Sunday, February 26, 2012

Aged Homebrews - preview

While cleaning up the "homebrew corner" of my cellar this past week, I discovered a hidden stash of some of my earliest homebrews (as if I've been brewing so very long!). I recall putting a bottle of each away, wanting to keep a record of what I had brewed. This was before I truly understood how time can impact a beer. Now, I only store away those beers that I think can hold up to some aging. Even so, I thought it would be interesting to give these four bottles a try and post some tasting notes on them. I threw them in the fridge and will hopefully get to them sometime in the coming weeks. For now, here's a run-down of what I found:

Irish-ish Red Ale:
My first Irish Red ale attempt. This was a partial mash that was 75% malt and 25% DME, a single bittering addition of Challenger hops, fermented with WLP004 (Irish Ale yeast...go figure). This bottle is approaching 2.5 years old. (Tasting notes here)

My first (and only) attempt at a Scottish Ale...I'll let you decipher the was my (poor) attempt at being clever. Another partial mash recipe - this time with about 60% malt and 40% DME, EKG for bittering, and WLP004 again. I think this may have been my last 5 gallon batch. This bottle is also approaching 2.5 years old. (Tasting notes here)

Summit APA (maybe):
I wonder why that question mark is on the cap. If this is actually my Summit APA, it will be interesting to see how it has aged. I really hated this beer when I brewed it - the Summit hops came out all onion-and-garlic-y. Terrible. This was the first batch where I actually ended up dumping a bunch of it. Too bad too, because if it weren't for the Summit hops, this would have been a killer beer. Thinking about it now, I could probably consider this the initial prototype for my hoppy amber ale that I've been trying to dial in. Of course, the "?" on the cap could mean this is something completely different.

I am very excited to discover what this one might be. Not sure why the cap was left unlabeled. I actually think this might be one of my very earliest beers - I'm guessing either an English-style pale ale (my 3rd ever brew) or maybe a southern English Brown Ale (my 4th ever brew, which was supposed to be a Chocolate, Vanilla Porter that didn't quite turn out that way). I suppose this could be my first ever brew as well, a kit called "Holiday Amber", which always confused me since there was nothing "Holiday" about it. Man, it would be fun if it were that beer.

If nothing else, this will be a fun excursion that will tell me just how good my sanitation process really is!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tasting: Wild Yeast Saison

Well, it's about time I put up some tasting notes for my wild yeast "saison". I've realized that I delay putting up these posts since I don't really feel like I have a good tasting vocabulary and I find it hard to accurately describe the beers. But the more I do this, the more comfortable I am with it and I really want to make sure I follow up with all my batches. So, I'm going to try to be better about writing more timely tasting posts. And even if this post isn't exactly timely, it's better late than never, right?

So, this is the beer I brewed up using wild yeast (and probably bacteria) I collected from my back yard last June (and in case you missed it, I posted some photos of the wee beasties under a microscope). In short, this beer turned out quite well and did not contain anything near the funk I thought it would have. Even though I didn't really know what to expect from this experiment, the final product was definitely outside of what I thought I was going to get. To help me decipher what I was tasting, I sent a few bottles out to some other folks to taste, including Mike Tonsmeire, the Mad Fermentationist. My tasting notes below will also include some of their comments.

Appearance - Pours a hazy, dirty yellow-brown with a nice thick, foamy white head. Honestly, the color is quite ugly - I don't think the photo above does it justice (must have been the warm afternoon lighting). The head leaves nice Belgian lacing behind.

Aroma - Smells faintly of fruit. Not quite citrus with some mellow spiciness - hard to know if this is from the yeast or the Northdown dry hops. A nice malt aroma comes through as well.

Taste - Here's where things get interesting. First off, the flavor is much cleaner than I ever would have thought from using microbes that were floating around in my backyard. There is a fruity, slightly spicy Belgian-y quality there. There's also a slight tang, though certainly not sour - something reminiscent of fresh lemon peel. The rich maltiness of the Maris Otter comes through nicely, but the beer is not quite a dry as I was hoping for. Even though I mashed low (147°F) and pushed the fermentation temp up into the mid-80s, the beer only finished in the 1.012-1.014 range, which is a bit too high for the Belgian quality of the beer. I was hoping for sub-1.010. One of the more interesting flavors comes through at the back-end. One taster described it as "...almost brett-like...sort of 'woodsy'...I wouldn't say barnyard, but like outdoorsy without the smoke...that smell you get when stepping out to go hunting in the fall.". There is also a lingering bitterness that detracts a little from the beer - one taster likened it to tobacco, another to leather.

Mouthfeel - moderate carbonation and a not-so-dry finish leave this beer a bit fuller than it probably should have been.

Overall - Definitely a good outcome to an interesting experiment. Not sure I would call the beer a great beer, but given what I was attempting to do I am very happy with the result. In the end, it was a pretty refreshing beer with a lemony crispness to it. I actually kept some of the original yeast, hoping to use it in another beer, but it is now 9 months old and I'm not sure how great it would be to reuse. I will definitely try my hand again at capturing new yeast though - this brew demonstrated that it was a worthwhile endeavor.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Global warming is messing with my brewing

February 1st. Sixty degrees outside. "Unseasonably warm" according to the forecast. No shit. The average high temp for Feb 1 here is 34°F. The previous record high, set in 1999, was 46°F. So, yeah, I'd say it's "unseasonably warm". So unseasonable, in fact, that my plans to lager this year's altbier are quickly unraveling. You see, I don't have a temp-controlled fermentation chamber or fridge or chest freezer. I rely on the usually predictable seasonal temps and the various locations in my house that tend to stay a more-or-less consistent temp long enough for me to take advantage of them. So, this is why I brew my altbier in January - part of my cellar is in the high 50s/low 60s, perfect for primary fermentation, and my garage is usually in the mid-30s, perfect for lagering. In fact, I was this close to attempting my first true lager this season, since my "mud room" tends to be in the mid-40s this time of year. Luckily, I didn't get around to it. My mud room is in the mid-50s and my garage is currently sitting at a balmy 51°F. Too warm to lager. Hopefully a cold front come through so I can at least pseudo-lager the altbier. Soon.
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