Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best beer Xmas gift EVAH

My beautiful and wonderful wife, being the beauty and wonder that she is, had a friend secretly ship the above selection of beers. This may not be so great for those of you out there on the west coast, but for this east coast beer guy I can't think of anything better.

For those who don't know, these are all mostly beers from the acclaimed Russian River Brewing Company. Included in this shipment was one bottle each of Pliny the Elder, Temptation, Damnation, Redemption, Blind Pig, Damnation 23, and Triple Exaltation, and 2 bottles each of Consecration and Supplication. And a bottle of Triple Exaltation from Eel River Brewing, another fine West Coast brewery (whose bottle label and beer name make it easy to confuse with a Russian River beer for the less than careful observer)

I have wanted to try these beers for years and kept hoping I would one day stumble upon them at the local package store. I had given up hope and thought that my only shot was to make a trip out west and try them at the brewery. While a trip to "Wine Country" would still be superb, I'll happily enjoy these beers while sitting here in not-so-snowy-yet New England.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Looking forward to January

The fall semester is finally behind me - just a few finishing touches before submitting grades. Christmas is just ahead and my shopping is almost done (yeah, yeah, I know there's only like 3 shopping days left). And that leads us into January. I have big plans for January:

1) long overdue updates of my local wild yeast "saison" and my sour, cranberry, Brett experiment

2) tasting notes for my last batch (back in August!!!), an Irish red ale, and for my 2011 Empirical Series brew, an oaked, imperial porter

3) description of my brew day process - an unusual (I think) all-grain, 3.5 gallon batch, pseudo-parti-gyle technique

4) recap of January's brew days (see below)

In addition to posting more, I am hoping to get in three brews during the month. This is ambitious for me, but I want to make up for some lost time. The brews I want to do, in order of priority:

(updated to accurately reflect what I DID end up brewing)

1) Belgian Tripel - after my wife mentioned how much she liked Chimay White after having it for the first time, I decided I wanted to take a shot at brewing my first Tripel.  Given it was a new style for me to brew, it immediately jumped to the top of the priority list.
 1) 2) Altbier - I've made an altbier each of the last two Januaries, which is when my cellar and garage are at the right temps for a cooler fermentation and a brief lagering period. I'm not yet fully happy with the recipe, so I am going to tweak it again. Of course, it's the first day of winter and outside temps approached 60°F today, so who knows if I'll have the right temperatures for this.

2) Wild yeast Kölsch - I think the wild yeast I collected would work well in a kölsch recipe and I am interested to see how the yeast handles a cooler fermentation temp. This, of course, assumes that the yeast I have stored in my fridge is still viable.

3) Kölsch - This brew got pushed into March.  Also, I opted against using my wild yeast for fear of it being too old, so I decided to stay more-or-less traditional and instead used yeast harvested from this year's Altbier.  I used a new-to-me hop, Opal, for this, so it isn't quite traditional.  I am also seriously toying with the idea of dryhopping with more Opal. I guess it might not be so traditional after all. 

3) 4) Funky Oatmeal Stout - I was actually gearing up to brew this recipe back in September, before brewing and blogging took a backseat to prepping lectures, grading papers, and driving to rinks across New England. Might as well proceed with it now.  Since this brew also got pushed into late-March I decided it wasn't really the right season to brew an Oatmeal Stout, so I decided to take this in a completely different direction and fermented it with a mix of yeasts - an English strain, a Belgian strain, and dregs from a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura and from a bottle of Russian River Consecration.  I'll let it sit for a while.  Maybe it will be ready for next Fall.

Well, that's the plan. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Four months and counting

I had such BIG plans for brewing this Fall. Amazing how plans can fall apart. Between a rather time-intensive teaching schedule and an equally time-intensive hockey season for my son (you wouldn't believe me if I tallied up the number of hours spent in various rinks, not to mention driving to and from them) I haven't been able to rake the leaves in my yard, never mind finding 5 hours to brew. I still have the bag of grain for the oatmeal stout I was getting ready to brew in September. I thought I was going to have time back in the beginning of November, so I went ahead and made the yeast starter for it. That's currently taking up space in my fridge.

The semester ends soon, so maybe I'll find some time to brew. Of course I still have those leaves to rake (thank goodness we've had such unseasonably mild weather - actually, I'm rather dismayed by it - 70 degrees in December isn't normal or right). I still have to get the Christmas tree up too. And buy some Christmas presents. Perhaps January will work better.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Gaelic Storm

A few months ago, I stopped by the Newport Storm brewery for their tour and tasting. One of the beers they still had on tap was their Spring seasonal, an Irish Red. I can't think of any other commercial Irish Red Ale's I've tried - I think Smithwick's is supposed to be of that style, but, to me anyway, it leaves much to be desired, to me anyway. I tried brewing Jamil's version a while back, but it really did not turn out well (nothing to do with Jamil's recipe - it was completely my lack of brewing acumen at the time). Newport Storm's version, however, is excellent - there is this nuttiness and roastiness that I really like and it has this overall unique flavor. Being the resourceful homebrewer that I am, I checked out Newport Storm's website to see if I could gather enough info to take a stab at recreating their beer.

The website includes a lot of good info - including the malts, hops and yeast used, starting and ending gravity, color, and IBUs. I love it when commercial breweries pander to the beer geeks. Still, there were a couple of things I wanted to know more about. The first one I figured would be crucial to the outcome of this beer - how much roasted barley to use. The second one came about mostly from surprise in seeing Cascade hops listed in the description - I needed to know when those were used in the process because I was not expecting any American "C" hops in this beer (I need to see if I can pick it out next time I have the commercial version). So, I emailed the brewery, hoping to get more insights.

Even more than I love when breweries pander to beer geeks on their websites is when they are generous with their time and info on a one-on-one basis through email. Well, Newport Storm came through again - I received a very informative email from the Brewmaster, Derek Luke. He gave me their grist breakdown for a 30 barrel batch and told me to put Cascades in "at the end". Sweet!

As much as I really wanted to stay true to Derek's recipe, my LHBS does not carry Amber Malt. I've read that you can toast your own malt instead, but since I don't have a mill, I really need to get all my ingredients elsewhere. I thought about ordering a pound of Amber Malt online, but I really didn't feel like waiting to brew this nor did I feel like paying shipping on just a pound of malt. So, I decided to tweak the recipe a little by subbing a pound of Vienna malt in for the Amber Malt (about a 3:2 ratio of Vienna:Amber), realizing that it takes me away from the original, but that it will hopefully make me a very nice beer. Given the warm temps, even in my basement, and lack of temperature control fermentation equipment, I went with the swamp cooler technique, managing to keep temps in the low 60s for the bulk of fermentation.

Cheers to Derek and Newport Storm!

Gaelic Storm - an Irish Red Ale

Brewed on 8/8/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size (fermenter): 3.75 gal
Estimated Color: 15.6 SRM
Estimated IBU: 26.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78.00 %
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.0%
5 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM) - 76.1 %
1 lbs Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM) - 15.2 %
3.0 oz Roasted Barley (500.0 SRM) - 2.9 %
3.0 oz Barley, Flaked (1.7 SRM) - 2.9 %
3.0 oz Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) - 2.9 % (for mash pH)

7 g Northdown [12.30 %] - (60.0 min)
14 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - (15.0 min)
10 g Cascade [6.10 %] - (2.0 min)

California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 152°F, Batch Sparge

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vaccinium - update

It's been a little while since I've said anything about my attempt at a sour cranberry ale with Brett. Well, this beer has been quietly sitting on the cranberries and the Brett for several months now and had developed a nice pellicle on and around the floating raft of cranberries. Much of the pellicle has actually fallen away by now and I figured it was time to get the beer off the fruit and into a tertiary vessel. So, I racked it into a 3-gallon glass carboy and added 0.5 ounces of medium toast Hungarian oak cubes that had been soaking in some Deep Purple zinfandel (BTW, this is a spectacular wine).

The beer is a a hazy pink with some nice sour and Brett aromas. The taste is actually quite mild, but not too mild - I definitely taste the cranberries and the Brett character. I'm assuming the Brett character will increase a bit more as it ages. I'm excited about this beer - I think it just might turn out really good, despite all the crazy things I'm trying with it (e.g. 14% acidulated malt, primary fermentation with a wine yeast, cranberries, Brett, wine-soaked oak cubes). However, the one thing that is concerning me is that the gravity is only down to 1.018-1.020 (I think my hydrometer is reading a little high, thus the range). I really expected this thing to be much lower by now. It still tastes great - much drier than I would expect given a 1.020 gravity. Everything I've read and heard seems to indicate that Brett pretty much eats through anything. This is precisely the reason I mashed high (~160°F) and used a wine yeast - to leave some residual compounds for the Brett to metabolize. I'm not sure why the gravity is still as high as it is. I've posted about this over at the Burgundian Babble Belt homebrew forum and the only thing that seems to have any consensus might be that the Brettanomyces claussenii isn't a particularly strong attenuator.

So, for now, my plan is to let it sit in the tertiary vessel for a month or so and see where it goes. I'm hoping to be able to bottle by the end of August so that it has a few months in the bottle before Thanksgiving. Not sure yet what my bottling plan is - I'd like it to highly carbonated, so ideally I'd like to cork and cage with 750 ml champagne bottles, but I'm not really set up for that and I'm not sure I should splurge for the equipment for just this beer (though if it turns out well, there will certainly be similar beers to brew in the future). In any case, I have some time to think about this.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tasting: Kahakai Blonde Ale

I brewed this beer specifically for my family's annual July 4th "Luau". I wanted a nice "summer beer" - something crisp, golden, not overly aggressive (in in alcohol or in hoppiness). Overall, I am very happy with the way this turned out - it worked perfectly for the event - though there are certainly some changes I would make if I made it again.

Tasted on 7/4/11. Perfect Cape Cod summer evening - clear, breezy, and comfortable. Poured into my Buzzards Bay Brewing Company (now defunct) tumbler.

Appearance - Clear, deep gold - a very pretty color. Thin white head that leaves some lacing that slowly dissipates.

Aroma - Some hop fruitiness and sweet malt.

Taste - Malty and sweet. I think there actually might be too much Carahell - it could use a little less residual sweetness. Slight sulfur that gives this a lager-like quality that is very nice. I would presume that this is from the California Lager strain in the American Ale Yeast Blend. Diffuse bitterness, not as crisp as I would like. Some unwelcome astringency that lingers - this might be from too high a mash pH extracting some tannins.

Mouthfeel - Good carbonation, good body (not too thick), very drinkable.

Overall - Maybe not as crisp as I would have liked, but definitely an easy drinker. Good beer for a hot summer day. Next time I think I would add some acidualted malt to lower the mash pH and cut back the Carahell to under 5%, maybe as low as 3-4%.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tasting: Sweet Caroline Amber

This is my first attempt at a formal description of one of my finished beers. Not sure I have enough experience to properly use the most accurate descriptors, but I'll do my best. For this beer I was trying to create a relatively straight-forward American Amber Ale that would have a quick turnaround and that would showcase Citra hops.

Tasted on 7/7/11. Hot, slightly humid evening. Poured into a Red Sox tumbler my son gave me for Father's Day.

Appearance - Pours a hazy amber-brown, more brown than amber and darker than the SRM estimate. Nice off-white head that leaves some thin lacing. Not sure why this beer remains so hazy - most of my beers have some chill haze, but this brew seems to have it worse than the others, even after a couple of weeks in the fridge. Also not sure why my beers all seem to turn out darker than the SRM estimate.

Aroma - Caramel and citrus. I get a strong grapefruit aroma when poured, but that quickly dissipates to more sweet fruit than grapefruit. The best descriptors I could come up with for this smell are ripe melon and mango. I assume this is the Citra hops.

Taste - Caramelly sweet, perhaps too much so. Nice bitterness that does not linger. Clean. Some fruity hop notes, which accentuates the overall sweetness of this beer.

Mouthfeel - Smooth, almost thick and creamy. Lower carbonation than I had planned for.

Overall - A very good beer (so good, so good?) - seems to hit all the style points for an American Amber Ale. Perhaps too sweet/caramelly and thick for my tastes though, at least on a hot summer evening. This reinforces my general observation that I tend to enjoy beers that use minimal crystal malts - my favorite brews have been the ones where I haven't exceeded 5% crystal malts. Next time I'll cut out some of the crystal malt and increase the carbonation to help dry and thin out the flavor and mouthfeel.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New England Wild Yeast Saison

Not sure what style to call this brew, so I'm going with "New England Saison" (yeah, I know it's a made-up style). Maybe a more generic "American Wild Ale" or "American Farmhouse Ale" would be better, but I looked to the saison style for inspiration. Not really knowing the characteristics of my wild-caught yeast (don't forget to check out the photos!), I figured I would go with a relatively simple recipe with a modest, but not too modest, OG. I know that saisons are mainly brewed with pilsner malt and continental hops, but since this is not a standard Belgian saison, and since I'm coming to realize I am not the biggest fan of pilsner malt or continental hops, I decided to spin this a little more English-style. It is a New England Saison after all.

Nothing special about the brew day. I'm starting to really settle into a groove with my split-boil, 3.5 gallon batch process. I had run out of Irish Moss during my last batch, and forgot to grab some at my LHBS, but I figured a little cloudiness would be OK with this brew. After aerating and cooling the wort to about 70°F, I decanted my wild yeast starter and dumped the slurry in (saving a little of the yeast in a bell jar so I could try to maintain an active culture, just in case this turns out to be a yeast I want to use again). I was a bit nervous about how the fermentation would go, but within 24 hours I had an amazing krausen forming and the airlock was rocking. After a few days I moved the fermenter upstairs to a warmer part of the house (~75-77°F). A couple of days after that, I wrapped a heating pad around the fermeter, set on low, to get the fermenter temp up to the low 80s. I want to give this yeast every chance to attenuate well. I'll let it sit in the fermeter for at least a couple of weeks before bottling.

(tasting notes posted)

Voie du Curé (Saison de la Nouvelle Angleterre)
Brewed on 6/16/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size (fermenter): 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal (split 2.5 & 2.5)
Estimated Color: 5.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 31.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.053

6 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 88.8%
8.0 oz Wheat Malt, Pale - 7.4%
2.0 oz Caramunich I - 1.9%
2.0 oz Acid Malt - 1.9%

7 g Northdown [12.30 %] (60 min)
10 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (30 min)
20 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (5 min)
10 g Northdown [12.3 %] (dry hop - 6 days)

Local, Wild-Caught Yeast

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 147°F, Batch Sparge

Brewed on 6/16/11

Two stage strike
  • 2 gallons @ 212°F + 1.34 gallons @ 77.4°F --> 3.34 gallons @ ~154°F in mash tun
  • With grain added, mash temp hit 146.5°F
  • Added 2g gypsum and 1g CaCl2 to the mash
  • Mashed for 80 minutes

Batch sparge and split boil
  • ~2.5 gallons of 1st runnings = 1.062
  • Sparged with 2.5 gallons @ 170°F
  • ~2.5 gallons of 2nd runnings = 1.024
  • hopped just 1st runnings

aerated with aquarium pump and stone for ~20 minutes

6/17/11 - strong krausen forming

6/18/11 - moved to warmer upstairs (ambient temp = 75°F)

6/20/11 - wrapped with heating pad (fermenter temp = 83°F)

7/1/11 - racked to 3-gallon glass carboy, dryhopped with 10g of Northdown - overfilled carboy, lost some of the hops during overflow - not sure how much. Moved to cellar; ambient temp ~73°F

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wild Yeast Microscopy

Here are a few photos of the wild yeast I captured from my backyard. They look like pretty standard yeast to me - not sure I can tell much more simply based on their physiology (Brettanomyces? Saccharomyces?). I'm no microbiologist, but they appear to be in pretty good shape; I think there are even some showing some budding. Some rough measurements of the cells give cell lengths of 9-11µm and widths of 4-7µm. I'm not entirely sure what the smaller "specks" are - they seem too big to be bacteria, but I suppose they could be. I recently brewed up a relatively simple "saison" with this culture that is happily fermenting away at the moment (post and recipe here).

All photos were taken with a Nikon D90 mounted on a Nikon Eclipse TS100 inverted microscope at 400x total magnification.

(click on each image for a larger version)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2010 Cider (redux)

For this year's cider attempt, I managed to get 4 gallons of fresh pressed juice from a local orchard. Though it was fresh-pressed, I got it after it went through their UV pasteurizer - I was hoping to get it unpasteurized , but the orchard owner didn't want to disconnect the set-up for only 4 gallons, which I figured was fair enough. The juice was pressed from a variety of apples that made it on the sweet side, which I have read isn't necessarily ideal for making cider, but I was happy to try it nonetheless. The orchard owner said that he was going to do a special tart apple press in a few weeks for some other cider makers and agreed to give me a call when he does (UPDATE: I never heard from him...oh well)

My two previous attempts at cider have had mixed results. The first attempt (February 2009) was straight juice + ale yeast and turned out good - though certainly very dry and quite tart. I'm still drinking it and I like it. My second attempt turned out (so far) to be undrinkable - I think it might be overly oxidized. For that one, perhaps I got too complicated - juice + honey + raisins + dried cranberries + ale yeast. I'm hoping it turns around, but I'm not holding my breath.

This time, I tried a few new things:

1) I made a "reduction" out of some of the juice to drive the OG without adding other sugars and to hopefully add some body, complexity, and perhaps some residual sweetness via the caramelization process. I boiled 1 gallon of juice down to 2 cups and added that to 3 gallons of straight juice.

2) Used a wine yeast

3) Added some oak cubes to the primary fermenter for added character and complexity (per the BN podcast episode with Shea Comfort - one of the best episodes out there).

I'm excited about this one, and initial samples are promising, but only time will tell how it will work out.

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.13 gal
OG: 1.064
FG: 1.000
ABV: 8.36%

3 gallons fresh-pressed apple juice
2 cups of apple juice "concentrate" - 1 gallon of fresh-pressed juice boiled down to 2 cups

Lalvin 71B-1122

3.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient (added to boiled down juice)
1.50 tsp Pectic Enzyme - added ~6 hours before yeast
0.50 oz Oak Cubes, Hungarian, Medium Toast (Primary)

  • Started on 10/23/10
  • OG of fresh cider = 1.050
  • reduced 1 gallon down to 2 cups and added yeast nutrient
  • OG with reduction added = 1.064
  • added pectic enzyme ~6 hours before yeast
  • fermented in mud room - ambient ~60°F
  • 11/3/10 - SG = 1.001
  • 11/23/10 - SG = 1.000; racked to 3 gallon carboy (did not transfer oak cubes); topped off with some organic, stop & shop apple juice; mud room closet temp down to 58°F
  • 1/23/11 - bottled with fructose - target volumes = 2.5

Bottled on 1/23/11

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Taming wild yeast

As my appreciation for and intrigue by "wild ales" has grown, I've been more and more interested in trying my hand at brewing a batch of beer with local, wild yeast. I originally thought I would try it the old school way by brewing up some wort and then setting it outside, open to the elements (and airborne microbes) to cool and see what I get with the resulting beer. But then I read a post by the Mad Fermentationist about collecting wild yeast using a simple starter technique and I was inspired to try something similar. Why waste a whole batch of beer when you have no idea what yeast/bacteria/mold might jump in?

So, after I realized I had a few cups of runnings left in the mash tun from brewing the "luau beer", I decided here was a great opportunity to try my luck. I diluted the runnings down to a gravity of about 1.030, boiled it for ~15 minutes with a couple grams of old Tettnang pellet hops, threw it in a bowl and covered it with some cheesecloth. I then placed the covered bowl of wort in my backyard in little wooded patch, under some oak trees. I let it sit there overnight. In the morning, I transferred the wort to a sanitized jug and affixed an airlock.

After a few days, I started to see a slight white foam forming on the surface of the wort. I wasn't sure if it was yeast or mold or what, so I just let it go, hoping to get some sort of krausen and some airlock activity to convince me I had something worthwhile. I never saw anything like that though. I'm guessing now that the relatively small number of cells, the low gravity wort, and the large amount of head space in the container just wasn't conducive to me seeing much activity.

With some advice from "Mad Mikey T.", I boiled up a couple cups of starter wort with some DME (1.040) and added that to the jug. This time though, I ditched the airlock and gave the jug a good shake/swirl every so often - just like I would do with a regular yeast starter. Well, much to my delight the starter took off and I had a nice foamy krausen after a couple of days. It smelled pretty good too - yeasty, of course, but also slightly fruity and a bit spicy. I think I have something to work with here! The gravity of the starter came down to 1.012 as of this evening. I ventured a taste of the hydrometer sample and I have to say I think this experiment could pan out - although pretty mellow, I definitely got hints of clove and pepper and some underlying fruitiness.

So now I know what my next brew is going to be - a local New England Saison (not yet an official BJCP style). Hopefully I will be able to get to this in the next week or so - I don't want to lose this yeast before I get to try it out. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kahakai Blonde Ale

Every July 4th, my family gets together on Cape Cod and celebrates in more-or-less traditional New England fashion - with steamed lobsters, clams, corn on the cob, and fresh-caught blue crab. For some inexplicable reason, my grandfather, a first-generation Italian-American, calls this "The Luau", and it is one of my most favorite family events. For this year's luau I want to have a nice, light-colored, crisp beer, so I decided to brew up this relatively simple Blonde Ale. Not too hoppy, not to bitter, but hopefully a nice balance of malts and citrusy hops. I took some inspiration from BierMuncher's Centennial Blonde, but tweaked it a bit to make it my own.

This was my first time using Centennial hops and I must say they smelled amazing going into the kettle. I had wanted to try WLP051 (California Ale V) yeast for this, but my LHBS was out. The good fellas there however suggested I go with WLP061 (American Ale blend), which is (supposedly?) a mix of WLP001 (California Ale), WLP051 (California Ale V), and WLP810 (San Fransisco Lager).

Nothing special about the brew day to report, though I am a little concerned that my mash pH might have been too high given the lack of dark grains in the recipe. I added some brewing salts, but next time I think I may add a few ounces of acidualted malt to get the pH down some more. Regardless, I can't wait to crack one of these open at this year's Luau. Maybe I will be able to convince my grandfather, a Bud drinker, to try at least a taste.

Kahakai Blonde
Brewed on 5/20/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 5.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 33.4 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.053 SG
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%

5 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) - 71.43 %
1 lbs Wheat Malt, Pale - 14.29 %
8.0 oz Carahell - 7.14 %
8.0 oz Vienna Malt - 7.14 %

10g Centennial [9.20 %] (60 min)
7g Centennial [9.20 %] (30 min)
15g Centennial [9.20 %] (5 min)

American Ale Yeast Blend (White Labs #WLP060)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 150°F, Batch Sparge

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sweet Caroline Amber Ale

Can't believe its been a whole month since I've posted anything. Though, really, brewing once a month is about the max I could hope to do. With my two long-aged beers (my experimental sour cranberry ale and this year's "big beer") just hanging out waiting for bottling day, I decided I should get something going that will be ready relatively quickly. I figure I'll only have two more brews before it gets too hot (I haven't yet acquired a taste for those beers typically fermented hot), so I decided to go with an American Amber, a style I haven't tried to brew, at least not to style. I'll probably brew an American Wheat next month, to have something nice and refreshing for the summer.

One of the things I've discovered through creating my own recipes is that I tend not to like a ton of crystal malt. Generally, I keep any crystal malt addition to 5% or less, but since an American Amber is supposed to have a noticeable crystal malt presence, I decided I could/should break that rule this time. But I've still kept it below other recipes I've seen, where it can comprise up to 20% of the grist (!). I didn't want anything overly hoppy either - trying to strike a nice balance between the American hops and the crystal malt.

Nothing unusual to report for the brew day. Unless you count a rare win by the Red Sox (improved to 4-10; still the worse record in the league though).

Sweet Caroline Amber Ale
Brewed on 4/17/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 12.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 39.6 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.21%

5 lbs 8.0 oz Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 79.25 %
8.0 oz Crystal Malt (~60L) - 7.20 %
8.0 oz Munich Malt - 7.20 %
4.0 oz Carared Malt - 3.60 %
2.1 oz Acidulated Malt - 1.87 %
1.0 oz Chocolate Malt (~450L) - 0.86 %

0.20 oz Galena [14.10 %] (60 min)
0.50 oz Cascade [6.10 %] (10 min)
0.50 oz Citra [12.30 %] (10 min)
0.50 oz Citra [12.30 %] (1 min)
0.50 oz Cascade [6.10 %] (1 min)

California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 153°F, Batch Sparge

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vaccinium - continued

I continued my first sour/Brett/fruit/wine yeast experiment by racking the beer onto some cranberries I picked up fresh last fall that I sealed and froze. The primary yeast (a wine yeast, Lalvin BM45) had fermented the beer down to 1.022 and the sample I took tasted very nice - clean, a bit fruity. It was still very cloudy and I must admit not nearly as sour as I thought it would be with all that acidulated malt in the grist. With the Brett and cranberries I figure the acidity will jump up some.

Not sure that I had to or should, I pasteurized the cranberries, still in the vacuum sealed pouches, in 165°F water for about 20 minutes. I then mashed them up and dropped them into the carboy, which more difficult than I anticipated. I then racked the beer on top and set the whole thing in my basement for 24 hours before pitching a vial of WLP645 - Brettanomyces claussenii. I went with this strain because I didn't want an overpowering Brett character. I'll let this sit undisturbed for a while - 3 months maybe? At the moment I am thinking of adding some oak cubes as well - I have 0.5 ounces soaking in some red wine that I might add at some point.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tabula Rasa (aka John) - Empirical Series 2011

"No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience."

The original intent of my annual "Empirical" project was to brew a barley wine every year. However, I've since realized that, 1) I don't want to be limited to a single style for this series, and 2) the previous years' brews were, in fact, not actually barley wines. So, I've now decided that style plays little role in these beers and that the only "rules" are that they are big and that they are allowed to age for a year before drinking. Live and learn. The slate has been wiped clean.

The inspiration for this year's recipe was Deschute's Black Butte Porter. Now, the interesting thing here is that I have never had the privilege of tasting this particular beer, but by all accounts, it is wonderful. And as an avid listener of the Brewing Network, I had a good starting point for a recipe after the boys on CYBI brewed up a clone of this beer (podcast here; recipe here).

For my version, I increased the OG to 1.090 to help get me in the 9-10% ABV range and added some smoked malt for added complexity, especially in conjunction with a planned addition of oak. Also with these Empirical beers, I like to add 5-10% simple sugars to help increase the ABV as well as to help the yeast attenuate as much as possible. Given the nature of this project, I opted to experiment with a new-to-me sugar, sucanat - essentially, dried pure sugar cane juice. I expect this unrefined sugar to give the beer some rum notes, which I think will work well with the chocolate and smoked malts and the oak aging. I was unsure about the hop schedule, but since it seems to work for Deschute's, I figured I'd stick to it as close as possible - just increasing the additions to get me close to an estimated 70ish IBUs.

I ended up pitching three vials of yeast because I broke the growler of my intended starter and didn't have time to make up a new one. Fermentation took off quick and I had airlock activity for a good 7 days (the longest I can remember for any of my beers). I'll let it sit in primary for 4 weeks and then rack into a secondary carboy with some oak cubes for several weeks before bottling. I'll keep the bottles squirreled away until next winter.

Tabula Rasa - Empirical Series 2011
Brewed on 2/23/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.75 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 29.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 65.6 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.090
FG: 1.020
ABV: 9.3%

7 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) UK - 60.87 %
1 lbs Wheat Malt, Pale - 8.70 %
8.0 oz Chocolate Malt (450L) - 4.35 %
8.0 oz Crystal malt (50-60L) - 4.35 %
8.0 oz Smoked Malt - 4.35 %
1 lbs Extra Light DME 8.70 %
1 lbs Sucanat - 8.70 %

0.75 oz Galena [13.00 %] (60 min)
0.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (30 min)
0.50 oz Mt. Hood [6.00 %] (5 min)

0.75 oz Oak Cubes, Hungarian, Medium Toast (Secondary 4-8 weeks)

Dry English Ale (White Labs #WLP007)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion
60 min 152°F

3/18/11 - racked to 3 gallon carboy for bulk aging; added oak cubes; SG = 1.020

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vaccinium - a sour ale experiment

Lately I have been intrigued by sour, funky beers - Lambics, Flanders Reds, Oud Bruins, and a wide array of "wild" ales from small American craft breweries (e.g. Cisco Brewers, Jolly Pumpkin, Allagash). I've been wanting to brew up a sour/funky beer for a while, but have not really known where to start. But after several months of tinkering with an idea, I finally took the plunge and brewed something up today.

My inspiration for this recipe was Ithaca Beer Co.'s Brute and head brewer Jeff O'Neill's interview on the Brewing Network. I sampled Brute at the Beervana Beer Festival in Pawtucket, RI this past Fall and was blown away by it - by far my favorite beer there. I was shocked to learn during the BN podcast that the sourness comes from a high percentage of acidulated malt and not actual Lactobacillus or other souring bacteria.

I've also been intrigued with the idea of using a wine yeast on a beer, thanks to yet another Brewing Network podcast featuring Shea Comfort (aka the "Yeast Whisperer"). I have no idea what to expect from using a wine yeast on this recipe, but I chose Lalvin's BM45 for it's production of berry/cherry-like flavors and aromas. Part of my train of thought also included the fact that wine yeasts might be better suited to the more acidic fermentation environments that the acidulated malt would create. My plan is to finish the fermentation with Bretanomyces clausenii for some mild funkiness. Since wine yeasts can't metabolize more complex sugars, there should be plenty of food left behind for the Brett.

And since I'm experimenting here, I might as well go all out. I used flaked corn for the first time, did my first step mash (including a protein rest because of all the adjuncts), and am planning on adding local cranberries. I'm thinking this might be ready to drink for Thanksgiving, give or take a couple of months.

I'm probably out of my mind trying so many new-to-me aspects, but I'm hopeful I'll end up with something interesting. (I wonder if I should add some oak cubes...)

Brewed on 1/21/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.75 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.054 SG
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 22.7 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 65 Minutes

3 lbs Pale Malt - 40.00 %
1 lbs Acidulated Malt -13.33 %
1 lbs Corn, Flaked - 13.33 %
1 lbs Vienna Malt - 13.33 %
1 lbs Wheat Malt - 13.33 %
8.0 oz Wheat, Flaked - 6.67 %

0.56 oz Mt. Hood [4.40 %] (60 min)
0.35 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (30 min)
0.53 oz Cascade [6.00 %] (5 min)

Lalvin BM-45
Brettanomyces claussenii (White Labs #WLP645) - to be added in secondary with cranberries

Mash Schedule
Step Time Name Step Temp
15 min Protein Rest 130.0 F
45 min Saccrification 158.0 F

2/24/11 - it took 3 days for the BM45 to get going! And it is slow going at that. I hope it goes OK.

2/25/11 - WOW, the airlock is going crazy - looks like the yeast are just fine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Opening Day Altbier

Even though we've had one of the snowiest, coldest winters in recent years, Spring is not that far away and the Sox will once again be regular fixtures on the living room tv. But before Jon Lester or Josh Beckett throws their first real pitch, I need to take advantage of the winter temperatures to brew my annual "lager".

With no real temperature control, I rely on the various temperatures in my house and garage for different fermentation and conditioning regimes. Since my cellar sits in the low high 50s/low 60s, and my "mudroom" sits in the low-mid 50s, and my garage is in the high 30s/low 40s right now, I like to take a short hiatus from my usual ale brewing and try something that can take advantage of these colder temps.

This is my second attempt at brewing an altbier. Though technically not a lager, it benefits from a cooler fermentation and some cold storage - think of it as a transitional style between ales and lagers. Once again, I am trying to emulate the traditional altbiers of Dusseldorf in honor of a friend and colleague whose wife hails from Dusseldorf and both of whom rave about the beers available there. Last year, my friend's wife said my attempt "was good", which I take as a high compliment given I have never been to Dusseldorf and have only sampled a couple Dusseldorf alts (thanks to my friend's generosity in sharing his private altbier stash he collects during his regular visits to his wife's family). I even took 3rd place in a local competition with it (the South Shore Brew Off). My version was a little too dark and roasty however and I am hoping to adjust for that this year by adding the dark malt only during the sparge. My LHBS also had White Lab's Dusseldorf Altbier yeast in stock this year, which I hope will put this beer over the top.

I think traditionally this beer was brewed using a decoction mash. I'm not confident yet to give that a whirl (maybe next year), so instead I augmented the grist with some Munich and Melanoiden malts. I fermented this in the cellar for 7 days - ambient temp was 59°F - before moving it up to the first floor for a diacetyl rest for 3 days (ambient temp = 67°F). I then racked to a secondary glass carboy and moved it to the mudroom for 4 days (ambient temp = 50°F) and then to the garage (ambient temp = 38-42°F), where it will sit for a few weeks before bottling.

Opening Day Alt
Brewed on 1/30/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 12.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 38.8 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes
OG: 1.049 SG

5 lbs Pilsner (Weyermann) - 81.57 %
8.0 oz Melanoidin (Weyermann) - 8.16 %
8.0 oz Munich I (Weyermann) - 8.16 %
2.0 oz Chocolate Wheat (Weyermann) - 2.12 % (added to mash during sparging)

50.00 grams Tettnang [3.50 %] (60 min)
14.00 grams Hallertauer [3.00 %] (30 min)

Dusseldorf Alt Yeast (White Labs #WLP036)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 150°F, Batch Sparge

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fireside Porter

I've long been a fan of smokey flavors - BBQ and hickory-smoked bacon of course, but also a nice Islay single malt scotch, lapsang souchong tea, and Bramberg rauchbier. Amazingly, I hadn't tasted any smoked porters until recently, but once I sampled Clipper City's Smoke on the Water and Alaskan Brewing Company's Smoked Porter, I knew this style was going on my short list to brew. Looking to brew something rich, flavorful, and smooth, I did some research and came up with this recipe. I actually wanted Chinook hops, thinking a nice piney flavor/aroma would complement the smoke nicely. Unfortunately, my LHBS was out of Chinook so I decided to give Columbus a try. I've never used this hop and hope it works out OK.

Brew day went without a hitch. I am getting used to my new set-up - all-grain, small batch, split boil - and am quite happy with the results so far. As for the grist I decided to go with approximately 20% Weyermann's beechwood-smoked malt - I want the smoke character to have a real presence, but not dominate like in a rauchbier. I've become a fan of honey malt in lieu of crystal malt - I find it less intense. I also like to add some wheat to my brews for increased head retention and overall body and since my LHBS carries chocolate wheat, I decided to kill two birds with one stone, getting my wheat and my roasted grain in one. I threw in a dash of black patent so the beer had a bit of acridity to it. I wasn't looking for anything special from the yeast, so I went with the clean-fermenting dry US-05.

After listening to the BN podcast with Shea Comfort on using oak, I decided to add some oak cubes to the primary, which Shea suggested can add mouthfeel, but little oak flavor to the finished beer. Not sure what kind of effect this will actually have - or if I will be able to detect it - but I figured it was worth a try.

I'm thinking this will need some time to condition in the bottles, so I'm looking at mid-March before it will be ready.

Fireside Smoked Porter
Brewed on 1/12/11

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 29.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 46.7 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 70 Minutes
OG: 1.060
FG: 1.014
ABV: 6.00%

4 lbs 8.0 oz Pale Malt - 57.62 %
1 lbs 8.0 oz Smoked Malt (Weyermann) - 19.21 %
1 lbs Munich I - 12.80 %
8.0 oz Chocolate Wheat - 6.40 %
4.0 oz Honey Malt - 3.20 %
1.0 oz Black Malt - 0.77 %

0.18 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.50 %] (60 min)
0.5 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.50 %] (30 min)
0.5 oz Williamette [4.80 %] (15 min)
0.5 oz Williamette [4.80 %] (1 min)

0.5 oz Oak Cubes, Hungarian, Med Toast (Primary)

SafAle (Fermentis US-05)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 152°F, Batch Sparge

Friday, February 18, 2011

Little Rhody Red (hopburst version)

This beer is one of my favorites and one I proudly call my own creation. And it is the brew I will be tinkering with until it's perfect. This is my second recipe for this beer and while it is very good, I already have some changes in mind for next time. I brewed a slightly different recipe of this up not quite a year ago. At that time, it was the first beer that I designed to taste and not to any particular style. I wanted a hoppy, reddish-brown ale with a little bit of roastiness, a little bit of body, but not a lot of caramel-sweetness. And that's exactly what this is.

I also like this beer because I use some locally-grown Rhode Island hops from Ocean State Hops. They very generously sent me several ounces of free hops to try last year. I still had some whole leaf Cascade left so I decided to use them up for this recipe. I augmented their hops with some from the LHBS.

This time around I decided to try the hopburst method (adding most of the hops in the last 20 minutes) along with mash hopping with the whole leaf Cascade. I also decided to give Simcoe a try for the first time. The end result is a very nice beer, packed with a ton of grapefruity/citrusy flavor and aroma. It's too dark for an IPA (and not dark enough for a Black IPA/CDA) and probably too hoppy for an American Amber, though I am going to enter it into some comps as the latter. I think next time I will brew this without the Simcoe - it's good, but there's this ever so slight flavor in there that I think is the "cattiness" that is often used to describe Simcoe. I could do without that.

Little Rhody Red (hopburst)
Brewed on 11/20/10

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 12.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 55.3 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.064
FG: 1.015
ABV: 6.4%

7 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 87.39 %
6.0 oz Wheat Malt, Pale - 4.74 %
4.0 oz Honey Malt - 3.12 %
4.0 oz Munich I - 3.12 %
2.0 oz Chocolate Malt (450.0L) - 1.62 %

1.55 oz Cascade [4.00 %] (mash, whole leaf)
1.00 oz Simcoe [12.30 %] (20 min)
1.00 oz Amarillo [8.70 %] (20 min)
0.50 oz Amarillo [8.70 %] (10 min)
0.50 oz Cascade [7.40 %] (10 min)
1.00 oz Simcoe [12.30 %] (0 min)
1.00 oz Amarillo [8.70 %] (0 min)
0.50 oz Amarillo [8.70 %] (Dry Hop 7 days)
0.50 oz Cascade [7.40 %] (Dry Hop 7 days)

SafAle US-05

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 153F, Batch Sparge

Mother Rigby's Oatmeal Stout (Redux)

Brewed on 9/11/10

This was a companion brew for my Feathertop Pumpkin Ale. I figured pumpkin beers are not everyone's favorite, but who can pass up a nice creamy oatmeal stout? I even thought this and the pumpkin ale would make a nice "black and tan" (note: I never could get the beers to layer, though the mixed beers was pretty tasty).

Inspired by Jamil Z's award-winning oatmeal stout, I wanted to this to be smooth and thick, with a nice roast/hop balance. This was my second attempt at an all-grain recipe and unlike my first attempt at using this technique (the aforementioned pumpkin beer), I managed to hit all my numbers on this one. This beer didn't ferment out like I had hoped, stopping at 1.022. I think the fact that I failed to aerate the wort properly, did not use any yeast nutrients, and did not make a starter may have been part of the problem. Either that or my mash was too high and I had a lot of unfermentables in there. I tried rousing the yeast, warming it up and even pitching a cup of yeast slurry from the pumpkin beer, but still the gravity remained at 1.022, so I went ahead and bottled it. It turned out pretty good just the same, though perhaps a little thicker than I was looking for. Though I received more rave reviews of this brew than any others I've made to date.

To try to get some more of that distinctive oatmeal cookie aroma and flavor, I toasted the oats on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350°F for ~30 minutes a few hours before mashing. For hops, I went against conventional wisdom and used a small charge for both flavor and aroma (I seem to have a problem with single hopping).

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 2.50 gal
Estimated Color: 43.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32.3 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 51.00 % (no sparge)
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.057
FG: 1.022
ABV: 4.56%

7 lbs 8.0 oz Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 71.43%
1 lbs Oats, Flaked, toasted - 9.52 %
10.0 oz Aromatic Malt - 5.95 %
10.0 oz Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM) - 5.95 %
8.0 oz Crystal (Muntons) (56.0 SRM) - 4.76 %
4.0 oz Roasted Barley (500.0 SRM) - 2.38 %

0.75 oz Challenger [7.00 %] (60 min)
0.12 oz Challenger [7.00 %] (15 min)
0.12 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (15 min)
0.12 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (1 min)
0.12 oz Challenger [7.00 %] (1 min)

London Ale (White Labs #WLP013)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 154°F, No Mash Out, No Sparge

Feathertop Pumpkin Ale (Redux)

Generally, I'm not a huge pumpkin beer fan, but I wanted to try my hand at brewing one this past fall. I did a fair amount of research on this, finding inspiration and insights from here and here, which helped me craft my own variation of this style. I envisioned Colonial New England, crisp fall weather, and changing leaves. I wanted something that was not too heavy and certainly not too spice-laden. I also wanted something with a nice orange color. As is my wont, I eschewed the conventional advice of only using hops for bittering and went ahead with some late additions thinking (accurately IMHO) that the EKG would compliment the pumpkin and the spices.

For the pumpkins, I used 2lbs of pie pumpkins generously donated from the Roger Williams University student organic garden. I did not precook the pumpkins. Instead, I scooped out the innards and cut the pumpkins into chunks and sent them through my Cuisinart with the grater attachment (skin and all). I then combined the grated raw pumpkin with the rest of the grist in the mash.

This was the first attempt at using my new 5-gallon MLT, which I decided to build because of this recipe. I was hoping this would be my first all-grain batch (no sparge, 3.5 gallons), but I missed just about every number possible. I was low on my mash temp so I added some boiling water, but only managed to raise it a couple of degrees. My efficiency sucked, even for no sparge, so I ended up using a pound of extract to make up the difference.

To top it all off, even though I made a starter, my initial pitch of yeast never took off, so after 72 hours of no fermentation I repitched with a packet of dry yeast. Fermentation took off after that.

Even with all the issues, in the end, I think this turned out to be a really good beer. I hit the color dead on and it has a nice solid spicy-ness to it without being too much. Good body. Very tasty.

(the name is based on Nathaniel Hawthorn's short story, Feathertop)

Feathertop Pumpkin Ale
Brewed on 9/6/10

Recipe Specifications
All Grain, No Sparge, Partial Boil
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Size: 2.56 gal
Estimated Color: 13.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 28.7 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 34.00 % (?!?!?!?!?!?!?)
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.21%

5 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 47.62 %
2 lbs Pumpkin, fresh, raw, grated - 19.05 %
1 lbs Caramunich I - 9.52 %
8.0 oz Melanoidin - 4.76 %
8.0 oz Vienna Malt - 4.76 %
8.0 oz Wheat Malt, Pale - 4.76 %
1 lbs Extra Light DME - 9.52 %

1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (60 min)
0.25 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (15 min)
0.25 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (1 min)

0.50 tsp Cinnamon, ground (Boil 1.0 min)
0.50 tsp Nutmeg, grated (Boil 1.0 min)
0.25 tsp Allspice, ground (Boil 1.0 min)
0.25 tsp Ginger, ground (Boil 1.0 min)
0.125 tsp Cloves, Ground (Boil 1.0 min)

SafAle US-05
(original yeast WLP001 never took off, so repitched with the SafAle)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 149F, No Mash Out, No Sparge
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