Monday 30 September 2013

Brewing an American Pale Ale (with Belma and Cascade)

Crap, I let it happen again! An almost-two-month hiatus from brewing! I won't lay on the excuses, but am I the only homebrewer that finds it more difficult to brew regularly in the summer? Temperature issues aside, there always seems to be so much going on, it can be tough to squeeze in a brew day. Luckily I got a couple batches brewed in both June and July, so I didn't run out of beer for August and September... but I sure did miss brewing!

Anyhow, back to business. I had ordered a smackpack of Wyeast 3711 French Saison from my LHBS a few weeks ago, but it arrived later than expected. Before I could get a starter made, an impromptu brew day came up. All I had on hand was good ol' US-05, so I decided to whip together an American Pale Ale. I took a quick look at my inventory list, hop-wise, and picked out a couple of varieties that I still had 1/2 lb of, but hadn't used much of lately... Belma and Cascade.

Anyone who's homebrewed is familiar with Cascade, but Belma is definitely a newer variety. I used a small amount of it in a Witbier I brewed a few months ago, but this time I really wanted to use it in higher quantities. As mentioned in the Witbier post, Belma is a variety created by the farmers at Hops Direct, and is supposed to be quite fruity, described as having notes of orange, melon, pineapple... and especially strawberry. I had thrown around the idea of brewing an APA solely with Belma hops, but thought I'd try mixing it in with equal amounts of Cascade. With the typical characteristics of Cascade, I'm aiming to have an APA that is REALLY fruity.

Once I had the hop varieties picked out, I threw together a recipe. As I said, at first I had intended on brewing the beer with JUST Belma, so I planned on using a recipe in For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus. In one section of the book, Stan talks to Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo concerning a standard recipe Vinnie uses when he wants to get a feel for what characteristics a single hop brings to a beer. The recipe is really more intended to be for an IPA, but I just scaled it back to an OG of about 1.050. It's made up of 74% 2-row, 13% Maris Otter, 10% Crystal 15 L, and 3% Acid malt. The hopping amounts he used in this recipe are a little lower than what I wanted to go with, so I created my own hop schedule from here.

I really hopped this beer... I wasn't trying to overdo it, by any means, but I tried to take advantage of the "hop bursting" method that I've been using more lately, where you add the high majority of your hops at the end of the boil. In this case, I only made one hop addition during the boil... a very small amount of Belma at 60 minutes to about 10 IBUs. I then added a large amount - 3 oz each of Cascade and Belma - at flameout, and let the hops steep for 15 minutes before turning on the chiller. You still get some IBUs when the wort is this hot, but you're mainly trying to extract a lot of flavor and aroma from the hops. This is the method used in the Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone I brewed in July, and that beer came out pretty fantastic. I then, of course, had to dry-hop the beer, so I decided to go with equal amounts Belma and Cascade again, 1&1/4 oz of each for 7 days.

This brew day was also the first for two new pieces of equipment for me. First, I finally replaced my crappy turkey fryer with a Blichmann burner. I was given the opportunity to buy this product brand new for an extremely reasonable price, and I couldn't resist. With an evenly-distributed flame, the burner is supposed to be much more efficient with propane, and provide a better boil in a faster time. I CAN say, after using it once, that it's a damned-sturdy product, and is obviously built to last. And standing next to it in my garage when the wort is boiling no longer sounds like I'm in the engine of a 747. This thing is QUIET. I also had zero soot on the bottom of my kettle after the 60-minute boil was complete, a first for me in homebrewing.

My other new product is a Thermapen. I wouldn't say that I've had major problems with my fairly-cheap digital thermometer that I've been using for a couple of years now, but it takes a long time to get an accurate (?) reading. I've been hearing a lot of highly-exuberant testimonials about the Thermapen over the years (both for brewing and cooking), and an opportunity came up (again!) to buy one at a reduced price. It really is very fast... only takes about 2-3 seconds to get a temperature reading, and the accuracy seems pretty fantastic.

I plan on fermenting the beer at around 68 F for a couple of weeks, tops, and then adding the dry-hops directly into primary for a week. Bottled from there, I hope to be drinking this beer by mid-October. I'm also behind on some tasting notes for more-recent brews, but I'll try to get the results for this APA posted soon after starting to drink it.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 78% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.012, IBU ~35, SRM 5.3, ABV ~5.2%

3.41 kg (74%) Canadian 2-row
591 g (13%) Maris Otter
454 g (10%) Crystal 15 L
136 g (3%) Acid malt

Belma - 7 g (11.3% AA) @ 60 min
Belma - 84 g @ 0 min (steeped for 15 minutes)
Cascade - 84 g (5.5% AA) @ 0 min (steeped for 15 minutes)
Belma - 35 g dry-hop for 7 days
Cascade - 35 g dry-hop for 7 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: 1 package Fermentis US-05 dry yeast, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum, 3 g CaCl in the mash

- Brewed on Sept 18th, 2013, with Jill. 60-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 153 F. Sparged with 5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at 1.043, slightly over target of 1.042. 60-minute boil. Flameout hops steeped for 15 minutes, then turned on immersion chiller. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured/filtered ~5 gallons into Better Bottle. OG a bit low at 1.050. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2 and placed in laundry room, ambient temp about 68 F (a bit high).

19/9/13 - Some light activity in the airlock in the AM, temp 68 F. By the evening, bubbling vigorously, temp still at 68 F.

20/9/13 - In the AM, still lots of airlock activity, temp up to 70 F.

22/9/13 - Returned from being away for a few days, airlock activity has stopped completely. Temp 70 F. Took a gravity reading of 1.013.

28/9/13 - Added dry-hops directly to primary.

5/10/13 - Bottled with 101 g table sugar, aiming for 2.4 vol CO2 for 4.5 gallons, with a max temp of 70 F reached.

13/11/13 - Tasting notes... turned out pretty enjoyable. Easy-drinking, nice hop presence, but could definitely use a kick in the bitterness department.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Tasting : A Witter Shade of Pale 2.0 (Witbier with Belma hops)

Getting to this beer a LOT later than I would like... I originally planned on having it ready to drink at the beginning of summer, or maybe even a bit earlier. It's been bottled for over two months now, but the reason I took a while to get to it is due to one of the most frustrating problems in homebrewing: a stuck fermentation.

When I brewed this beer, fermentation was fast and furious - it took off within 12 hours, was quite vigorous while it was going, and within a couple of days the krausen had diminished and there was barely any activity in the airlock. Because the OG wasn't high (actually even came in a bit below target), I just assumed that it didn't take long for the yeast to do their work. I then let the beer sit in the fermentor for 3 weeks, until I planned on bottling it.

Well, that turned out to be a big mistake. I took a gravity reading after 3 weeks, and it had stalled at 1.019. Not exactly the end of the world, but at about 7 points above target for a beer that isn't high alcohol, and is supposed to be refreshing... well, I was little peeved. I left it in the fermentor for another week, rousing the yeast by gently rocking the Better Bottle every day, but it did no goo - 1.019 is where it sat. I briefly considered pitching some bottle dregs of some Brett beers into it; I kind of liked that idea, actually, of making a funky Witbier. However, I knew that it would take some time to let the Brett do their thing, and I really wanted this beer for summer, so I ended up bottling it as it was. The problem with this is where do you aim in terms of carbonation? I don't keg, so I had to consider what I wanted to risk more... aim for low carbonation in case the yeast "woke up" and consumed the remaining sugars in the beer (as in what I assumed happened to my recent ESB)? Probably the smart move, but if that didn't happen, then you get a fairly-flat Witbier. However, flat beer can't physically injure you... bottle bombs technically can!

So, I split the difference and aimed for 2.5 vol CO2, about what you'd do for "moderate" carbonation. A Witbier should really be 3 vol or even more, so I was hoping to get some decent carbonation, and no explosions. In the end, I'm not sure why fermentation got stuck. The temps never got low in our house. I'd say that maybe it was because of the high percentage of flaked wheat and oats, but the grist of the recipe isn't much different that last year's Witbier, and that finished with no problem. And I made a good-sized starter for a pretty-fresh smackpack. Ah well... the joys of working with yeast!

All said and done, luckily the beer came out pretty good. It doesn't taste overly sweet, even with the high FG, and at less than 4% ABV, it's certainly very sessionable! I'm not too sure if the two additions of Belma hops bring much to the table, but the aroma and flavor of the beer definitely isn't 100% in the norm for the style. Now that I've been drinking it over the summer, and most of the bottles are gone, I CAN say that it is over-carbonated... when you open a bottle that sat at room temperature for awhile, there's quite a lot of foaming over when you pour into the glass. Luckily, high carbonation in a beer like this isn't much of a flaw, unlike the previously mentioned ESB, which was like Champagne by the time I finally finished it all.

I'd certainly brew the beer again... the recipe, other than the Belma hops, is pretty much your standard Witbier recipe. I like what the higher amount of orange peel added to the beer this time. If you're looking to get some Belma character in your Witbier, though, I'd definitely go with more than I added. Doubling it would probably not be overdoing it at all.

Keep in mind the tasting notes below were actually written back in late July... I wouldn't dream of trying to give a fair review to a 2+ month-old Witbier!

Appearance: Poured with an extremely large, white creamy head. Fades a bit and then stays there, great retention. Body is cloudy and dark yellow.

Aroma: Strong aroma of both coriander and orange citrus... the extra orange peel really came through this time. There's a bit of sweet pilsner character as well, and maybe just a touch of strawberry character from the Belma.

Taste: Bang-on with the aroma, lots of coriander and citrus, without being overpowering. Again, a little bit of sweetness/tartness from the pilsner and wheat malt. Refreshing. No real hop flavor to speak of.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium bodied, slightly creamy from the wheat malt. Very high (effervescent) carbonation.

Overall: I like it, minus the issues with the overcarbing. As mentioned above, I'd increase the Belma hop additions to try to make it shine through more.