2014 -- Dry hopped.

11/4/2014 -- Cold crashed.

11/6/2014 -- Bottled to 2.4 vol.  Finished out at 1.010.  Samples at bottling were really fantastic.

The Patriot (Nelson Saison) -- Brew Day

We are hosting Thanksgiving this year, our first one ever, so there's going to be some pretty heavy brewing taking place in order to have some decent beverages lined up for the family coming into town.  For this one, I decided to continue with my infatuation with Nelson Sauvin and do a single-hop beer.

I just picked up another pound of Nelson because its been figuring so prominently in my beers, especially IPAs.  For how much I use it, though, I've never done it in a single-hopped brew to really let it shine.

I had done a bulk purchase of some new, interesting yeast from The Yeast Bay, one of which was a blend of two different saison strains.  Feeling lazy and wanting to try a new recipe, I did a quick search for Saisons featuring Nelson and found that Prarie 'Merica, a delicious beer, is basically a Nelson SMaSH recipe.

Another quick Google search led me to the pages of another homebrew blogger, Meek Brewing.  He had actually reached out to Prarie and asked for the recipe and they happily obliged.  His recipe, which I tweaked a touch for my system, was essentially just Pilsner Malt and Nelson.  Sounds good to me.

The brew day proceeded as normal with my usual BIAB mash coming in on target for efficiency.  My pH meter seems to be busted, probably a bad electrode, so I couldn't check the pH of this one.  I did use my water chemistry spreadsheet and the acid addition were similar to what I normally need to get to a 5.3pH.  I'm going to let the temperature on this free rise to wherever my Belgian yeast wants to take it.  Hopefully this comes out nice and dry.

The Patriot (Nelson Saison)
5.5gal batch -- 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.060
Est FG: 1.009
Est ABV: 6.67%
IBU: 30
SRM: 4

14.0lb Pilsner Malt
0.50lb Carapils

0.50oz Nelson Sauvin @ 60 min (18 IBU)
1.00oz Nelson Sauvin @ 5 min (7 IBU)
1.50oz Nelson Sauvin @ Steep 5 min (5 IBU)
3.00oz Nelson Sauvin @ Dry Hop 4 Days

1000ml starter of Yeast Bay Saison Blend

Mash @ 148f for 75 minutes.  Allow fementation temp to free rise into the mid 70s.

10/13/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Efficiency came in at 73%.  Gathered 5.5gal of 1.060 wort and pitched my starter.  Happily fermenting away with a pretty voracious krausen within 5 hours.

10/21/2014 -- Dry hopped.

10/25/2014 -- Bottled and carbed to 2.8vol.  Final gravity of 1.010.  Smelled and tasted great.

12/9/2014 -- Tasting notes.  This wasn't a favorite of mine, but it scored well and other's enjoyed it.