Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Brewing a Hill Farmstead James clone - Version 2.0

This year, I'm taking a slightly different approach to deciding what beers to brew. Over the past 4&1/2 years of homebrewing, I've rarely brewed the same beer twice. For quite awhile, I was usually even brewing a different style almost every time, except for when I'd return to an APA, IPA or American Amber, but even then the recipes were always quite different than before. It's great doing this, because it opens you to styles of beer you weren't really into before, and in a lot of cases, allows you to brew a beer style that you can't even find commercially in your area.

The downside? What about those beers that you've brewed and really enjoyed? Aside from wanting to have that beer bottled or on tap again, maybe rebrewing it is a good opportunity to see just how consistent your brewing practices are. It can be difficult to make a delicious beer; I think it may be even harder to brew the same beer and have it come out just as tasty as before. This is why I plan on rebrewing several of my favorite beers that I've brewed in the past, with maybe some slight tweaking to the recipes to try and improve on the previous attempt.

That's what I did earlier this year when I rebrewed my clone of Alpine Duet. I made a couple of small changes to the hop schedule, but that was basically it. The beer came out quite tasty... the same as it was two years ago? No idea. I'm not going to pretend to be able to remember specific details from that far back, but the tasting notes for both looked pretty similar. I really enjoyed it again, which is what's important, I guess.

Another beer I brewed recently (about a year ago) was a Hill Farmstead James clone, a Black IPA from one of the highest-rated breweries in the world. The recipe was based on one included in Mitch Steele's IPA book, with some adjustments that I made based on some conflicting things I had read online, and due to ingredients that I did/didn't have available to me. I was very pleased with the results; the beer had a bit of roast character, but like most Black IPAs, really let the hops shine through. The combination of Columbus and Centennial worked perfectly.

That was the first and last time I had brewed a Black IPA, and I've been anxious to give the style another try. While I had thrown around a lot of ideas on my next Black IPA to brew (including completely original recipes, and a clone attempt of Lawson's Finest Liquids Toast), I decided to come back to the James clone, due to the reasons mentioned above... I wanted to see if I could equal, or even improve on, the results of my first attempt.

So, there were very few changes that I made to the original recipe (check out the original blog post for my first try, as it details what I changed from the recipe in Steele's book). I kept the grist virtually identical, except I had to use all Carafa Special I based on what I had in my inventory (my LHBS doesn't sell any Carafa Special at all, so I was lucky to have what I did). The hop schedule? Also identical; I didn't feel the need to change varieties, increase/decrease additions... I felt the first time worked perfectly. I even kept the minor changes to my mash water the same, with a small addition of both calcium chloride and Gypsum.

What I DID change was the yeast. The first time around, I used Wyeast 1098 British Ale, which I've used several times before and liked; it's an English Ale yeast, but one that is more neutral than others. It's well-known that Hill Farmstead uses an English yeast, but I'm not sure that anyone has really determined what strain it is, or what commercially-available strain is closest. But I've heard speculation as to what may approach it, so I tried something different - Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale. Wyeast describes it as having a "light malt character, low fruitiness, low esters and is clean and well balanced". I'm not sure if the difference between the 1275 and 1098 will be noticeable in a style like Black IPA, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

So, I brewed the beer pretty much like last time. I'll ferment it in the 68-72 F range for the most part, and likely rack it to a keg and dry-hop in there. I decided to go with a smaller batch (4 gallons) which I coincidentally did with the first James clone. I regretted it then, because it came out so tasty, but I've been brewing a fair amount lately, and have to be realistic about how much beer I can consume and share, and still have it be fresh. You may see me taking that approach more often in the coming months, especially with bigger-ABV beers.

In closing, I have a small confession to make... in the post on my first attempt at cloning this beer, I mentioned that I had had the real James on a trip to Vermont in 2011. I realized only recently that I HAVEN'T actually tried this beer! The Hill Farmstead Black IPA that I had on tap in Burlington was actually Foster, which they actually refer to as a "Black Wheat IPA". Anyway, it was delicious!

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.065, FG ~1.013, IBU ~100, SRM 26, ABV ~6.9%

3.76 kg (85.7%) Canadian 2-row
300 g (6.8%) Carafa Special I
175 g (4%) Carapils
86 g (2%) Flaked Oats
66 g (1.5%) Crystal 150 L

CTZ - 7 g (10.5% AA) FWH
CTZ - 28 g @ 60 min
Centennial (8.5% AA) - 24 g @ 45 min
Centennial - 25 g @ 10 min
CTZ - 58 g @ 0 min
Centennial - 31 g @ 0 min
CTZ - 28 g dry-hop for 7 days
Centennial - 28 g dry-hop for 7 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale (slurry, cultured last month, "woken up" with 500 mL starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 3 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on April 9th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F, slightly above target temp of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.25 L of boiling water, resulting temp 166 F. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.050 (target 1.051). 60-minute boil. Added last hops at flameout and began chilling immediately. Final volume ~4 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG on target at 1.065. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast starter. Placed BB in room with ambient temp at 68 F.

- Over the first few days, the temp stayed around 65 F, airlock bubbling every few seconds. I turned up the temp in the room a bit, and by the third day the temp had climbed to 70 F and the airlock was bubbling more frequently. Active fermention appeared complete by day 5.

- 22/4/14 - FG high at 1.018. Racked to keg, added dry hops in mesh bag with sanitized marbles, purged keg and set back in room with temp ~68 F.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Brewing a Flanders Brown Ale

I typically follow your standard beer-geek cravings when it comes to beer; that is, I love really hoppy beers, and I love sour beers. I honestly do not do this to purposefully follow a trend, but they are, generally, the styles of beer I enjoy the most. What are ya gonna do? As a result of this, a lot of the beers I brew are hoppy, as anyone who regularly reads this blog will know.

But when it comes to sours, I really haven't brewed many at all, mainly because when brewed using the standard methods, they take a really long time to come out sour enough, and tasty on top of that. I brewed a Flanders Red Ale in early 2011; half plain, the other half aged on cherries, and it took over 15 months for the plain portion to be tasting good. The cherry portion was an additional several months. I also brewed a Berliner Weisse (again, half plain and half on cherries) in 2012, and unfortunately that beer never got sour enough to my liking, and hasn't really improved much, even with time.

Anyway, if you want to have sour beers on hand of your own, this is obviously NOT the correct approach. Whether you're using a faster method of souring, or a classic method that involves bacteria and time, you should really brew a sour ale every 3 months or so. After awhile, you'll start accumulating some inventory, and won't have to wait 1-2 years before you have something sour to drink. I'd like to think I'll stick to this method, but we'll see; maybe even every 6 months is something realistic I can aim for. In the meantime, I've finally decided to tackle another sour beer; this time, a Flanders Brown Ale (aka Oud Bruin).

Have you ever had a good example of a Flanders Brown? It really is a great style, especially if you're a fan of Belgian and sour beers. Yes, there IS a sourness to the beer, but the style is generally maltier and less acetic than a Flanders Red (a style which I also love, by the way). The BJCP describes the malt character of a Flanders Brown as being "deeper" than in a Flanders Red; generally, this character includes "caramel, toffee, orange, treacle or chocolate", together with a dark fruit character. Throw in some sourness and a medium-body, and you've got a great beer. I've been lucky enough to have actually tried some great examples of the style (such as New Belgium Lips of Faith - La Folie, Liefmans Goudenband, and Gulpener Mestreechs Aajt, to name a few) thanks to the great beer bar, Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, Maine.

So, on to the recipe. As usual, with a first-time style for me, I went to Brewing Classic Styles for ideas. The recipe that Jamil published for Flanders Brown is VERY similar to the recipe in the same book for Flanders Red (minus the addition of oak, of course). It's made up of Pilsner malt for the base malt, with a healthy amount of Munich malt for a toasty, bready character, some Caramunich and Special B for toffee and dark fruit, respectively, and some Wheat malt and Aromatic thrown in as well. On top of all that... just a touch of Black Patent, to (I assume) bring the beer into a brown color. I ended up changing the recipe slightly for my own use:
  • I cut down on the percentage of Pilsner malt and increased the Munich slightly, because I had less Pilsner on hand than I thought.
  • I decreased everything to an OG of approximately 1.056. The OG range for Flanders Brown is pretty wide (1.040-1.074), and I was more interested in having a beer with an ABV of ~6% vs 8%.
Hops, of course, are minimal for a Flanders Brown... a small addition of a noble variety at 60 minutes to provide a bit of counter-balance to all that sweetness. The range of 20-25 IBUs for the style is actually pretty high for a sour beer - some bacteria (such as certain species of Lactobacillus) don't work well with hops at all.

The fact that a Flanders Brown is usually maltier and less acetic than a Flanders Red, but still has an overall similar grist, would make me think that the deciding factor/ingredient is the yeast and bacteria used to ferment the beer. However, the yeast/bacteria culture recommended by Jamil for this beer is the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend, which I have used before... in the Flanders Red I brewed. Check out what a smackpack of this contains:
  • A Belgian-style ale strain
  • A sherry strain
  • Two Brettanomyces strains
  • A Pediococcus culture
  • A Lactobacillus culture

That's four different yeast strains (two of them wild yeast) and two bacteria cultures. It's always a little intimidating working with something like this; infection to equipment/other beers aside, do you make a starter? Do you aerate, or not (some bacteria work better in anaerobic environments)? On top of that, Jamil recommends pitching a neutral ale strain (e.g. 1056, WLP001, or US-05) for the first few days, and THEN the Roeselare blend, if you don't want your beer too sour. I'll summarize my recommendations, which are based on what I've read, heard, and practiced (opinions may differ; feel free to speak up in the comments!):

1) Don't pitch a neutral ale strain first - Well, at least don't if you really do want a beer with some sourness to it. Pitching a neutral strain before the bugs would take care of most of the sugars in the wort; that's not saying that pitching the bacteria and wild yeast afterwards wouldn't develop SOME sour and funky flavors, but most seem to feel it would be pretty minimal, and definitely not to style. In fact, I've had several seasoned homebrewers say that their experience with the Roeselare Blend doesn't result in a sour-enough beer, even when pitched on its own. It DOES take time for sourness to develop with this method, but my Flanders Red didn't really start getting sour until I began pitching bottle dregs of other commercial sour beers, even after waiting for almost a year. So, that being said...

2) Don't make a yeast starter - With that many organisms all in one yeast pack, it's not recommended to make a starter, even by Wyeast, as it can "result in a change of the proportions of the individual components". Lots of homebrewers will save the slurry after racking to secondary, however, and brew another sour beer with it... I'm sure the proportions have definitely changed by then; just be aware that this will continue to happen with each generation, and going to far probably isn't a good idea.

3) Aerate your wort - The only organism in the 3763 that prefers an anaerobic environment is the Pediococcus (although, Lactobacillus can work with or without the presence of oxygen). With the ale yeasts preferring an aerobic environment (especially at the beginning, as they use the oxygen to increase their numbers), aerating your wort is a good idea. After the oxygen is taken up by the yeasts, the Pediococcus will be able to start working with the Lactobacillus.

4) Pitch bottle dregs - Doing so will obviously, for the most part, give you a different beer in the end, every time. Even if you pitched the same brand of beer at the same time for every batch, would your beer turn out EXACTLY the same? Probably not. But if you want to increase the sourness of your beer, this can be an effective method (assuming there's sugars left in your beer for the bacteria to work on, of course).

5) Rack to secondary - In Jamil's book, there is no mention for the Flanders Brown or Red to do this; it seems he's recommending that you leave the beer in primary for a year or two. I actually did this with my Flanders Red (other than racking to secondary for the fruit addition), but found out later on that Brettanomyces will continue to feed on the dead Saccharomyces yeast. This is great in a beer where you want more funk character (like a Lambic), but not really appropriate for a Flanders.

Again, these are just some basic guidelines. I'm not going to re-invent the wheel when it comes to sour beers... there's more than enough great sources out there (The Mad Fermentationist, for example, who coincidentally has a book on sour beers coming out soon), and I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough.

So, the beer has been brewed, and now the waiting begins. My recommendation here is to tuck the beer away and try to forget about it. Keep it in an area where temps won't fluctuate too much, and where it's preferably a bit on the warmer side (again, if you're looking for a more-sour beer). Check the gravity and taste the beer every 3-6 months. If you're bottling, do not bottle the beer until the FG has rested at its number for some time - these wild yeasts and bacteria work slowly and often continuously... you don't want bottle bombs on your hands, especially after waiting so long for the beer to finish. Flanders Brown is a great style for blending with other beers, aging on fruit, etc., so I plan on taking at least a portion of the beer and doing something different with it.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.010, IBU 21, SRM 19, ABV ~6.1%

2.7 kg (52.8%) Pilsner malt
1.5 kg (29.3%) Munich malt
227 g (4.4%) Special B
227 g (4.4%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.9%) Aromatic malt
200 g (3.9%) Caramunich II (45 L)
57 g (1.1%) Black Patent

Tettnang - 35 g (4.75% AA) @ 60 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend (PD Feb 24, 2014)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 3 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on March 26th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp 165 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG a bit high at 1.044 (target 1.043). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG high at 1.060. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched smackpack. Placed BB in room with ambient temp at 68 F.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Tasting : Alpine Duet clone, Version 2.0

Post #100! And what better topic to have for this occasion then one talking about the results of my second attempt at brewing a clone of Alpine Duet, one of the best American IPAs I've ever had?

This beer was brewed a mere 6 days after another very hoppy beer, my clone of Maine Beer Company's MO (an American Pale Ale). Both beers were dry-hopped twice in a secondary carboy, and both beers were then kegged. I didn't dry-hop IN the keg because I didn't receive my kegging equipment until afterwards. If you check out the tasting notes for the MO clone, you'll see that while the beer was very tasty, I was a bit disappointed that the hop aroma and flavor wasn't quite as big as I had hoped.

The hopping schedules for these two beers were very similar; Simcoe and Falconer's Flight for the MO clone, Simcoe and Amarillo for the Duet clone. The only difference in amounts was an additional 1/2 oz of each hop in the dry-hop (over two additions). Not exactly a big difference, but there was also a difference in technique: I had my CO2 tank and some tubing when I racked the Duet clone to secondary, so I was able to flush the carboy with CO2 before racking, and then again after adding the dry-hops. I wasn't sure if this would make a difference at all, but I wanted to do what I could to cut down on oxidation.

Well, I'm not sure what exactly the reason is, but this beer definitely has more hop character than the MO clone. Is it as hoppy as the real Duet (a beer I haven't been able to try for 2&1/2 years, I might add)? No. Even though it's been a long time, I know that that beer was hoppier. I think that dry-hopping in the keg would bump it up a bit for me, but realistically I'll probably never be able to replicate that amount of hop goodness... but it doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying! The beer also has a very low, soft bitterness for an IPA, as is expected since the IBUs are only at about 45 or so. It finished nice and dry; there's a bit of malt character, but it's most tropical, fruity hops, and the pine begins to come through as the beer warms. Smooth mouthfeel.

Most of this beer was kegged; however, I did bottle about 4 L of it in case I wanted to enter any competitions, and to give to friends since I don't yet have an expensive or cheap way of bottling from the keg. I shared a couple of bottles with some friends the other night, and while pretty good, they definitely can't compare to the kegged version.

Glad I tried brewing this beer again. Will there be a third version in the future? Probably. I'd likely keep the grist as-is... the change to Crystal 30 L from Victory probably wasn't necessary, though; I think I'd be tempted to go with the grist from the first version, and the hop schedule from this one. Either way, I'm pretty happy with how this came out... if I could bump up the hop character a bit more, it'd be a great IPA.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, white, fluffy and thick head that shows excellent retention, leaving nice sticky lacing on the glass as it gradually fades. Body is a light golden color with some slight haziness.

Aroma: Lots of tropical fruit aroma coming through; maybe a bit of pine, but the fruitiness definitely dominates. A bit of slight sweet malt character, but mostly hops. As the beer warms, the pine comes through stronger.

Taste: Pretty big hop flavor coming through, again a tropical fruit quality is strongest, here. The pine does start to come on a bit stronger towards the end, and as the beer warms. Moderate-low bitterness in the finish, very smooth.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate to moderate-low carbonation.

Overall: I’m pretty happy with how this one came out. I like the soft bitterness of the beer, similar to how I remember Duet being. I still don’t think the hop flavor and aroma is quite as big as it should be; with better dry-hopping technique and fresher hops, I think the recipe will get it there.

EDIT: This wasn't post #100... it was #97... oops!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Brewing a Classic American Pilsner

Going by my usual method/approach to brewing lagers, I'm following up my Munich Helles that I brewed in late January with another lager, to re-use the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager yeast. This time, it's back to something a bit hoppier: a Classic American Pilsner (CAP).

I'm not sure if there's another beer style out there that is harder to find from craft breweries and brewpubs. I know that living in this area of Canada greatly inhibits how much good beer you can find, but I've been lucky enough to have been on a fair amount of trips in the U.S., all of which involved beer to some degree. And I don't think I've EVER had a CAP; at least, not one that was identified as such. I mean, check out the above link to the BJCP description of this style... under "Commercial Examples", they can't even come up with a specific one, only listing "Occasional brewpub and microbrewery specials".

This really is (from what I can tell) more of a pre-Prohibition Pilsner. It basically came about when German immigrants to the U.S. were forced to brew their beloved Pilsner style with the ingredients they had available to them in their new country. For example, using 2-row or 6-row pale malt instead of Pilsner, local hops like Cluster instead of Saaz, Hallertau or Tettnang. More on the style in the discussion below.

For this CAP recipe (my first ever), I again checked Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. His recipe is quite simple, with the majority of the grist being 2-row; the rest is a healthy amount of flaked corn. This is common for this style; like other American Lagers, a fairly high proportion (up to 30%, according to the BJCP) of flaked corn or flaked rice is used as an adjunct, to cut back on the amount of base grain needed. This provides, of course, a "corn-like or sweet maltiness" in both the aroma and flavor of the beer. Jamil's recipe called for close to the maximum of flaked corn, coming it at about 28% of the grist. I actually changed the base malt to Pilsner; I wasn't too concerned with being completely authentic here, and have a lot of recipes coming up that require 2-row malt, so I thought I'd go with Pilsner malt instead. So, maybe that makes this beer more of a Classic American-German Pilsner? I also added some Acid malt to the grist to bring the mash pH to a proper level (hopefully). The malts and adjuncts are mashed quite low (here, 148 F) to provide a well-attenuated beer with a dry finish.

Lots of flaked corn in there
For the hops, there are several additions in this recipe. Jamil does make a point of mentioning that there are too many hop additions, but that he feels it works well for this style of beer. I've never been one to stray from hop additions, so I followed his recommendation (I see that in his more recent, Brew Your Own recipe, he's toned it down a bit). All of the hop additions are Saaz, which really is a fantastic hop to use in Pilsners; the floral, spicy characters work great in the style. Wait a minute, you're thinking... I thought this style of beer called for American hops that mimic European noble varieties? Yep; but this recipe called for Saaz, and I had a lot of it on hand.

So, yes, this beer is starting to look more like a strict German Pilsner. But wait, it's not just the ingredients that set this style apart from a German or Bohemian Pilsner. It's the higher gravities (up to 1.060) and often-higher hop flavors, due to more late-hopping than you usually see in other Pilsners. Either way, as I'm writing this I'm beginning to understand why the style is often ignored by commercial brewers. It's kind of confusing. If you take away anything about this style, just think of it as a "bigger" Pilsner, with a good amount of hop aroma and flavor, and a firm bitterness. Don't get too hung up by the source of your ingredients.

For the water, I was a bit in the dark. I knew that you didn't want high-mineral water to provide harshness to the beer, but I imagine that a "classic" CAP didn't have really soft water similar to that used in a Bohemian Pilsner. Since I'm obviously not too concerned with being classic here, I decided to simply add some Gypsum to the mash, to bring my calcium up to reasonable levels, and hopefully provide just a touch of extra bitterness to the beer. Nothing major.

As I mentioned, I cultured the slurry of the Wyeast Bohemian Lager from my Munich Helles. I actually washed the yeast to end up with about 200 mL of a thick, mostly-trub-free slurry. Whenever I brew lagers, I always try to brew two that will make good use of the one yeast strain, and pretty much back-to-back so that the yeast slurry is fresh. Also, if you follow this method, of course it usually makes sense to brew the lower-gravity beer first, so that you don't have an even larger yeast starter to make (a 1.058 lager like this would require a whopping 6.5 L starter - or at least several smaller ones - with intermittent shaking... and that's assuming you have a really fresh pack of yeast).

So, yeah, there you have it. I really enjoy a good pilsner, and a slightly-bigger, hoppier one sounds great to me. Hoping to lager this for about 6-8 weeks after fermentation is complete; I'll likely just rack it into a keg and use that as the secondary, and then hopefully have it on tap by the spring.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.058, FG ~1.012, IBU 35, SRM 3.7, ABV ~6%

3.6 kg (69.2%) Pilsner malt
1.45 kg (27.9%) Flaked corn
150 g (2.9%) Acid malt

Saaz - 70 g (2.6% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 35 g @ 20 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 5 min

Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (thick slurry cultured yesterday, ~200 mL)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 8 g Gypsum added to the mash

- Brewed on February 11th, 2014, by myself. 70-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.8 L of boiling water, resulting temp 165 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of slightly of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.046 (target 1.044). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons. Chilled down to 55 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.060. Set BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 46 F. After about 6 hours, temp had dropped to 46 F. Aerated with 120 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry. Placed BB back in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F.

- 13/2/14 - 17/2/14 - By morning of the 13th, fermentation was pretty active, airlock bubbling every 2 seconds. Stayed this way through to the 17th. Over these few days, I gradually increased the temp to 54 F.

- 18/2/14 - In the AM, activity had slowed to bubbling every 5-6 seconds. Took the BB out of the chamber and left it at ambient to raise the temp for a diacetyl rest. Temp was about 62 F by the evening.

- 20/2/14 - BB back in the chamber, decreased the temp by a few degrees each day until it was back to 50 F. Gravity reading a few days later showed 1.014.

- 26/2/14 - Racked to a keg for secondary, beginning lagering period now. Decreasing temp in chamber by 1-2 F every day until down to 38 F.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tasting : Maine Beer Co. MO clone

I've probably said this before, but it's often the case that the homebrews you look forward to the most are the ones that let you down. Of course this is inevitable with homebrewing as much as it is with everything else in life - the more you want something to be great, the more you over-analyze it and stress over the shortfalls. I've had a few homebrews where the beer actually came out as good (or even better) than I wanted it to, but usually it's the opposite.

And with this beer, my clone attempt of the fantastic Maine Beer Company MO (an APA), unfortunately it came out below my expectations. I should say right now that this doesn't mean it's a BAD beer... not at all, actually. If I had an APA that looked, smelled and tasted like this, and didn't know what I was drinking, I'd really enjoy it. But MO is just so over-the-top delicious that, unsurprisingly, my clone attempt disappoints me. But hey, I'm not a professional, right?

There's a good amount of hop aroma and flavor to the beer, and it's quite fruity and tropical. I loved the smell of the Falconer's Flight hops when I opened the package, and it seems to have carried over well into the beer. What surprises me is that I was really expecting a HUGE hop punch... with 6 oz combined of Falconer's Flight and Simcoe at flameout, and then two dry-hop additions of 2.5 oz each time... maybe there IS a limit to what late-addition hops can offer . IS there a ceiling-effect?

Or, was my method flawed? The recipe certainly isn't saturated with specialty grains. With only ~7% of the grist being Crystal malt (half of that Carapils), I'm also surprised at an odd caramel-flavor in the beer. Fermentation was fast and clean, and I've never had issues with US-05 in the past. It's supposed to be a clean, neutral yeast, and that's always been my experience with it.

As an extra disappointment, this was my very first kegged beer, so I was REALLY hoping for a huge hop punch, what with all the CO2 blanketing and such! For my next hoppy beer, I'll definitely try keg-hopping. With this beer, I transferred to a secondary carboy, because I hadn't yet received my kegging system; maybe the transferring actually caused some early oxidation of the hops?

Ok, enough speculating. The beer is very good, if you want to try the recipe. Do what you can to avoid oxygen exposure after fermentation has begun. Make sure your hops are as fresh and well-stored as possible... the usual stuff. And let me know how it turns out for you.

Note: I should mention that a friend who lives in Freeport, ME was nice enough to mail me two bottles of MO. I had full intentions of doing a side-by-side of the two beers, but both bottles of MO were 5 weeks old, and were not a good representation of what MO should taste like. Ironically, they had a huge caramel sweetness to them; kind of oxidized, too. Too old, or maybe something to do with shipping issues? Either way, it wouldn't have been fair to compare the two, so I decided against it.

Appearance: Pours with a thick, moderate-large white head that has excellent retention. Finally fades to 1/2-finger. Body is a burnished gold color, with fairly good clarity (some haze).

Aroma: A strong tropical fruit hop character, mixed with a bit of pine and a larger-than-expected caramel presence.

Taste: As the aroma... lots of hops, but the caramel/sweetness part of it doesn’t seem to really fit. Not really sure where that’s coming from; their certainly isn’t a large amount of Crystal in the recipe. Finishes with a very firm, moderate-high bitterness; quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-low carbonation, medium-bodied.

Overall: A pretty good APA... but definitely no MO when it's at its freshest. With the large amounts of hops added, I’m surprised the beer isn’t hoppier, and the caramelish part of it throws me off every time. Needs work if it wants to approach the real thing.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Brewing a Munich Helles

Well. This hasn't happened in a while. THREE brew days in the month of January... that's three brew days in a 20-DAY PERIOD. I'm living the dream, baby!

I actually can't plan on keeping this pace... it's just not feasible when you factor in space, time, and most importantly, the state of one's liver. I've been giving away more beer than usual lately, so that's helping. But right now, I figure, make hay while the sun shines. I always like to use this time of year to brew a couple of lagers... I don't need my fermentation chamber to act as a beer cellar, or even as a keezer, since the back room of my garage is kept at a perfect 46-50 F all winter via digital thermostat. So, it's a great time to use the fermentation chamber for... fermentation. Being able to adjust the temps easily for fermenting, diacetyl rests, and lagering is great, so I might as well take advantage of this stupid season.

When thinking about which lager style to brew, I immediately had my eye on Classic American Pilsner. I've never brewed this style before, and of course the higher hop presence called to me. However, I decided to first brew a lighter style, something that I could share with beer geeks and non-geeks alike. I've brewed a Standard American Lager before; while I enjoyed the challenge, I wanted to go with a style that had a little more depth and complexity. I finally settled on Munich Helles.

Munich Helles was originally created in the late 19th century, as a way for Bavarian breweries to compete with the Pilsner style that was becoming so popular. A light-golden, medium-bodied lager, Munich Helles emphasizes clean, bready, malt flavors, with mild bitterness. Think of it as a true beer geek's Light Lager. I haven't had a lot of Munich Helles beers, but I can say there's a couple of great ones out there, most notably Weihenstephaner Original (does Weihenstephaner make any beers that aren't great?).

Since I've never brewed this style before, I turned to my go-to source for first attempts... Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. It's a pretty straight-forward recipe: mostly Pilsner malt, with some Munich and melanoidin malt to add additional malt complexity. I looked at a few other recipes online, and read some articles on Munich Helles, and decided to bump the Munich malt higher than what Jamil's recipe called for. At a little over 11% of the grist, it's certainly not high, but I wanted to really have a nice, malty beer. Note that I also added some acid malt to bring the mash pH to a preferred range. The beer is mashed fairly low, at 150 F; you want it to attenuate fairly well for a lager, but not TOO low, since it's a low-gravity beer (i.e. you still want the beer to have some body to it).

I wasn't really sure what to do with the water for this beer. The BJCP notes "moderately carbonate water". Since the calcium, sulfate and chloride in Fredericton city water is pretty low, I wanted to bump up the amounts a bit for the sake of the mash. So, I added 4 grams each of Gypsum and calcium chloride, resulting in numbers that shouldn't be overly bitter or malty... just balanced.

As with most lagers, the hopping in Munich Helles is minimal. Just a noble variety (in this case, Tettnang), added at 60 minutes for some bitterness to help balance the sweetness in the beer. For fermenting, there were several options available for this style. I narrowed it down to the ones that would also work with a Classic American Pilsner (since I plan on reusing the yeast for this style after I rack the Munich Helles to secondary); Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Pilsner stood out. I've used this strain before, and I really like it for a variety of lager styles. I made a big starter (actually, two... the first at about 1.7 L, then another 1.5 L starter to get the big cell count needed for lagers), and this will also mark the first time I've brewed a lager and had a proper oxygen aeration system.

Well, everything seemed to be set properly, so I was hoping for a smooth brew day. Unfortunately, it was one of those days where there were several factors working against me. It was bitterly cold, but at this time of year, in this part of the country, what else is new? It's cold pretty much everywhere, anyway. However, about halfway into my 90-minute boil, I checked on the boil to see that it wasn't very boisterous. It quickly became a light simmer, even with the regulator all the way open. Luckily I have a second propane tank on my BBQ... but, it was very light when I carried it down. Fifteen minutes later, the beer was back down to a light simmer. I rushed over to my neighbor's house and borrowed his tank from him... and damn, wasn't it light, too! I JUST made it to the end of the 90 minutes, but it finished at a simmer, too. I like a nice, strong boil for any beer, but especially for lagers that employ a lot of pilsner malt... you've got to boil off that DMS! Hopefully the beer won't be adversely affected. I had more volume at the end of the boil than planned, but my efficiency was up quite a bit, so the OG actually still came in above target.

Note: Once again, please excuse the general lack of pictures of my brew day... with the extremely cold temperatures and the general propane screw-up, I didn't really have my camera on-hand!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU 19, SRM 4.9, ABV ~4.7%


3.6 kg (83.5%) Pilsner malt
500 g (11.6%) Munich malt
113 g (2.6%) Melanoidin malt
100 g (2.3%) Acid malt 

Tettnang - 32 g (4.4% AA) @ 60 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (PD Dec 22/13) (with a 1.7 L starter, then a 1.5 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum, 4 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on January 27th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in just slightly below target temp of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water, resulting temp 166 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of slightly of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.039 (target 1.036). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.8 gallons. Chilled down to 46 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.050. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched decanted yeast starter. Placed BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F.

- Fermentation slowly showing signs of life on the 28th. Over the next 5-6 days, the airlock was bubbling steady at every 2 seconds; I gradually increased the temp to 52-53 F. When it started slowing down, I took the BB out of the chamber and left it at ambient (~65 F) for two days for a diacetyl rest. I then placed it back in the fermentation chamber, dropping the temp over a couple of days back to 50 F. 

- 26/2/14 - Now that the Pilsner I brewed after this beer has been racked to secondary, I started decreasing the temp in the fermentation chamber by 1-2 F every day until down to 38 F.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Tasting : Tommy (Belgian Dubbel)

When you get in the routine of brewing a lot of hoppy beers, it's easy to forget that not all beer styles are best consumed within a week or two of packaging. Luckily, with this Belgian Dubbel that I brewed in early November, I didn't race through all of the bottles immediately after they were sufficiently carbonated. I DID have one here and there (and gave some away) to see how the flavors were developing; I think, at first, I wasn't too impressed with the beer, but now that it's had a couple of months to age a bit, I'm definitely liking it more.

This Dubbel came out much better than my first attempt a few years ago. The beer has more complex maltiness and a light chocolate character to it... whether this is a direct result of the recipe changes or the change in yeast strain, I'm not sure. I'm leaning towards both, actually - while the grist is more-complicated than I generally like to brew, the different malts, dark candi syrup, and higher mash temp definitely helped the beer in the end. And a yeast that emulates Chimay can't be bad; Chimay Red is a fantastic Belgian Dubbel (this is often missed, maybe because the beer is so readily available, at least for a Trappist beer).

Not too many changes I'd make, here. I'd definitely carbonate the beer a little more (2.75 vol is a touch low for a Dubbel, but with the slightly-higher FG I didn't want to take any chances), to at least 3 vol CO2. Next time, I'd probably give the Wyeast 3787 (Westmalle brewery) strain a try. I love Belgian Dubbels and Tripels (and really have to start brewing them more often), but I've got to give the wide variety of Belgian yeasts a complete try before I can settle on which I prefer as my "house Belgian strain".

On a side note, some people at a local beer bar tried this beer with two other commercially-available Dubbels, Maredsous Brune and Floreffe Dubbel. Surprisingly to me, they preferred the beer I brewed to the other two.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large light-tan head, doesn’t exhibit great retention. Fades to 1/4-finger after a few minutes. Body is a dark brown color and shows some haziness.

Aroma: Rich, bready malt, with a little bit of milk chocolate in behind. Some spicy phenols. Trying to detect dark fruit; maybe a touch there, but not a lot, for sure. No hop aroma.

Taste: Malty and slightly sweet, bit of chocolate and spiciness in there to balance. Low bitterness, with a slightly dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-low bodied, moderate-high carbonation.

Overall: Quite tasty... giving it a couple of months has helped smooth the flavors out a bit. Easy-drinking; no sign of any alcohol warming at all. I'd like to see some more dark fruit flavors and aromas, but otherwise it's a very good Dubbel.