Friday 30 December 2011

Tasting/Recipe : Feeling Duvelish

In late February/early March of 2009, my wife and I went on a week-long trip to Belgium. Anything positive you have heard about this country is completely true, and, of course, the beer is outstanding. It was this trip that triggered my love of beer, and ultimately led to my passion/infatuation with brewing. While I have a lot of Belgium-beer moments in my memory, one of the clearest is when I had my first Duvel (pronounced DOO-vel, not Doo-VELLE) at a small beer bar in Bruges. Few would argue against it being THE penultimate Belgian Golden Strong Ale; in fact, it seems like Duvel actually STARTED the style.

I've tried several BGS ales since having my first Duvel, and while some have been quite impressive (such as Russian River's Damnation), most fall far short of the one that started it all. A bit spicey, with some fruity esters (especially pear, which helps distinguish it apart from others), it finishes moderately bitter, and bone dry. VERY carbonated, the beer supports a huge, long-lasting white head. The alcohol is amazingly deceptive, hence the name... most BGS ales have some form of the word "Devil" in their name.

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to brewing a Belgian Golden Strong myself, but in September I finally did, using the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. Probably one of the simplest recipes (at least in terms of the grist and hop schedule) I've ever done, the real aspect that makes it stand out is the yeast. I went with Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale, which is similar to that used by the Duvel Moortgat brewery, providing that pear aroma/flavor that you look for in Duvel. The amount of table sugar may seem high, but you need it to dry the beer out and boost the alcohol level. The recipe called for the fermentation temperature to be raised gradually, to as high as 80 F... much higher than you'd normally use, but a lot of Belgian beer styles call for warm fermentations, to help bring out the spicey and fruity characters of the beers. Now that the beer has had a few months to mature in the bottle, I find it's really turned out quite well, and surprisingly close to Duvel itself.

Appearance: Poured with a large, white head that hangs around for quite awhile before finally fading to 1/2-finger. Body is a light yellow (the picture doesn't have enough light to show this), with excellent clarity. Bubbles jetting up to the top from the center bottom of the glass.

Aroma: Aroma is fruity (apples and pears), with a background of phenolic spiciness. There is a hint of alcohol in the aroma as well.

Taste: Fruity and spicy... nice. I’d say the apple/pear flavor comes through first, followed by some spiciness and a very dry, moderately bitter finish.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied, high carbonation. A bit prickly on the tongue as a result. A bit of alcohol warmth, but quite deceiving (as the style calls for).

Overall: I think I’m pretty happy with this beer... definitely improved over even a few weeks ago, especially in terms of the appearance (originally was a bit hazy, and the head dropped almost immediately).

(5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency): OG 1.075, FG 1.009, IBU 32.5, SRM 3.4

4.2 kg Bohemian Pilsner malt
1.36 kg table sugar

1. Saaz - 63 g (4.5% AA) @ 90 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1 tab Irish Moss @ 15 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale (PD Aug 15) (with a 1 L starter)

- Brewed Sept.12/11 by myself. 75-minute mash with 13.88 L of strike water, mashing in at 149 F. Sparged with 6 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. Both strike and sparge water treated with 1/4 tablet of Campden. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 67 F with copper immersion chiller. OG a bit high, 1.050 (original recipe called for 1.047 before sugar addition). Pitched yeast, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after.

- Fermentation started by the next day. Temps in the low 70s. After a couple of days, when fermentation started to visibly slow, I added 454 g of table sugar each day for 3 days. You can add the sugar during the boil, but this way the yeast gets used to breaking down more complex sugars that glucose before having the "dessert" of the table sugar, and it also means a smaller yeast starter is needed when pitching the yeast.

- Temp got as high as 78 F during active fermentation. Bottled after ~4 weeks in primary with 235 g table sugar, aiming for 4 vol CO2 for 5 gallons. Bottled 10 x 500 mL, 41 x 12 oz. Left in room at ~72 F for 2 weeks to carbonate.

Friday 9 December 2011

Recipe: Flanders Red

While there's exceptions to every rule, and taste is definitely subjective, the majority of beer geeks eventually become involved in sour beers. Definitely an acquired taste at first, this "family" of beers is so fascinating and complex (not to mention delicious), that one can't help but be drawn to their history and process.

Flanders Red, one of the styles of sour beers, is probably as close to wine as any beer style can get. While it IS definitely a beer (it still uses the same mashing, boiling, hopping, etc. techniques that you always see), its color, flavors and aromas make it startlingly similar to some fine red wines. Both the aroma and taste usually have quite prominent fruitiness (such as cherries and red currants); there can be some spiciness in the background. While some examples have some of the Brettanomyces (a "wild" yeast) characteristic funk, what makes this style stand out from other sour ales is the acidity, which can range from a moderate amount to a highly-intense, enamel-stripping presence.

When I was introduced to sours about a year and a half ago, it was through Lambics and Gueuze. Months later, on a visit to The Lion's Pride in Brunswick, Maine, I had my first Flanders Red. The LP had Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge, from Brouwerij Bockor N.V. in Belgium. I remember it as being quite sour, but oddly enough I really enjoyed it right away. While definitely intense, the complexity of the flavors and aromas pulled me in, and I convinced myself that if I ever decided to delve into actually BREWING sour beers, this was the style I would try first.

Finally, last February, I decided to give it a try. Through various readings, especially the website The Mad Fermentationist (link on the right), and the book Wild Brews: Culture and Craftmanship in the Belgian Tradition, by Jeff Sparrow, I tried to make myself more familiar with what was involved. While this style IS basically brewed like other beers, what really sets it (and other sour beers) apart from non-sours is the time that the beer sits in the fermenter... at least 12 months is recommended, generally, for flavor complexity and acidity to develop. Flanders Reds use a Saccharomyces yeast during fermentation, but there is also other organisms involved, such as Brettanomyces yeast (not everyone uses this), and certain souring and acid-producing bacteria.

I used the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, which recommended the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend, which contains several yeasts, as well as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria. I wanted to get a very sour beer, so I pitched this smackpack immediately into primary. Another option is to let fermentation start with a neutral yeast (such as Wyeast 1056 American Ale), and THEN pitch the Roeselare blend when fermentation starts to slow down.

I should note, however, that I left the beer in the primary fermenter for the entire time, as per Brewing Classic Style's instructions. However, I read (too late) that with Flanders Reds, you really should rack to secondary after a month or so. The Brettanomyces like to feed on the dying yeast cake in primary, and will continue to do so for months, producing more of their funk character. While this is desirable in sours such as Lambics, the funkiness really isn't supposed to be as prominent in Flanders Reds, so it's better to get the beer off the yeast cake for the bulk of fermentation. Also, your typical Flanders Red will be aged to some degree on oak (or IN an oak barrel). I chose to avoid adding oak chips to the fermenter this time, as I don't have a lot of experience with using oak, and didn't want to risk overdoing it.

Recipe (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency): OG 1.057, FG 1.008, IBU 15, SRM 14.7

1.77 kg Vienna malt
1.77 kg German Pilsener malt
454 g Munich malt
227 Aromatic malt
227 g Caramunich II
227 g Special B
227 g Wheat malt

U.S. Goldings - 28 g (4.5% AA) @ 60 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 10 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 10 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Belgian Blend (no starter)

- Brewed Feb.28th, 2011, with Jill. 60 minute mash with 16.2 L of strike water, mashed in at 154 F. Sparged with 5.5 gallons of 175 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 68 F with immersion chiller. OG came in at target. Siphoned into Better Bottle, leaving as much trub behind as possible, so final volume into fermenter came in a bit low, maybe 5 gallons or so. Pitched yeast and bugs at 65 F, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after.

- Bubbling in airlock, slowly, by next morning. Picked up in the evening, and continued for about a week or so, temperature never getting above 69 F.

15/3/11 - 9/12/11 - Fermenter has been kept in a dark closet for this period. Temp has ranged from 64 F in the winter, to 78 F in the summer. I've taken various gravity samples every 3 months or so. The gravity is currently 1.010; hopefully it drops a couple more points in the next few months. The aroma and flavor definitely has the fruitiness, a bit of Brett funk, but the acidity is really lacking. A thick pellicle has formed on top of the beer in the last few months... seemed a bit slow to occur, but hopefully this means the bugs are still doing their work.

27/1/12 - Added the bottle dregs of one bottle of Ichtegem’s Grand Cru Flemish Red.

29/1/12 - Added bottle dregs of a Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze.

27/5/12 - Bottled ~2.3 gallons, using 50 g table sugar, aiming for 2.25 vol CO2 with max temp of 78 F reached. Bottled 4 x 500 mL, 20 (and 1/2) x 12 oz. Meanwhile, also racked ~8 L onto 1.5 kg frozen (and then thawed) cherries in 3 gallon BB.

29/7/12 - Added the bottle dregs of a Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus to the secondary fermenter with the cherry half.

18/8/12 - Added bottle dregs of Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam (2011) to the cherry half.

29/8/12 - Bottled cherry-half (~2 gallons) with 42 g table sugar, aiming for 2.2 vol CO2 with max temp of 78 F reached. Also added ~1/4 package of wine yeast Lalvin D47 (rehydrated).

19/11/12 - Tasting notes for both the plain and cherry portion.

Monday 5 December 2011

Tasting/Recipe : Schnee Tag!

On a trip to Seattle several years ago, before I was even into beer, I was briefly at a party being held at the hotel bar of where we were staying. They had several wines and beers available for tasting; I tried most of them... unfortunately, I can't remember who actually brewed the beers I sampled. The final one I was offered was a jet-black beer; normally being turned off by darker beers (the only dark beer I had probably ever had at that point was Guinness), I politely said no, but the person serving the samples insisted I try it. "It's black, but it doesn't taste as dry and harsh as a lot of other dark beers", he said. I gave in, and was happy I did... while the beer WAS roasty, it was really more sweet, malty, and especially quite "clean".

This was my very first Schwarzbier. And, unfortunately, to this day it still remains one of the ONLY Schwarzbiers I've been able to try. There are no beers of this style available commercially in liquor stores in New Brunswick (surprise). I HAVE gone out of my way to purchase these beers when I've been able to, whether at a liquor store in Maine (e.g. Monchshof Schwarzbier from Germany), or at the Garrison Ale House here in Fredericton (the Paddock Wood Black Cat Lager from Saskatchewan). I really enjoy this dark lager, and when I finally bought a chest freezer and digital temperature controller last year, a Schwarzbier was the first lager-style beer that I wanted to brew.

I went with one of the two Schwarzbier recipes from Brewing Classic Styles, choosing the one that the authors admits may be a bit too roasty for the style, but tasty. After fermentation appeared to be complete, I continued to lager the beer in the chest freezer for two months, before bottling in March. I unfortunately calculated the sugar needed for carbonation incorrectly, so the beer IS a bit under-carbonated for the style, but ultimately I've been quite happy with how it turned out. In fact, I'd say it's one of the better beers I've brewed yet. At this point, I only have a few bottles remaining, but it's held up quite well.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, light-tan, very creamy head. Slowly fades to 1/2-finger. Body appears black at first glance, but has excellent clarity and ruby-highlights when held to the light.

Aroma: Aroma is quite clean, with a good amount of bready-malt, a touch of caramel sweetness, and a bit of roastiness. No DMS or diacetyl. No hop aroma noticeable.

Taste: Mostly malt flavor/sweetness, with some roasted flavors in the background. Finishes with a moderate-low bitterness, and a bit roasty. Maybe a touch of spicy hop flavor, and a bit of bitter chocolate. No diacetyl. Generally quite clean, likely due to the lager yeast.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation is moderate-low (should be higher), medium-bodied and quite creamy. Smooth. Maybe a touch of astringency.

Overall: I don’t have a lot of experience with this style, but I really like this beer. Should be carbonated more. I agree with Jamil that the recipe is likely a bit too roasty, but I think it works. Could use a touch more bitterness.

Recipe (5.5 gallons, 78% efficiency): OG 1.051, FG 1.015, IBU 24.4, SRM 28

1. 2.32 kg Munich malt
2. 1.82 kg Pilsner malt
3. 170 g Caramunich II
4. 170 g Chocolate malt
5. 99 g Roasted Barley
6. 99 g Carafa Special II

1. Hallertau - 42 g (3.9% AA) @ 60 min
2. Hallertau - 14 g @ 20 min
3. Hallertau - 14 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1 tab Irish Moss @ 15 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (PD Dec 14/10) (with a 5 L starter)

- Brewed Jan.13/11 with Geoff. 60 minute mash with 17 L of strike water, mashed in at 154 F. Sparged with ~5 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons into kettle. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 62 F with copper immersion chiller. OG a bit high, 1.054. Poured into Better Bottle and placed in chest freezer with temp set at 45 F to bring wort temp down more. Pitched yeast when temp reached 50 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after. Began fermentation in chest freezer with temp set at 50 F.

- Slow fermentation lasted for 5-6 days. When gravity reached 1.020, I moved the fermenter outside of the freezer and let the temp rise to ~65 F for a two-day diacetyl rest. Then, it was placed back into the chest freezer, and the temp was allowed to drop by 2 F every day, until it reached 36 F.

- Lagered at this temp for ~2 months. FG a bit high at 1.017.

- Bottled with 69 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 at 36 F. Also added 3-4 g rehydrated Nottingham dry yeast. Got 40 x 12 oz, 8 x 500 mL. Placed in warm room (68-70 F) for 2 weeks to carbonate. Realized too late that temp used in the calculation should be max reached at fermentation; this is why the beer came out a bit under-carbonated.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Tasting/Recipe : Twenty Dollar Blonde

I've always found Blonde Ales to be very underappreciated beers. So many homebrewers (as well as professional brewers) are trying to brew the biggest, darkest, hoppiest beers, that some of the lighter, easy-drinking styles get missed. I love a good DIPA, RIS, sour beer, etc. as much as the next beer geek, but there's something to be said about the "lighter" beers as well, ESPECIALLY when they're brewed properly. There's no large editions of specialty grains or insane hopping-amounts to hide behind for Blonde Ales; what you see, smell, and taste is what you get. Paying strict attention to yeast health and the entire fermentation is just as important as building the recipe. Blonde Ales are a great intro into the craft beer scene for the strict-BMC drinkers out there - they're still light and easy-drinking, but they have more flavor, aroma, and overall character than Lite American Lagers.

I brewed my first Blonde Ale back in mid-2010, when I was still doing extract beers. I pretty much followed the recipe in Brewing Classic Styles, by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer.. it came out ok, but I wasn't completely satistified. About 6 months later, I tweaked the recipe a bit and came up with the all-grain Ten Dollar Blonde... the name was based on what the entire 5-gallon batch cost me to make. I had just started ordering bulk ingredients, and reused a washed yeast cake, so it was quite cheap. I found this beer was an improvement over the last Blonde, but thought it was still lacking a bit in the malty character that the style is known for.

So, in late October of this year, I brewed my third Blonde. I bumped up the Munich this time, and cut out the bit of Crystal malt I had in the last batch. A Blonde Ale should not have a caramel flavor/aroma... it should have a light to moderate malty sweetness, with a bit of optional fruitiness, according to the BJCP guidelines. I aimed for a bitterness on the high-end of the style, but still relatively low compared to other beers. The 10-minute Crystal hop addition is to provide a touch of fruity/spicy hop flavor, with the flameout Amarillo addition used to hopefully provide a bit of citrus aroma.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, white, slightly creamy head that slowly dissipates to 1/4-finger. Body is a medium-golden color, correct for the style, with moderately-good clarity... a touch of haziness persists.

Smell: A light-moderate malty aroma is present; slightly sweet, but not caramelly. A slight touch of citrus from the Amarillo late-hop addition, but no more than that.

Taste: A nice, moderate-to-light malt taste; again, like the aroma, some sweetness from the malt. Low hop flavor (a bit fruity), with a light bitterness in the finish. Creamy and smooth. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: A pretty easy-drinking beer, which is what I was going for (as the style calls for). A bit more hop character here compared to the Ten Dollar Blonde, but still not much present (ok). Wish I had saved a bottle to compare.

Recipe: OG 1.050, FG 1.010, IBU 25.3, SRM 4.9, Efficiency 78%, Batch size 5.5 gallons (brewed Oct 24, 2011)

1. 3.05 kg Canadian 2-row
2. 682 g Munich malt
3. 454 g Carapils
4. 227 g Wheat malt

1. Magnum - 14 g (9.2% AA) @ 60 min
2. Willamette - 11 g (4.8% AA) @ 60 min
3. Crystal - 42 g (1.6% AA) @ 10 min
4. Amarillo - 21 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1098 British (with a 1.5 L starter)

- 60-minute mash with 14.55 L of strike water (treated with 1/4 tab Campden), mashed in at 153 F. Sparged with ~5.5 gallons of 168 F water for a final volume of ~6.75 gallons into kettle. 60 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 65 F with copper immersion chiller. Pitched yeast at this temp, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after. OG 1.050.

24/10/11 - Slight activity present in airlock by late evening.

25/10/11 - In AM, bubbling more than q second, temp 68 F. In afternoon, bubbling 2-3 times per second, temp 70 F. In PM, bubbling more than q second, temp 71 F.

26/10/11 - In AM, bubbling q 3 seconds, temp 68 F. Moved into water-heater room to keep temp up a bit.

13/11/11 - Bottled with 122 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with a max temp of 71 F reached. Bottled 4 x 22 oz, 16 x 500 mL, 21 x 12 oz. Put in room set at 70 F for 2 weeks to condition.

Short brewing hiatus

Unfortunately, due to a recent medical diagnosis and surgery, I'm forced to avoid brewing for the rest of 2011 (at least). Hopefully it won't go beyond that; it's just a matter of not being allowed to do any heavy lifting for 4-6 weeks... and with a pregnant wife, I don't have anyone nearby to help out! However, if I can recruit someone, maybe I'll be able to get in one final brew session for 2011 after all.

Hate to do this when I've just started this blog. I should be able to still get the Kate the Great clone bottled within a week or two. It's now down to 1.023, which would be a great FG if it stops right there. I've likely lost a good 3-4 L, maybe more, from the blow-off in the first few days of fermentation. I'm still thinking that I won't be making the oak addition... I'll likely just go right to bottling.

Over the next few weeks, I'll try to post some recent tastings (along with the recipes) of some homebrews I've done in the past. Some turned out quite good, others not so much, but I figure that way I'll still be able to keep track of their development while bottled.