Monday 30 April 2012

Tasting : Boilerplate Bitter

Having bottled this beer about six weeks ago, I've had the chance to try it 7-8 times. I've been holding off on blogging about my thoughts on the beer, mainly because it's been pretty difficult to put it into words... a problem I find I have with a lot of beer tastings, due to my limited vocabulary and limited experience with many beer styles!

However, I think I can say now, unfortunately, that I'm not a huge fan of this beer. It's definitely a pretty tasty, sessionable beer, but in terms of how good it is as a Standard/Ordinary Bitter, I'd have to say it misses the mark. I blame this mostly on the Amber malt, which I had never used before and therefore probably should have used more sparingly. The 1/2 lb seems to have overpowered the contribution from the Crystal malts. So, the search for a house bitter continues... next time, I'd definitely lower (or even cut out?) the Amber malt quantity.

Appearance: Poured with a very small, white head that quickly fades to a film on top of the beer. Body is dark amber/light copper, with good - but not excellent - clarity.

Aroma: Difficult-to-place aroma... I find it very similar to Berley’s Best Bitter (a previous Special Bitter I brewed last year), but there was no Special Roast used in this recipe. Earthy, slightly spicy, almost with a bit of a chocolate note, likely due to the Amber malt. No noticeable fruity esters from the yeast. Malt aroma is lower than it should be, and the caramel quality is negligable.

Taste: Moderate earthy hop flavor, with moderate-high bitterness in the finish. Again, the malt presence is much lower than it probably should be, and fruitiness is at a bare minimum.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium-low carbonation.

Overall: Certainly not a bad beer, just not a very good Standard Bitter. Easy drinking, low alcohol, which is a plus. But the malt complexity is too low, as are the fruity esters from the yeast.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Dry-hopping Tips

Even though I've only been brewing for 2 & 1/2 years, dry-hopping seems to continue to grow in popularity among both homebrewers and commercial brewers. It's a technique that is well-recognized as adding an extra smack of hop aroma that you can't always get from late boil or whirlpool additions. It's very easy to do, and can really make your American IPAs and Pale Ales taste that much fresher and brighter. You'll see a lot of other beer styles lately that employ dry-hopping, including American Amber Ales, Pilsners, English Bitters, and various Belgian Ales.

The basic technique for dry-hopping is fairly easy... you dump the hops into the fermented beer. You don't have to sanitize them before doing so; infection is just something you don't have to worry about when dry-hopping, as a lot of sources note. When I'm weighing them out onto some aluminum foil, I'll spray the foil with a bit of sanitizer and wipe it down, but even that probably isn't necessary. Just try to keep oxygen contact with the beer as minimal as possible. Despite the general simplicity of dry-hopping, however, there are some things to clear up:

Whole hops vs. pellets
I've heard some people argue that hop pellets give a more grassy aroma to the beer, but I personally have never found this, and there's a lot of people out there, amateur and professional, that use pellets for dry-hopping. If you use pellets, you can just throw them into the fermenter... they'll turn into a green sludge soon enough, and eventually start to break-up and sink to the bottom. Giving the fermenter a twist back and forth can help speed this up, and will bring the hops more in contact with the beer. Whole hops work fine too, but they should be placed in a sanitized mesh-bag so that there isn't a lot of hop particles circulating through the beer. Makes them easier to remove, as well. Or, you could cold-crash at the end of the dry-hop to help clear the beer up.

Amount of hops to use
Obviously a personal preference. The more hops you dry-hop with, the bigger the aroma will be, and likely the longer it will last. Some brewers go really big and make dry-hopping the largest of their hop additions. For example, the Can You Brew It guys did a clone of the fantasic Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' over a year ago. That recipe had 59 g (2.1 oz) of different hop varieties throughout the boil. The dry-hop, however, is more than double that, at 129 g (4.6 oz)! I brewed that clone a while ago, and it did indeed have a huge hop aroma. However, even using 14-56 g (0.5-2 oz) of a single hop variety can add a really nice, bright hop aroma to the beer, especially when used in addition to a late/whirlpool addition in the boil.

When? Opinions vary... when primary and secondary fermentation is absolutely complete, and you're close to bottling/kegging? When fermentation is slowing down, and FG is 1 or 2 points away? You can try both options and see which suits you, but it's generally agreed that fermentation should be at least MOSTLY complete. If you added dry-hops when fermentation was very active, a lot of the aroma compounds would simply be blown off and released with the CO2 produced by the yeast. If you keg, adding hops after you've transferred to the keg is supposed to be a great option. A lot of brewers will add one hop addition to the keg for several days, and then add more hops when they're about ready to start drinking the beer, to allow for extra hop-freshness.

How long? Most agree that about 7-10 days is a good period to dry-hop - long enough to get a lot of extra aroma into your beer, but not too long where the hops may begin to take on an overly-grassy note. This is why I personally like to wait until the beer has been in primary for at least 2 weeks, so that the yeast have a chance to clean up their byproducts before bottling.

Primary vs. secondary
Most homebrewers know now that transferring to a secondary fermentor is usually thought to be unnecessary, except for certain circumstances. Dry-hopping is one such circumstance. Simply rack your beer into another carboy/bucket, and add the dry-hops then. This is generally recommended because it's believed that the yeast still in the beer can take up some of the hop aromatic compounds. However, I have added dry hops to the primary fermentor plenty of times and had good results. Yes, you end up with a lot of hop sludge with the yeast cake at the bottom, but if I don't plan on harvesting and reusing the yeast slurry, and will be bottling the beer within another week anyway, I don't see the harm in it. Remember that every time you move your beer, you're increasing the risk of infection and oxidation (especially if your secondary is leaving a lot of headspace), so you might as well keep it one place if you can!

This is a tricky topic, at least in terms of whether dry-hopping at fermentation temperatures vs. cold-crash temps actually makes a difference, aroma-wise. Dry-hopping warm (60-70 F) takes less time, but dry-hopping after cold-crashing (to ~32 F) will help hop particles settle out quicker and more efficiently. Some have suggested that cold-crashing the beer before dry-hopping also leads to more hop aroma, because the yeast will floc out quicker, and therefore won't be in suspension to rob the beer of those precious hop oils. I've seen recipes call for either, and the Epic Pale Ale clone I brewed two weeks ago calls for both: one addition for 5 days at fermentation temps, cold-crash the beer, and then add more hops for 5 days at the cold temperature. This approach does make sense, as a double-hit of dry-hopping would add more aroma.

One question that may need to be asked is if dry-hopping, like other brewing techniques, is sometimes OVER-used. Maybe. There doesn't seem to be a ceiling on hop taste or aroma like there is with bitterness, so using too much hops could be a possibility (although with today's increasing number of hopheads, I doubt it). I think it's more likely to be a problem if a brewer uses too many hop VARIETIES. While it's nice to mix different hops to see if/how they complement one another, when you get into 4+ hop varieties, the flavors and aromas can get a bit muddled. If you're just getting into dry-hopping, try limiting yourself to 1-2 different types of hops to start, and then work from there. It may be a good idea to split the beer into two batches after fermentation is complete, and dry-hop each batch differently, so you get a better feel for what separate hop varieties bring to the table.

Friday 13 April 2012

Tasting/Recipe : Vielle Vache Sac

Biere de Garde is one of those beer styles that can be difficult to nail down. A style originating from France, it is a sweet, malt-forward beer with little hop character, other than some moderate-low bitterness to balance the sweetness. Fairly strong (up to ~8.5% ABV), it has some alcohol warmth, a light-to-moderate fruity ester presence, moderate-high carbonation and a musty/cellar character in the aromas and flavors. What can be confusing about this style is in terms of appearance - technically a BdG can be either blond, amber, or brown.

In my brief beer travels, I've been able to try several Biere de Gardes. It seems that the majority of the commercial examples are of the amber type (such as the more-widely available Jenlain Ambrée), but I have had at least one tasty blond version of the style - Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts. While not for everyone, I recommend trying at least one decent example; while there are similarities to several Belgian styles of beer, BdG definitely stands on its own.

I think I decided to try brewing BdG more on a whim than anything else. I was looking for a new style to try, and had a little to go on based on the few I had tried. Turns out it's a little trickier than I had thought, mainly because of that musty/cellar character that true BdGs from France have. These beers HAVE that character because of yeast and mold that are found in their area; homebrewers just don't really have a chance of replicating that, and our attempts will therefore taste "cleaner". Still, I wanted to give it a shot, so I turned to the old recipe-standby, Brewing Classic Styles.

The grist of this recipe has Pilsner malt as the majority, with about 20% Munich malt to give that toastiness appropriate to the style, as well as 5-6% Caravienne and just a touch (1 oz) of Black Patent for color. The mash temperature is quite low at 148 F - while BdG is a malt-forward beer, you want it to finish nice and dry. There is also a pound of table sugar (which I added after boiling in a bit of water, when fermentation began to slow) to help boost the gravity AND help dry out the beer further. The hops used are minimal in this recipe; basically just an addition of English hops at the 60-minute mark to provide a bit of bitterness (I aimed for the higher end of IBUs for the style).

As for the yeast, BCS suggests Wyeast 1338 European Ale*, described by Wyeast as giving full-bodied, malty beers. BdG is not a style listed on Wyeast's website under the 1338, but Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski mentions it specifically as being a very good yeast to use when brewing BdG. I'm going to go out of my way to reiterate what Wyeast says about this yeast - it is SLOW. I didn't have a problem with it STARTING slow, but fermentation continued for a long while; it was 4 weeks before I reached my FG of 1.008. And for most of this time, there was a thick, rocky, milkshake-like krausen on the beer. *Unfortunately, Wyeast has discontinued this strain from production.

Biere de Garde is translated as "beer that has been kept or lagered"; generally, this style is meant to be aged for some time before consuming. BCS says the longer the better; I believe I started drinking my homebrew version within a few months of bottling, and I've been trying a bottle here and there since. It's now been over 15 months since I brewed it; I wouldn't say the character has changed drastically in this time, but it definitely continues to mellow out a bit - the alcohol is hardly noticeable at all now, and the beer drinks very smooth.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white, creamy head that hangs around for a really long time, before finally fading to a full-finger or so. Body is a deep amber/dark orange color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Mostly comprised of a light, malty sweetness with a bit of toast. A touch of spiciness that is probably some phenolic character - I wasn't filtering or treating my water for chlorine when I brewed this, unfortunately.

Taste: Medium sweet-maltiness, with a touch of toast and a little bit of caramel flavor. No hop flavor. No diacetyl. Medium-low hop bitterness in the dry finish. A hint of lingering phenolic, plastic flavor that is unwelcome.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate-high carbonation. Touch of alcohol warmth. Very smooth.

Overall: The only real problem with this beer is the phenolic character mentioned in both the aroma and flavor. I assume this is due to Fredericton's chlorine-treated water, and not infection during brewing (I hope). I'm happy with what the yeast added in the flavor of this beer. Next time I'd bump up the Munich for some more toastiness, and soften the water by cutting it with some distilled. I'd also like to try racking the beer to secondary when fermentation was complete, and then lagering the beer for a month or so.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 73% efficiency): OG 1.069, FG 1.008, IBU 26.6, SRM 10, ABV 8.0%

Grains & Other:
4.09 kg Pilsner malt
1.18 kg Munich malt
340 g Caravienne malt
28 g Black Patent
454 g table sugar (added when fermentation began to slow)

Fuggles - 28 g (3.75% AA adjusted for age) @ 60 min
Fuggles - 28 g (4.8% AA) @ 60 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 1338 European Ale (PD Nov. 22/10, with a 2 L starter)

- Brewed Dec 20th, 2010, by myself. 90-minute mash with 17.4 L of strike water, mashed in at 148 F. Sparged with ~5.25 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90-minute boil. Chilled to 66 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched yeast at 64 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after.

21/12/10 - 18/1/11 - Fermentation was quite active for the first few days; added table sugar boiled in water and cooled when airlock bubbling started to slow. Temp reached 71 F on second day, was mostly in the high-60s afterwards. Thick krausen for at least 3 weeks. Gravity after 2 weeks was still at 1.017. Finally reached 1.008 after about 4 weeks in primary. Bottled with 133 g table sugar, targeting 2.75 vol CO2.

Monday 9 April 2012

Epic Pale Ale clone

I really enjoy brewing clone beers, especially when it's a recipe that comes straight from the brewery itself. I try not to do it TOO often - it's still great to try other recipes from non-professionals, and to give recipe-building a shot on your own - but sometimes a particular beer sticks out. One that as soon as you have it for the first time, you think, "I'd REALLY like to be able to brew this on my own". This is particularly the case when it's a beer that you can't buy in your area.

So, while my most recent brew was the Deschutes Black Butte Porter from the Can You Brew It podcast, I couldn't resist trying another of their attempts. I had my first (and currently, only) Epic Pale Ale a couple of months ago. I bought the beer while on a beer trip in Portland, Maine. Even though the beer had travelled to the U.S. all the way from New Zealand, and had been stored at room temperature at the beer store, it still had a really bright, citrusy hop presence, and a malt backbone that, while not overly sweet, still managed to provide a nice balance with the hops. Turns out that the brewers at Epic use all Cascade hops in the Pale Ale, which is great since I just received an order of Cascade pellets a couple of months ago.

The grist of the recipe does seem a bit odd at first glance. It's made up of a whopping 20% caramel malts. The guys from CYBI used a mixture of Caramalt, Carapils, and Pale Crystal... because I didn't have all of those grains available to me, I found out the Lovibond rating of all of them and did my best with a mix of Carapils and Crystal 30 L. While that definitely seems like a lot of Crystal for an APA, they do recommend mashing at 148 F, which would help increase the amount of fermentable sugars in the wort, so that the resulting beer should be drier than originally expected.

Now, back to the hops. As I mentioned, they use all Cascade. I've tried/brewed an all-Cascade beer before, also a clone recipe - Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, an excellent beer. But the Epic Pale recipe goes even further. It has five hop additions during/directly after the boil, with an additional two dry-hop additions. The additions at the start of the boil are so small, however, that the resulting CALCULATED IBUs for the beer is a measly 22... really small for an APA. However, the website lists the IBU as 45. I assume this is at least partially due to the last two hop additions when the boil is complete. At flameout, they say to add 1.5 oz of Cascade, and then whirlpool for 10 minutes without chilling. Then, you add ANOTHER 1.5 oz, and whirlpool for yet another 10 minutes, and THEN begin chilling the wort. These 20 minutes would easily extract some bittering units from the hops, as well as those added previously, so the total IBUs for the beer would definitely be higher than 22. As for the dry-hopping, there's two additions of 2 oz each - one for 5 days at fermentation temps, and then another for 5 days at cold crash temps. Note that below I have two 10-minute additions; this is because I had some older Cascade hops to use up, and had to adjust their AA% for age.

As for the yeast, I'm ashamed to say I had to deviate from the recipe... sort of. The Epic brewer called for Wyeast 1272 American Ale II. I would have loved to follow the recipe and use this yeast (which I've never tried before), but in order to do so I would have had to wait several weeks - at least - before I'd have it.. and THEN I'd have to make the starter. So, I went with good-old-dependable Wyeast 1056 American Ale. I know it won't be the same, but with all of those Cascade hops in this beer, I'm hoping the yeast character of the real Epic Pale Ale was only so noticeable.

I should also mention that I made a slight screw-up with the recipe below. The CYBI recipe calls for a 90-minute boil, with the first hop addition at 75 minutes. However, I entered it in Beersmith as a 75-minute boil only, and that's how I brewed it today.

Recipe targets: (5.75 gallons, 80% efficiency): OG 1.052, FG 1.012, IBU 23, SRM 7.5, ABV 5.3%

1.86 kg Canadian 2-row
1.86 kg Maris Otter
591 g Crystal 30 L
364 g Carapils

Cascade - 23 g (2.5% AA) @ 75 min
Cascade - 31 g (2.5% AA) @ 30 min
Cascade - 17 g (2.5% AA) @ 10 min
Cascade - 28 g (5.5% AA) @ 10 min
Cascade - 42 g @ flameout, then wait 10 min
Cascade - 42 g, whirlpool, then wait 10 more min
Cascade - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days at fermentation temp
Cascade - 56 g dry-hop for 5 more days at cold-crash temps

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

Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale (PD Feb 7/12, with a 2 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 5 g of Gypsum

- Brewed April 9th, 2012 with Jill. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at 148 F (target). Mashed out with 8 L of 208 F water, resulting temp 167 F, rested for 10 more minutes. Sparged with ~ 4 gallons of 168 F water, drained into kettle for final volume of 7.25 gallons. SG 1.041 (target). 75-minute boil.

- Chilled to 64 F with immersion chiller. Planned final volume 5.75 gallons, due to higher-than-normal hop sludge leftover. Poured and strained into Better Bottle. Pitched yeast slurry at 64 F. Set in room with temp at mid-60s.

10/4/12 - 12/4/12 - Good activity first morning, bubbling almost every second, temp 66 F. By the next day, some beer was sucked into the airlock, krausen very high, bubbling twice per second, temp 68 F. Slowing visibly by third day, bubbling every 5 seconds, temp holding at 68 F.

19/4/12 - Took gravity reading of 1.013. Added first addition of dry hops directly into primary. Temp 66 F.

23/4/12 - Moved fermenter into fermentation chamber, temp set at 40 F. Left overnight, then added second addition of dry hops the next day.

1/5/12 - Bottled (a couple of days late) with 106 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 4.5 gallons, max temp of 68 F reached.

Tasting notes posted...

Sunday 1 April 2012

Tasting/Recipe : Old Brown Shoe

While trying to decide what beer to drink a few days ago (the best difficult decision to have), I came across a few bottles of a batch I had brewed in November, 2010. I had mostly forgotten about this beer, and was happy to try it again for the first time in months. It was a Southern English Brown, the first English Brown Ale I'd ever brewed; and I still haven't brewed another, despite really enjoying the style.

All of the English Browns are relatively low-alcohol; SEB is usually somewhere in between Milds and Northern English Browns. Good SEBs should be malty-sweet, moderately fruity, with no real hop character in the aroma or flavor. Creamy and smooth, with low carbonation, it's a great example of your classic English session ale. I'd be beating a dead horse by telling you that there are no SEBs available for sale in New Brunswick, so I won't mention it. Oops.

Anyway, I mainly decided to brew this beer because I HADN'T tried any of the style before, and liked the sound of it in the BJCP guidelines. The recipe in Brewing Classic Styles looked interesting, with plenty of specialty malts. One of these was Special Roast, which I had only used once before (in a Special Bitter) but still hadn't tasted, since the beer wasn't yet bottled. In terms of all the specialty grains I've used in homebrewing, Special Roast has got to be one of the most... "unique". It leaves a very distinct tart character (at least, it does to me), even in small amounts. To be honest, I'm still a little unsure of whether I like it or not, but if you're ever looking for something new to try in an English beer, give it a shot... but start with a low amount (say, 1/4 lb or so).

The beer was bottled sometime in December, and was entered in a couple of Canadian homebrew competitions in early-mid 2011. The first competition, the bottles arrived with the caps apparently intact, but with about 1/4 of the beer missing. Obviously I had had some issues with my bottle capper, so some leakage must have occurred. Of course, both judges commented that the beer had absolutely no carbonation, and was, probably as a result, lacking in body and aroma. It scored so-so, with 23.5 and 25 (in the "Good" category) out of 50 points overall.

No capping issues were reported for the second competition... scores here were 27, 27, and 33. The two lower-scoring judges both suggested the beer needed more sweetness, and more carbonation. The BJCP guidelines list carbonation as low to moderately-low, so I don't know if I agree that higher carbonation is the answer. The judge that gave the beer 33 had no complaints... and if you look closely at the scoresheet, you can see where he had changed his scores under all categories. Originally, his final score was 42! There must have been discussion to bring the three scores closer together, which from what I understand does happen from time to time. My thoughts on the beer are below:

Appearance: Poured with a small, light-tan head that quickly fades to a thin ring. Body is dark brown, but shows ruby highlights when held to the light. Excellent clarity.

Aroma: Rich aroma of caramel, chocolate, light-moderate fruity esters, and a bit of Special Roast "tang". No hop aroma.

Taste: Very rich and malty, but not cloying. Hints of chocolate, light coffee, fruit, and caramel. No hop flavor. Low hop bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, low carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: Personally, I like this beer. I find it quite flavorful; I think it WOULD benefit from some more sweetness, maybe by decreasing some of the darker Crystal malts for a lighter one. I think I would also mash a couple of degrees higher for more body, and increase the carbonation SLIGHTLY.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 85% efficiency): OG 1.043, FG 1.015, IBU 16, SRM 27, ABV 3.6%

2.26 kg Maris Otter
454 g Crystal 80 L
284 g Crystal 120 L
227 g Special Roast
170 g Pale Chocolate
113 g Carafa Special II

East Kent Goldings - 28 g (4.5% AA) @ 60 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB (~1/2 cup 2nd generation slurry)

- Brewed Nov 21st, 2010, with Jill. 60 minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 152 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 6.75 gallons in the kettle. 60 minute boil.

- Chilled to 65 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Yeast slurry pitched at 63 F, aerated by shaking before and after.

- Fermentation activity was fast and short, slowing quickly after 2-3 days, temp reaching up to 69 F. Bottled about 3 weeks after brewday, with 44 g table sugar, aiming for 1.5 vol CO2.