Saturday, March 24, 2012

Aged Homebrew - Scottish Light (60/-) Tasting

This is the second tasting from my aged homebrew "collection". This time, I have a Scottish Ale (a 60 Schilling or 60/-) named #38. This was brewed a couple of years back as a birthday gift for my dad (no, not his 38th birthday). He read the description of the style and it intrigued him, so I surprised him with a case of it (I kept a case for myself...). If I recall correctly, this was my last full 5 gallon batch. Even though I was doing partial mashes, I wanted to minimize the amount of extract I had to use, so I switched to smaller 3.5ish gallon batches on all subsequent brews.

I remember thinking that this beer turned out pretty good - certainly seemed to style - light, easy drinking, malt-forward, dark copper-colored, some fruity esters. Over two years later, it has held up very well and I think it is still a nice example of the style, though perhaps a little too light on the hops. Shortly after I discovered my forgotten stash, I learned that my dad still has some bottles of this left, so I was thinking it might be fun to enter it in a competition or two and see how it stacks up.

Appearance - Pours a dark copper, almost brown, with a thin white ring of bubbles. Clarity is excellent.

Aroma - Very mild aroma. What little aroma there is is definitely all malt - no hop aroma whatsoever. I pick up some toffee and light caramel. Maybe some oxidized quality as well.

Taste - Follows aroma. Very mild, almost entirely malt - toffee, caramel, a hint of roast. Definitely some oxidized flavors as well. A little hop spiciness. Bitterness is barely there - just a touch at the end. Finishes fairly dry. Some sweetness, but not at all like the aged Irish Red I reviewed a little while back. No signs of infection.

Mouthfeel - low carbonation, almost still. On the thin side. Definitely an easy drinker, though a little more body would make it better.

Overall - Yet another successfully aged beer. This beer is very mild, but tastes good. And at 3.4% ABV, it makes for a nice session beer. I could definitely drink several of these, though I think I would want to move onto something with more flavor. This kind of reminds me of a Bass or a Smithwicks - it has that same level of mildness and thin body. So far, I'm enjoying this stroll down beer memory lane. I can't wait to try the remaining aged brews!

#38 Scottish Ale (60/-)
Partial Mash
OG 1.040
FG 1.014
IBUs: 23
SRM: 16

17% Maris Otter
17% Crystal 40L
7.5% Crystal 120L
7.5% Honey Malt
7.5% Munich Malt
2% Chocolate Malt
42.5% Extra Light DME

East Kent Goldings hops @ 60min

WLP004 Irish Ale yeast

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wheat Wine - Empirical Series 2012

"Resolve, resolve, and to be men aspire...
Let godlike reason, from her sovereign throne,
Speak the commanding word I WILL, and it is done."

I was a little late getting this year's Empirical brew done. I want to get these done in February of each year, but I couldn't quite squeeze this one in. Early March isn't too bad though I suppose. This year's edition is inspired by Harpoon's Triticus, a dark wheat wine. My wife and I tried this during a brewery tour in Boston a couple of years ago and were both instant fans. Almost immediately I began searching for info to help me design a homebrewed version. The original Triticus was actually the concept of the Alstrom brothers (of Beer Advocate fame) for Harpoon's 100 Barrel Series, and, as luck would have it, they had made available some blog posts about their experience brewing this, including some details about the recipe. I can't seem to find those posts now, but before they disappeared I took down some notes, but hadn't gotten around to brewing it until now.

As is probably self-evident a "wheat wine" is a high gravity wheat ale - basically the wheat version of a barley wine. With this recipe almost half of the grist is wheat, including specialty wheat malts like Cara- and Chocolate wheat. Staying true to the Triticus recipe, the hops are German. Somewhat surprisingly the yeast is a neutral American strain (e.g. WLP001). I thought about using a more characterful strain, but, in the end, decided to remain true to the inspiration.

Unfortunately, brew day did not go as planned. Basically, my efficiency sucked. Normally, I am in the 72-74% range. For this batch I only hit 55%. The only other time my efficiency was this low was also my only other time using this large a percentage of wheat. I've come to the conclusion that because of the smaller size of the wheat grains, my LHBS's mill doesn't crush them as well as it does the larger barley. Luckily, I had some DME around, but, unfortunately, it wasn't the wheat DME I thought I picked up when I bought the ingredients for this batch - I must have grabbed the wrong bag off the shelf. So, a pound of Extra Light DME went into the kettle. I wanted the OG to be higher still (was shooting for the mid-1.090s), but didn't want to use any more extract or simpler sugars, so I decided to leave it in the 1.080s. I just hope it ferments out well. The pound of demerara sugar should help with that (with these high gravity beers, I like to use up to 10% simple sugars).

It is now fermenting away in the basement. I'll let it go for probably a month and then rack it into a glass carboy for extended aging before bottling it sometime this summer. The first tasting will happen sometime around Halloween or Thanksgiving, if I can hold off that long. At the moment, I am toying with the idea of adding either oak cubes and/or cacao nibs when I rack to the carboy. Guess I'll wait to see how it tastes when I get to that point.

UPDATE: I decided to go with the cacoa nibs and skipped the oak

Bene Victum (aka James) - Empirical Series 2012
Brewed on 3/12/12

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.75 gal
Boil Size: 5.00 gal
Estimated Color: 24.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 65.5 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 55.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
OG: 1.084
FG: 1.012
ABV: 9.4%

5 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) UK - 38%
4 lbs Wheat Malt, Pale - 30.4 %
1 lbs Munich I - 7.6 %
6.0 oz Carawheat (50L) - 3%
6.0 oz Chocolate Wheat (450L) - 3%
6.0 oz Wheat, Flaked - 3%
1 lbs Extra Light Dry Extract - 7.5 %
1 lbs Dememera Sugar - 7.5 %

20 g Magnum [13.10 %] - 60.0 min
10 g Hallertauer [3.80 %] - 20.0 min
10 g Saaz [4.00 %] - 10.0 min
15 g Saaz [4.00 %] - dry hop

California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 149°F

aged on 6 oz cacao nibs

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sour Brett & Cranberry Ale Tasting

I brewed this beer, Vaccinium, over a year ago (part one, part two, part three). It was inspired by Ithaca Beer Company's Brute, a beer with Brett and soured only with acidulated malt. Putting my own spin on this idea, I used a wine yeast for primary fermentation and added local cranberries in secondary. It's been in the bottle for about 5 months. Overall, I probably shouldn't be disappointed in this beer given how experimental and off-the-wall it is, but I am. In general it lacks complexity and is missing a certain "brightness" and fruitiness that I was hoping for. Honestly, and unfortunately, it's just not that exciting of a beer.

Appearance - Pours a hazy orange-rose. Not quite as pink as I would have thought with using the cranberries. I think the beer would actually pour clear, but the high carbonation caused the sediment in the bottle to kick-up. Next time, I'll chill the bottle down (this one was probably only chilled down to about 50°F - the temp where I've got these bottles stored in my cellar). A large foamy head quickly subsides to a thin layer. No lacing is left on the glass.

Aroma - Slightly fruity with oak and a phenolic Brett component. Not at all overly funky or barnyard-y, most likely from using Brettanomyces claussenii, which is known to be the most mild species of Brett.

Taste - Sour, but not nearly as much as I would have thought given that acidulated malt made up 13% of the grist. Definite carbonic bite from the high carbonation. Much less fruit flavor than I had hoped for, though really, I wonder how fruity I should have expected using cranberries. Probably, unreasonable expectations on my part. The Brett seems to be coming through as plastic-y, for lack of a better descriptor. There's also an astringency - probably from the tannins in the cranberries and/or oak.

Mouthfeel - Thin and highly carbonated (both as intended). The high carbonation prickles the tongue. There's also a drying sensation on the tongue and throat, presumably from the tannins in the cranberries - my mouth feels the same way it does when drinking cranberry juice (shocker, I know). I suppose it could be the oak tannins as well.

Overall - Unfortunately, I am disappointed by this beer. It has more tannic astringency than acidic sourness. It is lacking the complexity and brightness that I thought it would have. I suppose it is still young and the Brett character may continue to develop over time, so I'll leave it alone for a while and come back to it. Not sure cranberries were a good choice. Or maybe it was a bad idea to add oak cubes. I'll probably try cranberries in another beer at some point - I like the idea of using such a local and native fruit - but I'm not sure I'll try to make a sour beer with just the acidulated malt. Instead, I'd probably go the traditional route of using Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sonnenstrahl (Kölsch-style bier)

My original idea with this brew was to use a simple Kölsch-style recipe, but ferment it with my local wild yeast. However, the slurry I kept was pretty old and I wasn't sure how great an idea it was to use it anymore. Besides, I liked the idea of brewing up an authentic style I hadn't tried before, So, I ditched the "Wild Kölsch" idea and instead decided to go pretty much traditional with this one. I harvested some WLP036 yeast when I bottled Frühlingstraum, this year's altbier, so this kölsch will be a sort of sister beer to the alt - the Sunbeam for my Dreams of Spring. I was going to use the left-over Spaltz hops I had from the alt, but thought that might make the two beer too similar in flavor profile, especially with using the same yeast. So instead I decided to try out some German Opal hops I picked up from Northern Brewer. These aroma hops are described as spicy with tones of citrus, so I think they'll be good used judiciously in this light hybrid beer.

Sonnenstrahl Kölsch
brewed on 3/7/12

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 3.50 gal
Estimated Color: 4.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.0 %
Boil Time: 65 Minutes
OG: 1.045
FG: 1.010
ABV: 4.6%

3 lbs Pilsner malt - 51.4 %
2 lbs Pale Malt - 34.2 %
8.0 oz Munich Malt - 8.6 %
4.0 oz Wheat Malt, Pale - 4.3 %
1.5 oz Acidulated malt - 1.5 % (for mash pH)

8 g Magnum [13.10 %] - 60.0 min
10 g Opal [6.30 %] - 15.0 min

Dusseldorf Alt Yeast (White Labs #WLP036) - reclaimed from 2012 Altbier

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 151°F, Batch Sparge

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Aged Homebrew - Irish Red tasting

I decided to try the first of the four "aged homebrews" I found in my cellar a couple of weeks ago. This was my first attempt at an Irish Red ale and I recall it turned out OK - too dark and astringent, but with some nice fruit esters. This batch was brewed approximately two and half years ago.

Appearance - very dark opaque brown, some ruby highlights in the light. Originally, this beer turned out darker than I was aiming for, but it is even darker now than I remember it. Pours with a nice tan head that dissipates pretty quickly, leaving a thin layer of foam that persists while drinking.

Aroma - all malt, chocolate, toffee, a little roast. Definitely some oxidized vinous aroma there too.

Taste - follows the aroma - sweet malt, caramel-toffee, with chocolate and roast undertones. There is a decent amount of bitterness still in it. Not sure if it is from the hops or the roasted malt or both, but there is enough there to cut balance the malt a little. There's a lingering astringency that I remember being there when I first brewed it - in fact, as I drink more of it, the more I get that astringency - like over-steeped tea. It definitely detracts from the beer, which otherwise is quite nice even at two and half years old. I don't taste the "cardboard" that is usually associated with oxidization, but I definitely taste something there that I assume is oxidation - it tastes "old" if that makes any sense. Maybe "musty", but that sounds too unsavory a description for this flavor - it doesn't really taste bad at all. Hard to explain. Maybe most surprising to me is how clean the beer still is - no sourness, no funk. My sanitation practices must have been pretty good.

Mouthfeel - low carbonation, as was originally intended, but maybe lower still than it once was. Creamy and full. The overall full body goes nicely with the rich, dark flavors.

Overall - honestly, I'm astounded that this beer held up as good as it did. I'm a little bummed that this is the last bottle. I definitely would drink more of it, though probably not more than one in a session. I wish I had tasting notes from when it was young to compare to, but I remember it being lighter, more fruity and not nearly as creamy and chocolatey. It has moved more into a brown ale/porter category now. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed drinking this beer!

For those interested, here's the basic recipe for the original beer:

Irish-ish Red Ale
Partial Mash
OG 1.051
FG 1.016
IBUs: 27.5
SRM: 20.6

62% Maris Otter
4% Crystal 40L
4% Crystal 120L
4% Roast barley
26% Extra Light DME

Challenger hops @ 60min

WLP004 Irish Ale yeast
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