Saturday, May 25, 2013

Strong Maple Mild

Springtime in New England brings the odd site of metal buckets hanging from the trunks of maple trees and the slow drip of maple sap falling from iron spiles. Of course, this maple sap is destined for local sugar shacks where it will be boiled ruthlessly until it it transformed into maple syrup. Most of this is done on family farms or larger commercial operations. A friend of mine, however, decided to try this at home this year, tapping the trees in his front yard and boiling down the sap on his propane grill. Back at the end of March, his trees were producing so much sap, he couldn't keep up, so he asked if I wanted some to brew with. Any regular reader of this blog knows how much I like to incorporate local ingredients into my brewing - whether it's cranberries, pumpkins, or wild yeast - so I jumped at the chance of using maple sap. I told my friend that I would need approximately six gallons of sap to replace the water I would normally use for the 3.5-3.75 gallon batches I brew. Not a problem - the sap is flowing like crazy.

While he collected the sap, I put together a recipe and headed out to my LHBS to purchase the ingredients. I had decided to brew an English Mild - I figured something like this would have the best chance of allowing any possible maple flavor from the sap to come through (though I am fully aware that there isn't much maple flavor in the raw sap - it's just too dilute). Unfortunately, shortly after picking up the ingredients, the sap stopped flowing and my friend was only able to collect 3.5 gallons for me. I figured my choices were to either supplement water for the other 2.5 gallons...or just brew a smaller batch. I really didn't want to dilute the sap with water, so I opted to go with a smaller batch size. However, since the grains were already milled together, a smaller batch meant that I was now looking at a much higher starting gravity than originally intended. So, instead of a "regular" Mild, I brewed a Strong Mild - not quite the oxymoron you might think.

It took me a while to get to this beer, so I kept the sap frozen to avoid it spoiling. I used a few cups of sap instead of water to make a yeast starter - I figured that this would allow the yeast to acclimate to the sap and it would let me keep this beer 100% undiluted sap-based. The sap itself had a specific gravity of 1.006. Even though the sap looked, smelled, and pretty much tasted just like water (perhaps a tad sweet if you really looked for it), when it was boiled for the starter and even just heated for the mash it became obvious that it was not the same as water - it darkened slightly and had a noticeable maple syrup aroma. In the end I don't know if any flavor or aroma contribution from the sap will be identifiable in the beer, but I am certain that the sap will add some complexity. Since I didn't want to dilute this beer with any water, I only used the first runnings from the mash. I went with English hops - Bramling Cross, which I really like for its combination of fruity and earthy flavors. Not sure if it was the sap or the use of brown malt or the combination of the two, but this was one of the best smelling mashes and boils I've ever had. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how this one turns out - though given it will probably end up around 8% ABV, it might need to age a little bit before it comes into its own.

Spile Driver
Brewed on 5/19/13

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 2.25 gal
Estimated Color: 19.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 42.8 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62.00 %
OG: 1.078
FG: 1.017
ABV: 8.0%

5 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 81.6%
8.0 oz Brown Malt - 8.2%
8.0 oz Crystal Malt (77°L; Crisp) - 8.2%
2.0 oz Acidulated malt - 2.0% (for mash pH)

~3.5 gallons of maple sap (SG = 1.006...I figure the amount of sugar from the sap would be the equivalent of ~5oz of sucrose)

9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 60.0 min
9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 30.0 min
9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 10.0 min

English Ale (White Labs #WLP002)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 150°F, No Sparge

Friday, May 17, 2013

Snake River Stout Tasting

This is my attempt at brewing a clone of Snake River Brewing Company's Zonker Stout. Wish I could compare the two side by side, but, alas, Snake River's beers are not available way out here in New England. Might just have to make another trip out their way!

Snake River Stout

Appearance - Black. Really black. Black hole black. Seriously - no light can penetrate this beer. I held up a flashlight on one side of the glass and I don't think a single photon escaped to the other side. Foamy, tan head that dissipates slowly. Some lacing left behind. Did I mention this beer is really, really black?

Aroma - Smells fantastic. Roasty, as would be expected. Mostly coffee-like with some slight chocolate notes. As it warms up a bit, I get a hint of raisin. Some earthy/spicy hops in the background. The aroma is really what I would expect from a beer like this.

Flavor - Bittersweet chocolate and coffee. Some caramel and raisin notes. There's an acridness that lingers...perhaps a tad too much. I'm not sure the crystal malts are quite enough to cut through the roast and acridity. Firm hop bitterness that combines with the acrid roast and then dissipates, leaving the acridness from the roast behind. This may actually be why the acridity seems too much - you definitely notice it once the hops are gone. Even though this finished at 1.022, I feel like it could use some additional sweetness - or maybe the amount of roast just needs to be dialed back a smidgen. However, as it warms up, the acridness seems to be lessening. In fact, now that the beer has warmed up some, the flavors all seem to work quite nicely together...maybe it needs even less tweaking than I had originally thought!

Mouthfeel - Moderate carbonation and body. Not thin, but certainly not too thick either. I think this would be awesome on nitro...or maybe with a little lactose thrown in to give it some creaminess.

Overall - This is a really good beer that could use some tweaking. I'm certainly nit-picking, but next time I would reduce the amount of roasted malts and/or add additional crystal malt. I wish I could get Snake River Brewing Company's beers out this way to compare this to their Zonker Stout. My version is good, but doesn't quite live up to my memory of theirs...though this could also have something to do with the fact that I don't have the glorious Grand Tetons in my backyard!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cranberry Brown Ale - Tasting

A mild, "makeshift" brown ale using Brett Trois and local cranberries. I brewed this back in the Fall for Thanksgiving. There's a reason I have held off reviewing it...

Henry Hall Ale

Appearance - Deep brown with some ruby highlights. Clear. Thin, spritzy head that quickly dissipates - I wonder why there's so little foam?

Aroma - Very subdued. What aroma is there is all malt with a little "dark" fruitiness.

Flavor - Also rather subdued. Little hop bitterness, but an astringency that I attribute to the cranberries. Slightly fruity. Dry - probably a combination of the Brett used for fermentation and the cranberries. Honestly, kind of bland. Neither crisp and refreshing nor complexly flavorful. When this was younger I remember it being more fruity and flavorful. Has not aged well.

Mouthfeel - Thin. Low carbonation. Drying. Again, I remember this being not quite as thin or dry when it was younger

Overall - Not a particularly good beer. I had hoped that the cranberries and the crystal malts would play well together, and that the Brett Trois would add some nice fruit notes. I had some hope when it was young. But instead, I think the Brett chewed through the crystal malts leaving behind a thin, dry beer, and the tannins from the cranberries left too much of an astringent bite. All in all, another disappointing result using cranberries. I should probably close the book on using them...except I'm thinking I just may need to try them in a simpler English-style brown ale using an English yeast that will leave behind some residual sweetness to help balance the flavor. A project for the Fall.
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