Tuesday 24 October 2017

When I Lost My Mind and Decided to Open a Brewery

Looking back, I'm not really sure when it happened. I don't think I had a severe head injury... not that I can recall, anyway. But isn't that how some head injuries work, you don't actually remember having them? Let's say I had a head injury. Easier, that way!

Ok, I'll try to be serious. I've been homebrewing since November 29th, 2009. Like a lot of people, the first time I brewed, I was immediately hooked. I had done a lot of reading on homebrewing before I brewed that first batch; it was something I was interested in after a trip to Belgium in February of the same year finally got me into beer. There was no history of homebrewing in university for me, in order to save money on beer; I didn't start drinking good beer until I was 32 years old (yes, I'm aware I just gave away how old I am). That first batch was my one and only beer brewed from a kit. It was an "American IPA" that had medium LME (not light!), a full pound of Crystal 60 L as a steeping grain, and two hop additions: an ounce of something at 60 minutes, and another ounce of Brewer's Gold at 5 minutes. Fermented with a pack of dry yeast, it came out... not great, as I'm sure you can imagine. Obviously with those ingredients, it was really more of an American Amber.

It didn't matter. I loved brewing, and the reading and talking about beer escalated in a big way for me after that day. I brewed another 6-7 batches before moving into all-grain. I started this blog in November, 2011. I started writing for the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog in March, 2013. I kept brewing throughout it all, maxing out at about 24 batches a year. I haven't been the most regular brewer, but every 2 weeks is enough for me to keep my 4-tap keezer pretty full, with beers for me, my wife, and for friends. It's also been enough to allow me to experiment, especially over the last couple of years, where I've moved more into sour, hoppy, and other areas of brewing.

Most importantly, I've got to know a lot of great people through brewing, including some that I haven't actually met in person. We've all heard the homebrewing community described as, in general, a very open, friendly, and forgiving one, and like a lot of other people, I can personally attest to that. I've learned a lot about brewing through other homebrewers, and I owe a lot of people at least or beer or two!

Where was I going with this? Oh, right. After a lot of thought and planning, I'm opening a 2 bbl brewery with fellow homebrewer, Rob Coombs. Like a lot of homebrewers, I've always thought about taking the hobby to the next level, but I held back due to lots of (I assume) normal concerns. Would I start hating brewing if I did it professionally? Would I lose too much family time? Would I be able to cut it making beer for the public? Every homebrewer has heard the words, "You should open a brewery!", but how seriously can you take those words? Especially when they're coming from someone who is drinking beer for free!

I'm opening a brewery because I'm passionate about brewing, and that's it. I'm not a risk-taker by nature; the Meeks have a long history of not taking risks. But I know now that if I don't give this a try, I'll probably regret it, more so than if I try and it doesn't work out. Rob and I are extremely like-minded when it comes to beer and brewing, and I'm very glad to not be doing this on my own. It's very helpful to have someone to split all the work associated with opening a brewery (and yes, what you've heard is true... there's a lot of it!). Most importantly, we like to brew and drink the same types of beer; just check out the recipes on this blog, and on Rob's, and you'll have an idea of what we'll be brewing.

So yeah, the brewery! Niche Brewing is, as mentioned, going to be a 2 bbl brewery. We have a space that we're leasing, that won't be open to the public, as all of our product will be kegged and sold through local bars and restaurants... at least for awhile. Some of our equipment has arrived, but with renos and getting everything together, it'll still be awhile before we have beer to sell. By Christmas would be great, but we're not setting a particular date; we've seen other breweries experience unexpected delays, and know what can happen! In fact, there's already been several hiccups, so don't get me started...

If you check into this blog even semi-frequently, now maybe you'll know why I haven't been posting as often. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen to the blog; I definitely still have some sour beers (and a couple others) I want to post the recipes/tasting notes for, and I've considered writing about the experiences of opening a brewery, but I'm not sure that I can realistically pull that off. I'll definitely still try to post updates (and, of course, feel free to follow Niche Brewing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more-regular updates), and if I can keep up with beer recipes, I absolutely will. As Bart Simpson has said, "I can't promise I'll try, but I'll TRY to try".

Thank you for reading this long-winded post, and all of my other long-winded posts (which is basically all of them)! I've really enjoyed writing this blog over the last almost-six years, and I truly do hope I can continue it to some degree. And if anyone has any questions at all about Niche Brewing, by all means let 'em rip! I'll do my best to answer them as well as I can.

Almost forgot... we're also on Twitter and Instagram, and are trying to get used to providing updates accordingly!

Thursday 31 August 2017

Tasting: Flanders Brown Ale (Oud Bruin)

Wow, talk about a long time coming! Some people have been curious about how this Flanders Brown - a malty, fruity, sour style that I brewed in March of 2014 - turned out, so my apologies for taking so long to post a follow-up. Although, to be fair, a lot of the waiting was because it took a long time for the beer to be ready! Nah, that's not fair; I started writing this post months ago and it's still taken me this long to post it. All the blame is on me.

I knew from my previous experience brewing a Flanders Red that this wouldn't be ready/sour enough in any short amount of time, so I basically tucked it away somewhere and tried to forget about it. The Wyeast Roeselare blend takes time (it's a mixture of a Belgian style ale strain, a sherry strain, a Lactobacillus culture, a Pediococcus culture, and two Brettanomyces strains), and this beer confirmed for me what I had discovered with the Flanders Red - it really helps to pitch bottle dregs of other sour beers if you want to get it quite sour. After many months on its own, the Roeselare just wasn't getting it to where I wanted it to be; after pitching various bottle dregs over the next six months or more, the beer had changed significantly.

Using a blend of that many bugs and yeasts, plus throwing in bottle dregs, basically confirms that you'll really never be able to recreate the same beer twice. But I'm ok with that; that's kind of the beauty with most sour beers, no? And in case anyone is interested, here's a summary of the dregs that I did pitch for this batch, and when they were pitched:

11/4/15 - Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio (bottled June, 2013)
16/4/15 - Prairie Funky Gold Amarillo
17/4/15 - Allagash Century Ale (bottled Feb, 2015)
24/4/15 - Allagash Coolship Cerise (bottled Jan, 2012)
29/4/15 - Cherry Neighborino (homebrewed Flanders Red)
13/6/15 - Jolly Pumpkin Sobrehumano Palena ‘ole (bottled May, 2012)
28/7/15 - Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella (bottled Jan, 2013)

By the time I took another gravity reading in September, 2015, the FG had dropped from 1.013 (where it was after a week of fermentation, and then still sat eight months later, right before I started pitching bottle dregs) to 1.009. The beer was tasting quite sour at this point, so I ended up bottling it a couple of weeks later. I made sure to add a full 5 gram pack of Lalvin EC-1118 wine yeast (rehydrated), to make sure the beer carbonated (wine yeast is better at a more acidic pH, compared to using something like US-05); I aimed for 2.5 vol CO2.

Once the beer carbonated (it definitely didn't get to 2.5 vol, which didn't surprise me), I immediately sampled it - hey, it had already had enough time, right? Thankfully, I was pretty happy with how it had turned out. I've been drinking it off and on since bottling over a year ago, and it has improved since my first taste. The sourness is definitely there - I took a pH reading from a degassed sample months ago, and it was at 3.38 - and the malt complexity is pretty much where I want it.

These non-kettle-soured sours (and don't get me wrong, I have nothing against kettle-soured beers) are truly wonderful to have on hand... when they turn out. They involve a hell of a lot of patience, but the waiting can really be worth it. Pulling one out of the cellar every now and then, to check on its progress and share with friends, is great to be able to do. The key is brewing them semi-frequently, so that you can start building up inventory. I'm trying hard to do this more often; I have a wine-barrel Flanders Red on the go, half bottled and half the batch now aging on blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, as well as a Blonde sour (think Russian River Temptation), with half of that batch aging on mangoes (I also plan to dry hop when I'm about ready to bottle). I've finally been doing better at actually following my own advice of brewing these beers more often; I actually just brewed another Oud Bruin a few weeks ago as well.

So, remember - buy some extra carboys and brew these beers often, be patient, and don't be afraid to experiment with hops, fruit, wood, sour bottle dregs etc. And did I mention be patient?

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-small, off-white head that fades very quickly to almost nothing. Body is dark brown/reddish, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Plenty of sourness, making your mouth water with the first whiff; surrounded by dark fruit, and a medium caramel sweetness from the malt bill.

Taste: Nice balance of caramel malt character and fruity ester, with an emphasis on dark fruit. Finishes slightly sweet, with a high sourness factor... lots of mouth-puckering tartness, here (I would guess a lower pH than the 3.39 my meter gave).

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with low carbonation.

Overall: I think this turned out quite well; the amount of time this beer has had definitely hasn't hurt. These tasting notes are from two days ago, and I can say with surety that the beer has definitely progressed since initial tastings. Wish I could say I could replicate it exactly, but likely not going to happen!

Friday 14 July 2017

Grapefruit Milkshake IPA (w/ Azacca, Citra and Mosaic)

Last fall, I brewed my first Milkshake IPA (and in true me fashion, posted about it almost 3 months later... sigh), Orange Creamsicle IPA. With half a pound of lactose powder, vanilla bean, orange zest, and hopped with plenty of Azacca, Equinox and Galaxy, it came out really tasty. It wasn't QUITE where I wanted it to be, as I felt that it could use more vanilla (I had used half a vanilla bean), but otherwise I really enjoyed it.

Originally going up in February, that post is now my third-most-viewed post of all time (and close to passing to #2). I've been blogging since November of 2011, so when a post is viewed that many times in five months, it really says something. And no, I'm not saying it says something about my writing! It shows that this is a "style" that is really taking off in North America. And it shows that when your blog is referenced, even briefly, on The Mad Fermentationist, your popularity increases exponentially! Where were you in junior high school, Mike Tonsmeire, huh? Huh?

Brewing a beer like this again was a definite thing for me. Aside from being obviously juicy, fruity, tropical, etc. from the zest and hop additions, the vanilla and lactose work surprisingly well, giving the beer a very smooth, silky mouthfeel, without being cloyingly sweet. So, in early April I brewed up another Milkshake IPA, with a few changes this time around.

The grist I kept almost the same, with only one change: originally, I had a mix of 2-row and Maris Otter (emphasis on the 2-row), but I started thinking afterwards, why do that with a beer of this style? I understand that if you want a bit more malt complexity, Maris Otter is great, but in a beer that has lactose powder, vanilla bean, fruit, and a boatload of hops... somehow I think anything that Maris Otter adds is going to get lost. And with it's slightly higher price, I couldn't justify it. So the majority of the grist is 2-row, with close to 15% Flaked Oats, and a bit of Carapils and Acid malt.

Hops. The changes I made here were purely out of experimentation, not because I wasn't happy with the three varieties I used the first time around. This time around I kept the Azacca, and switched out the Equinox and Galaxy for Citra and Mosaic. You're talking about two awesome varieties being replaced by... two awesome varieties. I love all four of those hops and would be happy using any or all of them in a beer. I couldn't remember recently combining Citra and Mosaic together, so thought this would be a good opportunity. Citra and Mosaic were used at 10 minutes, and for a hop steep. A large dose of Azacca for the first dry hop, then more Citra for a second.

For the vanilla bean, this was a simple adjustment. Half a bean (scraped and chopped, soaked in vodka for a week or so before packaging, with the resulting tincture being added to the serving keg) gave some vanilla presence the first time, but not enough. A friend who tried mine brewed his own version and added a whole bean, and it was spot-on. So, a full bean it is!

Finally, the fruit. There were plenty of options here, ranging from a combination of zests to whole fruit. I had fully intended on adding mango into secondary after fermentation was complete, but ultimately I decided on more zest... and not a fruit I normally would have thought of for a beer like this - grapefruit. But, anyone who's had Grapefruit Sculpin from Ballast Point knows that it's a pretty delicious beer (at least, it was the last few times I had it), and grapefruit is a descriptor you can find in several hop varieties, so I gave it a shot. I used almost twice the amount of zest that I used for orange in the last beer, keeping in mind that the bitterness of the beer may be accentuated by the grapefruit.

Fermented (with London Ale III, of course), dry-hopped, kegged, and consumed (mostly, there's a few bottled-from-the-tap beers left), this beer came out pretty a-ok. The one vanilla bean is, I can confirm with certainty now, the way to go for a 5 gallon batch. The level of vanilla in both the aroma and taste is pretty much just where I'd want it to be for this beer. Of course, the juicy, fruity tropical hops are the stars of the show, with a touch of residual sweetness from the lactose (I still think 1/2 lb is enough). I get a bit of grapefruit, but I wonder if the large dry-hop additions aren't overshadowing the zest? The Brew Bucket smelled very strongly of grapefruit after I had racked to the keg, but I don't get near that aroma in the actual beer. And I do think the bitterness for this one is a bit too high; since the IBUs are about where the last one was, I'm guessing maybe the grapefruit is increasing the perception of bitterness even more.

Changes for next time: dial the IBUs back a bit if using grapefruit zest, but more likely, I'd go with a different fruit. The beer is still quite enjoyable, but I think the orange zest from the last beer worked better. And, of course, I'll probably tweak the hops even more, just because! But this is turning into a pretty solid recipe, and I'd recommend most of what you see below.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.067, FG ~1.014, IBU ~54, SRM 4.2, ABV ~7%

Grains & Sugars:
4.65 kg (75.8%) Canadian 2-row
900 g (14.7%) Flaked Oats
180 g (2.9%) Carapils
180 g (2.9%) Acid malt
227 g (3.7%) Lactose powder (added during the boil)

Polaris - 8 g (17% AA) @ 60 min
Citra - 28 g (11.5% AA) @ 10 min
Mosaic - 28 g (10.5% AA) @ 10 min

Citra & Mosaic - 42 g each @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Azacca - 104 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Citra - 80 g dry-hop for 5 more days (in primary)

17 g grapefruit zest (in primary with Citra dry hop)
1 vanilla bean (scraped and chopped, soaked in vodka for a week, strained and added in serving keg)

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (~240 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed in early April, 2017, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- 60-minute boil; added the lactose in the final 20 min. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.065. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Brew Bucket (from SS). Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation active by the next day and over 2-3 days (temp got as high as 72 F).

- 8/4/17 - Fermentation started slowing, added first dry hop.

- 13/4/17 - Added second dry-hop and grapefruit zest.

- 20/4/17 - Kegged beer (with vanilla bean-infused vodka), carbed at 30 PSI for 36 hours.

Appearance: Pours much like the last: moderate-large sized, stark white head that shows great retention. Body is pale yellow, and completely cloudy.

Aroma: Bright and full of juicy, tropical fruit; followed by some vanilla, and a touch of grapefruit. Not really getting any malt character (that's ok).

Taste: Like the aroma suggest, plenty of juicy fruit goodness from the hops! Much better level of vanilla this time around (definitely noticeable, but not sickening), and the grapefruit does come through a bit as well. Finishes with a moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium carbonation. Very smooth and creamy.

Overall: Very nice; I give the hop and fruit edge to the last beer, and the vanilla to this one. Hoping that my next attempt will be even closer to where I want.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Gose two ways: Cilantro & Lime, and Oaked, Lemon zested, Southern Cross dry-hopped

I've been homebrewing for over seven years now, and like most of those brewing for that amount of time, I pretty much brew beers that I know I'm going to like. By that, I don't mean that I know all of my beers are going to turn out well - they don't - but I try to brew styles that I enjoy the most. I used to experiment with plenty of styles, tackling recipe after recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles, which really is a great way to start brewing, especially when you haven't tried a lot of different types of beer. For someone in Atlantic Canada in late 2009, you didn't have a whole lot of options out there, and if you wanted to try a Belgian Golden Strong, for example, you either had to travel, or you had to brew your own.

While there are a few beer styles I don't really enjoy, most of them I'm good with... but that doesn't necessarily mean I want to have 5 gallons on hand. So now, I brew a lot of hoppy beers, some Belgian styles, and some sours, for the most part. And I usually like to keep them pretty simple, focusing on the hops and yeast, with maybe a bit of experimentation every once in a while. But lately, and I can't quite figure out why, I've been trying to experiment even more. I don't agree with throwing a bunch of weird crap into a beer just because, but as a lot of brewers out there have proven - pros and amateurs - sometimes you can make it work.

Last year, I brewed my first Gose. Aside from using Lactobacillus plantarum capsules to sour the wort, this brew involved a bit of experimentation, as I added lime zest to half of the beer, and dry-hopped the other half with Citra. Both beers were tasty, but the lime half was the better of the two; it was extremely refreshing, with the lime character working perfectly with the salt and tartness of the base Gose. I knew when I had it that I would brew it again, and I always meant to add more than just lime zest the second time around.

Once spring hit, I knew it was time to try this style again. It's great anytime of year, of course, but a nice Gose during spring and summer is really a beautiful thing. Is there a more-perfect beer style for this time of year? Salty, tart, refreshing,.. and low-alcohol. Luckily, I already knew what I wanted to do with it this time around. As mentioned, I really enjoyed how the lime zest worked in the first Gose I brewed; shortly after brewing that beer, I started thinking that I'd take it even a step further. The Margarita-like qualities of that beer made me think of Mexican food, which often features lime as well. And what else do you see in a lot of Mexican dishes? Cilantro!

That may seem a bit odd for a beer, but after a bit of Googling I could see that others have tried it before. And Fredericton's first cidery, Red Rover, has a one-off named White Witch that features fresh cilantro; they've been making this sporadically for more than 2 years, and it's really tasty. I was a little unsure of exactly how much cilantro to use in a Gose, so I contacted Red Rover's Adam Clawson for a bit of advice, which he was nice enough to give. However, I wasn't completely positive that a Gose with lime zest and cilantro would work well... and if it didn't, I'd be stuck with 5 gallons of it. So I decided to brew the beer, sour the wort, boil, and then split the batch. But what to do with the other half?

After a bit of thought, I decided to go with that OTHER zest, lemon. I've never worked with lemon zest in a beer before, and couldn't think of a reason why it wouldn't work well in a Gose. I went a bit further, wanting to dry-hop this half as well, so I looked through all the hop varieties I had in my freezer to see which ones also had notes of lemon. Southern Cross seemed like a good choice, as it also has descriptors of lime. But no, I didn't stop there! I continued crawling out further on the limb and made the odd choice of adding some oak.

Now, as I mentioned, I'm not usually the type to throw everything I've got into a beer. One of those breweries I mentioned above that really seems to make experimenting work is Grimm Artisanal Ales. I was lucky enough to try a couple of their beers a year or two ago, and I realized that when done properly, a bit of oak flavor in a Gose can work. IF DONE PROPERLY. I rarely brew with oak, and when I have, it's almost always been with oak cubes that I can safely let bob around in a Flanders Red for a year or so. This is the problem with oak... too much of it can completely ruin a beer (for me, at least).

I won't get into all the various forms of oak there are (French vs. American, medium-toast vs. light), but what is important to point out is that the smaller the form of oak, the more surface area will be in contact with the beer. More surface area means a faster extraction of oak flavors... but it can also mean a harsher oak experience. Make sense? When you're talking about a beer like I'm brewing here, though, you don't want to be using oak cubes that can require months for a gentle oak presence to enter the beer... freshness is key. We're using zest here, and hops, so don't want to age the beer. And this is how Grimm does it. How do I know? I asked them!

Owner Joe Grimm was kind enough to answer an email I sent about how they added oak to their beers. He admitted they have many methods, but for a beer like their Vacay (a delicious dry-hopped sour conditioned on white oak), they use lightly-toasted oak spirals. Unfortunately, I don't have access to oak spirals here, but oak chips are pretty close. Joe recommended a week at the most, but what it's really going to come to with adding oak is tasting it every day or two until it's where you want it, just to be safe.

This post is getting long-winded, so let's get on to the recipe. I basically brewed the exact same beer as in the past, with a simple grist of equal parts Pilsner and Wheat malt, and about 4% Acid malt thrown in to drop down that mash pH. Mash, sparge, vorlauf, all that, and bring to a very brief boil before chilling down to around 100 F. I then pitched my Lacto starter (which I made up days before with Lactobacillus plantarum capsules - for the full approach, check out my previous post) and let it sour for a couple of days till the pH got to around 3.4. Transfer back to the boil kettle, boil for 5 minutes (with a small hop addition to get a measly 7 IBUs or so), chill to the mid-60s F, and pitch a package of US-05 and hope to God that the pH isn't too low for it to start fermenting (if you want to be more sure, it's not a bad idea to ferment with a Saison or Brett strain, both of which can handle lower pH better than an American strain can).

Luckily, it did ferment out fine. Of course, I had split the wort in two and oxygenated each well, in order to be more confident that the US-05 would do its job. Once fermentation was complete, it was time to start adding the extra ingredients. I decided on kegging one half and bottling the other, so I racked one half to my dry-hop keg and added the freshly-zested lemon zest and the oak chips. I was torn on how much of the oak chips to add; I read a wide variety of recommendations online, and ultimately decided on 18 grams. I really was worried about overdoing it, so this seemed safe. After a week, I was starting to get a bit of oak flavour, so I pulled out the oak and lemon zest and threw in the Southern Cross for another 5 days, then racked to the serving keg and carbed it up.

The other half I added the lime zest and cilantro in a mesh bag directly in primary. So, how much cilantro? I was originally planning on 100 grams or so, but then came up short! I had asked my wife to pick up a bunch at the grocery store, but unfortunately it turned out to be a measly bunch. I also was growing some at home, but I still didn't have the 100 g, ultimately coming in at 62 g. I also wasn't sure what to do with the cilantro to make sure it didn't further infect the beer, so I chopped it up fairly fine, washed it and sprayed it lightly with Starsan. I didn't want to boil it or steam it, in case it took away some of the flavor. After I brewed the beer, I read that you can soak it in high-proof grain alcohol to sanitize it? Anyway, found out too late, but my approach seemed to do the trick (in hindsight). After a week, I racked it to the bottling bucket with table sugar to carbonate, and bottled it up.

So, how did these turn out? Let's start with the Cilantro Lime Gose, since I've had more feedback from friends (naturally, since it was bottled, it has been easier to give away). Personally, I really like it. The lime works as well as it did in the last beer, and the salt level is just where I like it. As for the cilantro, it could definitely stand to have some more... it IS there, in the taste anyway, but if I brewed it again I'd definitely try to get closer to the 100 g I initially aimed for. Other beer geeks seem to have enjoyed it, and the combination of flavors seems to be working well.

As for the lemon zested-oaked-dry-hopped half, that one is more of a conundrum. I wasn't sure how I liked it at first. I found the aroma kind of... weird; I got a very odd oak presence, but like I was smelling it through a barrier. Does that make sense? No, it probably doesn't, because I don't really get it either. The flavor, however, was much better - the lemon zest came out really nicely, with some extra citrus from the dry-hop (although you'd never know I used the equivalent of 6 oz for a 5 gallon batch). Just a touch of oak in the taste, which was perfect. As for others who have tried it, some have loved it and commented on wanting a keg for their house, while some have definitely not enjoyed it. One person found it too astringent, and one outright didn't like the oak. I understand that, but, if you try an oaked Gose, you kinda gotta know what you're getting into, no? Luckily, the oak presence in the aroma came down very quickly, and now I find it a refreshing, easy-drinking summer beer.

Ultimately, for me, both beers are winners, especially for a first go. The Cilantro Lime Gose is the winner, coming out as being slightly more refreshing, and just a better fit, overall. If I brewed it again I'd definitely add more cilantro; as I mentioned early, maybe up it to 100 g and go from there. I think the oaked Gose was an interesting experiment, and something I'd like to try again from a different angle.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.033, FG ~1.009, IBU 7, SRM 2.9, ABV ~3.2%

1.4 kg (47.9%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.4 kg (47.9%) Wheat malt
125 g (4.3%) Acid malt
+ 100 g Rice hulls

Polaris - 14 g (17% AA) @ 5 min

Southern Cross - 88 g dry hop for 5 days for 1/2 of the batch

14 g freshly-ground Coriander seed at 2 min
25 g Sea Salt at 2 min

Half #1:
Lime zest - 6.5 g in secondary after fermentation is complete, for 7 days
Cilantro - 62 g, washed, in secondary with the lime zest, for 7 days

Half #2:
Lemon zest - 7 g in secondary after fermentation is complete, for 7 days
Oak chips - 18 g in secondary with the lemon zest, for 7 days

Bacteria/Yeast: Lactobacillus plantarum capsules (5) in a 1 L starter; after souring, wort fermented with 1 pack rehydrated US-05

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on March 20th, 2017, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9.5 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.033. Brought to a brief boil, then chilled to 95 F. Added 5 mL of phosphoric acid, then racked to carboy, pitched Lacto starter, attached heat belt and set carboy on heating pad. Four days later, the pH had dropped to 3.4 - this is with the temp never really getting about 75 F, even with the heat belt and pad.

- Transferred wort back into kettle, brought to a boil. Started 5 minute boil, added hops, coriander and salt at time above. Chilled down to 62 F and poured into two 3 gallon BBs. Aerated for 60 seconds and pitched yeast at 64 F. Fermentation visible by next day, continued for two days at about 70 F and then slowed quickly. Took a gravity reading on April 8th, sitting at 1.009.

- Racked one half to dry-hop keg and added oak and lemon zest in two separate, sanitized mesh bags. After about one week, removed both bags and added Southern Cross. Five days later, transferred via CO2 to serving keg and carbed.

- Added lime zest and cilantro to the other half, in primary, in a sanitized mesh bag. After one week, bottled with 62 g table sugar for approximately 10 L, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 with a maz temp of 70 reached; also added 1/2 pack rehydrated champagne yeast.

I was going to show pictures of both, but they really do look exactly the same.
Appearance: Bright yellow body, with a lot of haze, for both beers. The white head is medium-sized, and doesn't fade TOO quickly (seems like the phosphoric acid added before fermentation is doing its thing).

Aroma: Cilantro Lime Gose (CLG) - Bright aroma of fresh lime takes the main stage; slightly sour. The presence of cilantro here is, at best, extremely light. Oaked Gose (OG) has an oddly-dull aroma - I get a bit of oak, but it's quite muted and blocking anything else. After a few weeks, this went away and the lemon zest came out much better.

Taste: CLG - Big hit of lime and tartness in the flavor; acidity works well with the lime, of course, and the cilantro comes through more than it did in the aroma (still, would rate it mild at the most). OG - Much stronger than the aroma, with the lemon zest combining well with the Southern Cross dry-hop... although I admit, I'm not quite sure how much of the dry-hop is coming through. Only slightly oaky. Both beers have a great level of salt in the flavor as well.

Mouthfeel: Both beers are light-bodied, with moderate carbonation. Smooth; not watery despite the low ABV.

Overall: I enjoy both beers, especially now that the OG has cleared up a bit. The oak kind of works, but I don't know how necessary it really is... a worthy experiment, we'll see if I do this again. CLG is a real winner, a great summer beer that I have to admit is - despite the overuse of the word these days - quite crushable.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Brewing a Brett Session IPA (with Azacca and Columbus)

I brewed my first 100% Brettanomyces IPA in May of 2015; I'm not really sure why it took me so long, since I'm a big fan of Brett, a big fan of hops, and a big fan of when the two are used together! There's lots of Brett IPAs available commercially now (well, in most parts of North America), so you probably don't need me to tell you that the good ones feature just the right amount of funk (not too much, but noticeable) with lots of citrus, tropical, and pineapple notes from the addition of large amounts of the best hop varieties. Sure, it depends on exactly what hops you go with, AND the strain(s) of Brett you ferment with, but this really can be a delicious style. But you didn't need me to tell you that, right?

That original brew was, for me, the best out of all the Brett IPAs I've brewed since. It featured Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc, and was fermented with The Yeast Bay's Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" made up of six different Brett strains (which they don't tell you exactly what they are). I don't know why this particular beer was so great, but I guess it was just the right combination of hops and Brett. I've used Amalgamation several times since, and it's definitely a winner, and my go-to when it comes to 100% Brett fermentations.

I've been trying to have one of my four taps always dedicated to a sour or 100% Brett beer, and when my Gose dry-hopped with Chinook and grapefruit zest was finally about to kick, I made sure to take the time to brew another Brett IPA. This time around, however, I was looking for a beer that was lower than the 6.5-7% ABV range. There's nothing wrong with these beers, but I continue to be drawn more and more towards the sub-5% beers that aren't going to necessarily leave me buzzed when I shouldn't be. So, why not a Brett Session IPA?

Why not, indeed! The only real concern that I had was ending up with a beer that was watery and thin. Since most Brett strains don't produce glycerol, a compound that is responsible for giving a lot of mouthfeel/body to a beer, fermenting entirely with Brett runs the risk of resulting in a thin, watery beer; with a lower ABV beer, I'd imagine this is even more likely. With my other Brett IPAs, I always tried to account for this by adding a good portion of Wheat malt, and by mashing relatively high. This approach has worked in the past, so with this Brett Session IPA, I did the same thing; in fact, I used almost the same grist as my other Brett IPAs, to a lower OG of 1.042, but took out some Wheat malt and made up the difference with Flaked Oats. I also mashed even higher than before at 155 F, compared to 153 F last time.

I took the opportunity to use different hop varieties this time around - aside from my all-Azacca Brett IPA that I brewed last spring, all of my others had two hop varieties in them, and this is the approach I wanted to take here. I still had quite a bit of Azacca on hand, so I decided to go with this again; for the second variety, I chose Columbus, a hop I feel is often unfairly overlooked. It's readily available, cheap, and has a nice dank, resinous, sometimes-kind-of-fruity set of qualities to it that I usually enjoy. I thought maybe it would pair well with the Azacca, offering a nice contrast to the citrus, mango, and pineapple notes from that variety. The hopping schedule is similar to the other Brett IPAs: a bit of Polaris at the beginning of the boil to get a few IBUs, then the Azacca and CTZ (with an emphasis on Azacca) for a hop steep, more when the immersion chiller started doing its thing, and then a couple ounces of each in the single dry-hop.

Brew day and fermentation seemed to go off without any major hitches. The FG came in very low this time around, at 1.003 (I've had a wide varieties of apparent attenuation with Amalgamation), and after dry-hopping the beer for 5 days, I racked it to a keg and force carbed it. When I had my first pour, I knew immediately that it had fallen short of where I wanted it to be, and that this wasn't going to improve with time. The issue? Too much Brett character, and not enough hops.

This had happened before. The aforementioned all-Azacca Brett IPA had the same problem, but at that point I assumed it was due to the Brett strain I had used for fermentation. This was one of the only times I brewed a Brett IPA and DIDN'T use Amalgamation; instead, I went with Brett brux Trois Vrai. While I did enjoy that beer, I want the hops to really pop in a Brett IPA (it's not just a Brett beer, after all), and that didn't happen with that beer. And since I had used Azacca before and loved it, I blamed it on the Brett.

This latest beer is somewhere in between: more hop character than the all-Azacca beer, but not as much as other Brett IPAs I've brewed. So, while I still stand by my initial conclusion that Brett brux Troi Vrai may not be the best Brett strain for hoppy beers (at least in part), I admit now that some of the reason for it's blahness is due to the newer Azacca I had used. A friend and I bought a couple of pounds (this was the 2015 crop), and he was underwhelmed by his as well. Unfortunate, but it happens.

Regardless, it's not a bad beer at all, it's just not where I wanted it. Definitely some nice Brett funk in there, bit of pineapple, citrus, and a little dankness from the Columbus. And at only 4.7% ABV, I'm really happy with how easy-drinking it is. I should also mention that the recipe definitely turned out a low-ABV beer with a solid mouthfeel, even with the lack of glycerol production from the Brett... it's not too thin at all. So if you're looking to brew a Brett Session IPA, I can recommend the recipe... just maybe check your Azacca, or go with a different hop!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.042, FG ~1.010, IBU ~25, SRM 3.1, ABV ~4.1%

Grains & Sugars:
2.6 kg (72.2%) Canadian 2-row
350 g (9.7%) Flaked Oats
350 g (9.7%) Wheat malt
150 g (4.2%) Carapils
150 g (4.2%) Acid malt

Polaris - 4 g (17% AA) @ 60 min

Azacca - 42 g (8.2% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20-minute steep)
CTZ - 28 g (10.9% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20-minute steep)

Azacca - 42 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)
CTZ - 28 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)

Azacca - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: The Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (with a starter, to ~150 bil cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on January 24th, 2017, by myself. 50-minute mash with 10.5 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 155 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4 L of boiling water to 162 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG low at 1.039. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into SS Brew Bucket. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 65 F.

- Good activity after 24 hours, only lasted for a couple of days. Temp reached max of 68 F during fermentation. Added dry hops into fermentor after about 2 weeks (I had been away), for 5 days. FG quite low at 1.003. Racked to keg at this point and force carbed at 30 PSI for 36 hours.

Appearance: Pours with a large, dense, white head that sticks around for days. Body is light-yellow, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Definitely a Brett beer... that barnyard Funk character hits the nose first, followed by light citrus/dank notes from - I assume - the Azacca and Columbus.

Taste: Again, the Brett wins. Funky, bit of pineapple, with the hops supporting nicely. Bit of carbonic bite in the finish, and the bitterness is about medium (higher than I expected from the 25 IBUs calculated). Very dry finish, thanks to the low FG.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium carbonation. Smooth, not too thin at all for a sub 5% ABV beer.

Overall: I like it, but the hops don't come through enough. I think the hopping amounts and schedule are sound, it's just that this Azacca crop isn't doing it.

Monday 10 April 2017

Brewing a Coffee Milk Stout

When you're really into hoppy beers and sours, sometimes it's a little too easy to get caught up in brewing those styles, so much that it can lead to forgetting to brew other, almost-as-delicious beers. By late December (yeah, I'm behind in posting again), it occurred to me that I hadn't brewed any really dark beers in quite some time; when I looked at my brew log, I was surprised to see it had been even longer than I originally thought. I brewed a Black IPA in November, 2015, and that's still a hoppy beer; the last time I had brewed a Stout was in May of 2014. Yikes!

For someone reading this blog, you couldn't be blamed for assuming I don't normally drink dark beers like Stouts or Porters. While my beer consumption definitely leans heavily towards lighter, hoppier (or Belgian) styles, I still really do enjoy darker beers as well. The last Stout I brewed was a Sweet Stout (aka Milk Stout); this was the second time brewing this recipe, with a few tweaks, and it was a very tasty beer. Sweet Stouts are great because they give you plenty of roast character, plus a little bit of extra sweetness and mouthfeel from the addition of lactose powder. Throw in that they're in the 4-6% ABV range, and you're laughin'.

I was originally going to just brew up the same Sweet Stout recipe as before. However, I've been drinking more and more excellent Coffee Stouts lately, and the more I thought about it, the more I figured coffee in a Sweet Stout would be a fabulous addition. And it turns out I'm not the only one, as there's plenty of commercially brewed Coffee Sweet Stouts out there; I just didn't discover them until after. Oops.

When it comes to adding coffee in beer, there are many methods. I won't do what others have done and list them all here, but brewers definitely feel strongly about some over others. Personally, I had no desire to add coffee beans in the mash, or the boil, or in primary, as I suspect (and others have confirmed) that at least some coffee character is ultimately lost during fermentation. I narrowed it down to two other approaches: adding cold-brewed coffee at packaging, or adding coffee beans for a short time in secondary.

The former approach seems to be the most popular one used, and I can see why, especially when you're talking about a commercial-size batch. You can brew a concentrated, large batch of coffee and add it to a brite tank, as opposed to trying to add (and eventually remove) a crapload of beans. We homebrewers, luckily, don't have to worry about stuff like that! While I initially was planning on taking the cold-brewed approach, I decided on adding beans in my dry-hop keg with the beer - the filter I have in there would work perfectly for transferring the beer to the serving keg (via CO2), with very minimal clean-up. And after talking with Derek Dellinger of Kent Falls Brewing, who has had success with this method as a homebrewer, it made more sense to me.

But, how much coffee? I really didn't have anything to go by, experience-wise, but after speaking with several friends who have brewed with coffee, I settled on 150 grams of beans for a 5.5 gallon batch. I preferred to use coffee that wasn't your typical blend, and luckily had recently met up with Kent and Tanji, two good friends who live in Freeport, ME. They own a coffee roasting business, Freeport Coffee Roasting, and they're turning out some really excellent products (I suggest you check them out and order some... don't worry, I don't work for the White House, nor do I have any business ties to any coffee companies, so it's ok!). I used their Kenya Kichwa Tembo, a medium-roast described as "citric, floral, with medium acidity" (Note - this is why I like coffee beers - you could use so many different types of excellent coffee and always have a different result).

For my grist, I went with the same recipe as I've used in the past - Maris Otter as the base, some Black Patent, CaraMunich, Pale Chocolate malt, and a full pound of lactose sugar added during the boil. In my experience, this produces a beer that is roasty, creamy, and only slightly sweet. Bittered to just ~20 IBUs (use whatever variety you want at 60 mins), I fermented the beer with London Ale III. Why? Because it was the only English strain I had on hand. I've used Irish Ale before, and that worked great, but I figured with the roast character and coffee, LAIII would do fine.

I brewed and fermented the beer, then racked it to my dry-hop keg on top of the coffee beans. After about 30 hours (Derek had said roughly a day should do the trick), I pushed the beer to the serving keg with CO2, and carbed it up. It was really nice to have a dark, non-hoppy beer on tap for a change (the beer just kicked a week or so before I finished this post), and for my first go at a coffee beer, I was pretty happy with it. The coffee character was perfect for me; I've definitely had coffee stouts with MORE coffee presence, but too much coffee can overwhelm some of the actual beer, in my opinion. The beer is pretty creamy; I think the lactose could come through a bit more, which may have to do more with the coffee shadowing it a bit. I can't imagine more than a pound of lactose powder is necessary.

So, what would I change? I think I'd cut back on the coffee just a bit (maybe down to 125 grams to start), and I'd like to try a coffee blend with a little less acidity, which I think would let the lactose sweetness come through some more. Overall, though, a really nice beer that was very popular with most of my beer-drinking friends (yeah, yeah, it's free, of course they're going to say they liked it!), and definitely one I'll be coming back to tweak in the near future. My recent trip to San Diego allowed me to bring back some Modern Times coffee, so look for a follow-up, soon.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.060, FG ~1.020, IBU ~21, SRM 37, ABV ~5.3%

Grains & Sugars:
4 kg (74.7%) Maris Otter
400 g (7.5%) Black Patent
300 g (7.1%) CaraMunich
200 g (3.7%) Pale Chocolate malt
454 g (8.5%) Lactose sugar (added during the boil)

Polaris - 10 g (17% AA) @ 60 min

1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min
150 g Coffee beans (Freeport Coffee Roasting Kenya Kichwa Tembo blend)

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 6 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 30th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.062. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 70 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 65 F.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-low, tan-coloured head that fades fairly quickly to a thin ring. Body is jet-black in colour and opaque.

Aroma: Even weeks after kegging, the coffee aroma is still coming through wonderfully - roasty, slightly floral as promised.

Taste: Big flavours of roast from the coffee, and I'm really digging the slightly acidic, citrusy flavours that go along with it. Slightly sweet, could probably be a bit higher in that department.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium-low carbonation.

Overall: For a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with this one. I think this particular coffee works really well in a stout like this - the blend of acidity, roast, and citrus and floral notes is spot-on. Changing the grist a bit, and decreasing the coffee slightly, may help bring out the sweetness a bit more; I don't really think adding more lactose powder is the answer. I'm also happy with doing the bean-steep as a means of adding coffee, as it's pretty simple and effective, from what I can tell.

Thursday 23 March 2017

Belgian Dubbel (with vanilla bean)

Disclaimer: This post is, uh, a few months overdue. Just go with it!

Another Christmas season, another excuse to brew a Christmas-giveaway beer! This has become an annual tradition for me, where I brew a new beer with the intention of giving most away as Christmas gifts to fellow beer geeks, and even a few who aren't. Two years ago was my first, a Red IPA, and last year was a DIPA. It's no secret I'm a fan of the hops, but I like many other beer styles as well, especially those with a Belgian influence. Looking back at all of the hoppy beers I brewed in 2016, I decided it was time for something a little different.

There's plenty of delicious Belgian-style beers, but I think if I had to narrow it down to my favourite (outside of Sours), I'd go with the Dubbel. Such a wonderful, complex style that somehow manages to focus on a blend of malt character, caramel, fruity esters, and spicy phenolics, with a bit of warming alcohol (but not hot), and little to no hop presence. When brewed well, it all comes together perfectly, resulting in a truly-fantastic beer. And there's plenty of great examples out there, with the obvious ones coming from several of the Trappist breweries, some of which are fairly-readily available (if you don't live in New Brunswick, that is).

I've brewed two Dubbels before, one in 2010, and another in 2013. They weren't the same recipe - the first was taken from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles, and the second was from another great book, Brew Like a Monk, by Stan Hieronymus. The latter recipe came from The Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur, and featured a hefty grain bill that showcased seven different malt types, along with some Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (which I will refer to as DBCS, due to laziness). Both beers came out well (I can't remember if I had a preference or not between the two), with a nice balance of toast, fruit, and spice... but there seemed to be something missing.

What I think it was in both cases was the presence of dark fruit; fruity esters is one thing, but it's the raisin/plum/etc. character that really makes a Dubbel different from many other styles. While some brewers actually add these ingredients to their beer, most of the time they come from two sources: a dark malt like Special B, and DBCS; and really, it's the DBCS that makes the biggest difference. Look at some of the most revered dark Belgian beers out there, and a lot of the really good ones (such as many brewed at Trappist breweries) consist of Pilsner malt, DBCS... and that's it.

There are different varieties of DBCS available, made by different companies. They also come in varying degrees of darkness... I guess that's the best way to describe them? As expected, the darker they get, the more of that dark fruit, chocolate, roasted character you're going to get. Luckily, the roast character is actually kept to a minimum; you don't want a Belgian Dubbel or Quad tasting like a stout, but having some chocolate character is still ok.

For the recipe, I decided to go with the Brewing Classic Styles one. It still has quite a few different malt types (mostly Pilsner, but with another 25% of the grist includes six others), which may not be necessary, but I do remember enjoying that first beer, so I decided to follow the recipe again. However, this time I went with a DBCS that is 180 SRM (D-180 from Candi Syrup, Inc.), much darker than my first Dubbel, as well as my second. As a result of this, I actually used less (just half a pound); going with the full pound would have resulted in a very dark beer, too dark if you're really trying to stay in Dubbel territory. With the descriptors of "subtle notes of anise, dark chocolate, dark stone fruit, caramel, with a hint of dark-toasted bread" for the D-180, I hoped that I was adding enough to bring that out.

I would have loved to have used a Belgian yeast strain that I haven't yet tried, but unfortunately I didn't plan enough ahead (it can take weeks to get a new yeast smackpack around here). Luckily, I did still have some extra Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale slurry on hand; this is the Chimay strain, and I've used it in a few beers and always have been happy with the results. I find it gives a nice balance between spicy phenolics and fruity esters, so I was happy to use it here.

I decided before brewing this beer that I wanted to take it in a slightly different direction than before. When I was planning to brew my Milkshake IPA (which I had ready to go directly after the Dubbel), it was the first time in years that I had used vanilla bean in a recipe. It got me thinking to how much I enjoy vanilla in a beer... when it's used appropriately - that is, in the right circumstances, and in the right amounts. Too much vanilla can easily be cloying and off-putting. But it was pretty easy to see it working in a Dubbel, so I planned on adding a full bean when bottling. I scraped out the "flesh" of the bean, chopped up what was left, and soaked it all in a small amount of vodka for a week or so, then strained and added the vodka into the bottling bucket.

Here's where I had a moment of stupidity. For some reason on bottling day, I started wondering if the vodka was going to be adding some additional sugar to the beer... and if it did, shouldn't I therefore aim on the low side for target CO2, in case I ended up with bottle bombs? Pfft. Anyway, of course I didn't, and as a result the beer came out undercarbed. Dammit! Not flat, of course, but more like around 2 vol CO2 instead of the 3 or so I'd like to see in a Dubbel. Not to mention I underestimated the total volume (because I'm so used to brewing hoppy beers that leave lots of hoppy sludge behind)... sigh.

But on the bright side, the beer is really tasty! Unfortunately, the appearance kind of blows because there's basically no head retention due to the carbonation, but it smells ans tastes quite nice. The vanilla is just about where I wanted it - you can notice it, and it works well, but it doesn't overpower the beer. And this DBCS is great, easily the best of the ones I've used so far. Plenty of dark fruit character in the beer, accompanied by some light phenolics from the yeast.

This recipe has got me thinking that vanilla bean would work well in some other styles, so don't be surprised if I incorporate it again in the near future!

Note: Sorry for the lack of posting lately... no excuses, but I do have my next post on my Coffee Sweet Stout ready to go, look for that one within a week or so. I'm heading to San Diego next week with my family, which will - of course - also manage to revolve around beer!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.063, FG ~1.015, IBU ~17, SRM 18, ABV ~6.4%

Grains & Sugars:
4 kg (70.8%) Bohemian Pilsner
400 g (7.1%) Munich
400 g (7.1%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.5%) Aromatic
200 g (3.5%) CaraMunich II
150 g (2.7%) Special B
75 g (1.3%) Acid malt
227 g (4%) Extra Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (180 SRM) (added during the boil)

Polaris - 8 g (17.7% AA) @ 60 min

1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min
1 x Vanilla bean, scraped & chopped, soaked in 1/4 cup Vodka; vodka added at bottling

Yeast: Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale (with a starter, ~270 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 6 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 2nd, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.047. 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.063. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Active fermentation by the next morning, really picking up by the evening, temp at 70 F. Turned up the heat in the room to boost it a bit higher, reaching 74 F by the next morning. Already started slowing down by that evening.

- 15/11/16 - FG 1.014. Strained vanilla/vodka liquid and added to bottling bucket, along with 137 g table sugar (boiled and cooled), aiming for 2.7 vol CO2 with max temp of 74 F reached.

This is the best I could do 3 months after Christmas...

Appearance: Pours with a small, rapidly-fading head that is virtually gone within seconds. Body is a dark brown colour with ruby highlights, and excellent clarity.

Aroma: Caramel, toffee, nice amount of dark fruit (cherry, raisin), and a mild-to-moderate presence of vanilla. No alcohol.

Taste: The caramel and dark fruit characters blend well together, and dominate; the vanilla follows and lingers into the finish. Low bitterness, still finishes fairly dry. Smooth.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium carbonation (after several months; was only medium-low at first).

Overall: A really nice beer. The appearance and carbonation was a bummer at first, but they've finally come around a little (now that I only have a few bottles left!).