Saturday, March 31, 2018

English Bitter

Sometimes life gets in the way. Of drinking and thinking about beer and homebrewing. At this point, I don't remember when I brewed this beer. Sometime in February I believe. I think I kegged it just a week after I brewed it.

It has cleared nicely. Very dry. Sort of a biscuity nutty flavor I guess. From the biscuit malt I suppose. Overly bitter though. Maybe too many hops. Not sure. Subtle hop flavor. Kind of fruity. These are old hops, 2013 crop I think, purchased in 2014 and I had opened the mylar bag that year. Aroma has some subtle fruity hops.

Probably not the best beer I've brewed but it's still enjoyable!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire

I've decided I'm a big fan of this yeast. It ferments quickly and vigorously. It seems to impart some fruity flavors to beers, though esters are something that have always been hard for me to distinguish from hop flavor. In my opinion, it ferments pretty clean. I certainly don't detect any estery flavors in the stout I brewed, though I suppose the chocolate and roast malts might cover them up. Someone who tried my Northern English Brown Ale described it as fruity though.

It flocculates well if you give it time. I have a bitter on tap right now that I've not fined with gelatin and it's cleared up nicely, though not crystal clear. And the aforementioned brown ale was extremely clear going into the keg, probably owing to sitting in the fermenter for over five weeks (longer than usual for my process).

It also attenuates pretty well, beyond Wyeast's specs, so plan for that. However, if you mash high, it will attenuate low, like any other yeast.

Overall, this is a fantastic yeast for all sorts of ales, regardless of continent. Cheers!

Stout tasting

This is a really great beer. It was one of those where I just knew it was going to be great when I tasted it -- a gravity sample -- for the first time after fermentation. I kegged it the same day I brewed my mish-mash kitchen sink pale ale, so about three weeks ago. It's been on the gas and pretty well carbonated for awhile now. Interestingly, it finished at 1.016, well above what I anticipated. I don't think I mashed high, and I let the yeast ferment it fully (i.e. the krausen fell). It doesn't taste sweet though. In fact it's very dry.

Appearance: Black, but ruby on the edges and if you hold a light to it. Tan head.

Aroma: Milk chocolate. Sweetness. Coffee.

Flavor: Chocolate. Some roastiness. Pretty low bitterness. Maybe a touch of coffee. Very dry.

Overall: very enjoyable beer and I don't think I would change anything about the recipe. According to Brewer's Friend, that makes this a 3.94% abv beer. It's amazing that you can pack so much flavor into such a low alcohol beer.

Changes for next time? Although I mention above that I wouldn't change the recipe, I might try modifying the water slightly. I never do anything with water when I brew. But I wonder if a bit of distilled water (maybe half the total volume) might make this a little more crisp. I seem to remember the competition example being very crisp and the malt really popping. Mine has a sort of softness.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

My homebrew and Civil Life Northern Brown Ale side by side

I've never done this before. I've brewed clone kits/recipes (NB's Sierra Madre and Caribou Slobber).  Mostly though I've brewed my own recipes without trying to emulate anything in particular. More styles than particular beers.

So it was with my homebrew NEBA as well. I used The Civil Life's information in crafting my recipe, but I wasn't necessarily trying to clone their beer.

Nonetheless, here are my notes. The most prominent difference is the roast/toast character imparted by the brown malt. Their beer must have a lot more of it, because it's strongly apparent in the nose and flavor. Whereas, mine is more of a background flavor, sort of melding with a pretty significant caramel note, and the aroma of mine is not as strong.

Mine is just a hair lighter than TCL's. Mine seems to have better "head retention."  That's never been a goal of mine in brewing, but I did notice a difference.  It might just be because mine was from a keg pour and theirs from a can (and a fairly non-vigourous pour).

Also, their beer is dryer and more carbonated. Again, the aroma of TCL's is stronger, of coffee, chocolate, roast, toast. No caramel flavor in theirs.

All of that said, mine is a really good beer and still up there with the best I've ever brewed. Someone who tried it expressed surprise when I mentioned adding more brown malt. But I think I will. It's rare for me to brew the same beer twice (maybe just one beer in the over four years that I've been brewing?) and the challenge of brewing their is enticing. Nonetheless, this beer is certainly worthy of rebrewing as is! Cheers!

Edit February 10, 2018:

This keg has been out in my garage to take advantage of the cold weather, since my kegerator, which fits just two kegs, is full. I kegged a pale ale last weekend in a separate keg and put it in the garage as well. I have only one picnic tap to switch between the two kegs in the garage. So I removed the tap from the brown ale and put it on the pale ale. Yesterday morning, I went to Airgas and exchanged a 20 lb CO2 tank. I came home and topped off each keg with CO2 to make sure they hadn't lost pressure after my CO2 tank ran dry. I noticed a some beer on the out post on the brown ale keg, but didn't think much of it. I'd seen it before the other day. It definitely wasn't flowing out. Unfortunately, by the time I got home, that slight drip turned into a full leak, with probably one or two gallons of really good brown ale spewing all over the floor. 😭 Oh well, at least I got to enjoy most of it, and on the plus side, I have space for the bitter I brewed last weekend.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stout Brew Day - 1/6/18

Last summer, my homebrew club hosted a competition and the winner was a really nice stout. The brewer described it as an Irish stout. I reached out to him for the recipe and he was kind enough to reveal most of it, though remained coy about certain aspects, such as the starting gravity and water treatment. On top of that, the beer is actually from the second runnings of a bigger beer, adding even more variability. But I had the grains and their respective percentages for the beer and adjusted the amounts according to the gravity that I wanted to achieve.

I thought a beer in the 4.5-5% range would be good. I've been aiming to brew beers that are more drinkable lately, which means less alcohol and less intense flavors (which really just means less hoppy).  So I designed a beer with about 8.25 lbs of grain total and a starting gravity of 1.046.

I started brewing around 11:30 AM and was finished by about 5:15. During that time I also kegged another beer and really took my time in general. I could have been finished earlier if I was really efficient. But either way, this was a fairly short brew day by my standards. It also helped that it has been really cold lately, so the ground water was extra cold, so chilling the wort took less time. So cold in fact that my hose seemed to be clogged with ice, which was concerning at first, but it cleared up after a few minutes.

Total brew time was also reduced since I had the brew shop mix and crush everything together, something I normally don't do. So I didn't have to spend time measuring grains at home. They mixed and crushed 7 lbs Avangard pale ale, 8 ounces chocolate, 6 ounces carafa ii, 3 ounces roast barley, and 3 ounces flaked wheat.

Into the mash tun it went. This time I was much more careful with the mash temperature. It mashed at 152 for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I added 2 ounces of 4.5% AA Fuggles for about 33 IBUs total. Perhaps too much? The wort was less chocolatey than I thought it might be. Maybe even fruity, from the hops I'm guessing. But fermentation usually rounds those flavors out, so I'm expecting more malt in the finished beer. And hopefully this one turns out to my liking. The original beer was fantastic. Really smooth. No acrid flavors. I don't like acrid flavors in stouts. I prefer a smooth, chocolate flavor.

OG was around 1.046 with about 5 gallons of wort. I kegged my Styrian bitter and noticed some bubbles on top seemed to have a slight film. The beer tasted fine, but I didn't want to take any chances. So I bought a fresh 1469 smack pack. Fermentation had taken off by morning on January 7.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Northern English Brown Ale Brew Day - 11/10/17

I'm a big fan of The Civil Life Brewing Co. in St. Louis. I tried it out for the first time in June, 2014 at public defender training on the advice of a friend and fellow public defender. I bought one of their growlers and filled it with their Rye Pale ale, one of their beers for which they're most notable.

Since then I've learned that they really good English ales, whether it's their bitters or their brown ales, and they have a few of each. They specialize in session beers and as best I can tell adhere to classic styles, so I don't expect to ever see a fruited beer or a barrel aged stout.

One of the best things about the place is the atmosphere. The pub area is a relatively small portion of the building. It's long and narrow and has a bar that runs the length of the room. It's cash only. They serve their beers in 10 oz pub glasses ($2.50) or 20 oz ($5.00). If you hand over $3.00, they'll give you a Kennedy half dollar as change. They set out reading material for their patrons, such as the Post-Dispatch or The New York Times.

The beer and the atmosphere meld perfectly. The beers are delicious. And you really feel like you're in an English pub. I've never actually been in a real English pub, but it seems like The Civil Life is a good approximation.

Unfortunately, Civil Life is over three hours away from me. So I can't just drop in after work for a pint or two. And yet, the types of beers they're making are the beers that I want to drink!

Thankfully homebrewing is here to save the day. I'll just have to (try to) make the beers they serve myself. That was the plan for this brown ale. A Northern English Brown Ale. Is it a recognized BJCP style? I'm not sure. There's a British Brown Ale, which lists Newcastle as a representative beer, and which has an SRM that matches the one I was going for with this beer. But what's the difference between Northern and Southern English Brown ALe? It seems there is a difference, but the 2015 BJCP doesn't seem to make room for a distinction. Alas, the 2008 BJCP guidelines did. Why has this category been combined? I'm not sure. I'll have to leave that to the experts.

Wort was a rich caramel brown color. Time got away from me - including a business trip to St. Louis along with a visit to Civil Life - and so this beer remained in the fermenter for about six weeks. I kegged it on December 17, the same day I brewed a Styrian Goldings English bitter. FG was 1.08.

I bottled six bottles. The rest went into a keg, which for most of the last two weeks has been out in my garage, taking advantage of exceptionally cold temperatures. In that time, the beer has carbonated and has cleared (it was actually clear in the fermenter too; apparently with time 1469 does flocculate pretty well).

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Toast. Malt. Chocolate. Coffee. Caramel. Malt sweetness. No hops. Aroma is actually pretty strong. 

Taste: Follows the aroma. Chocolate, coffee, malt sweetness, a sweetness that lingers in the aftertaste. Sort of like chocolate that melts n your mouth. A slight tanginess. Low bitterness. Nutty. Slightly toasty. Caramel. Again, no hops.

Overall, really solid beer. The only change I'd make is to be more careful with the amount of malt. This beer clocks in at around 6%, but the goal was 5.4%, per the recipe. Next time I'd reduce the base malt by a pound or so.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

ESB tasting

I've been drinking this beer for about a week. It's evolved during that time. At first, it was a little sweet, cloudy. I think that was due to the yeast and proteins that had settled at the bottom of the keg. But as I've drunk more of it, and as the gelatin does its thing, it's changed. It's certainly more clear, but it seems thinner and drier too.

The more I drink it, though, the more I believe those aren't bad things. You don't want a flabby ESB. At least I don't. Admittedly, my experience with the style -- English beers in general -- is limited.

Anyhow, it's a tasty beer. And I'm pleased with it.

Flavor: Caramel. Fruity hops and esters. Almost a cherry flavor at times. Bready malt. Crust from a piece of toast. Low bitterness. Aftertaste is crackery.

Aroma: Malt. Clean. No hops. Bready.

Appearance varies from copper/amber to crimson, depending on how wide the glass is.

Update 1/1/18:

This was a really good beer. Flavor seemed evolve over time, from an intial hoppy, estery flavor to one that was more malty, cracker, and floral.  It cleared up over time as well.

Gelatin was very effective.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Brew day - ESB - 10/28/17

Clear wort. Beautiful copper color.

I've really cut back on brewing in the last year. That's because I decided to cut back drinking to weekends only (not always successful), I don't seem to have the same amount of interest I once had, and there are just so many different good commercial beers to buy.

But every once in awhile I get the itch to brew again. This time it came after thinking about Goose Island Honkers ale. I drank this beer years ago and recalled liking it. Maybe not as much as my favorite beer back then -- Boulevard pale ale -- but still a tasty beer. I stopped drinking it after I really got into craft beer four years ago. I'm not sure I specifically avoided it so much as I sort of forgot about it. I was so busy trying farmhouse ales and sours and the latest iterations of the IPAs that I just didn't ever buy it. And until recently I couldn't remember the last time I even saw it on the shelves.

It's still around, though, minus the elegant packaging, and sporting the new in-your-face, bold block-letter, hip (surely AB-designed) labels. I'd seen it in the last six months or so, but it was old, so I never bought it. However, recently I found some fairly fresh bottles -- bottled August 2, 2017 -- so I bought a single, followed by a six pack. I can't say for sure whether it's the same beer that I remember. Could it be because it's brewed by AB now? Could it be because I have more beer knowledge now, and whatever residual memory I have the beer back in 2010 is outstripped by the realization that the beer tastes like English hops? (I didn't even realize until very recently that the beer is an ESB). Is the beer actually the same? Either way, it's a solid beer and deserves more credit than it receives.

In the last year and a half, I've taken a strong interest in the original beer styles. There's a reason they've endured, and a reason why they've been assigned "styles." It's because they're good.

So Honkers Ale and English bitters in general were on my mind in advance of this particular brew day. I got a smack pack of Wyeast 1469 at my local shop and tried a beer that the owner had brewed with it. It was good. A guy in my homebrew club had brewed a tasty beer with it as well, and I had made a note of it. So I had my yeast. From there I constructed a recipe, actually based on an ESB recipe I had created in Brewtoad shortly after I started using that software nearly four years ago. I don't think I ever brewed the beer though. After modifying the recipe, it doesn't really resemble the original one.

I used 2-row, crystal 60 and crystal 80. The crystal malt is pretty old. Over three years old in fact. Same with the Fuggles and EKG hops. Admittedly not the best start to a great tasting beer, but I went with it anyway.

Brew day went smoothly. Beautiful copper, clear wort. OG around 1.052; volume around 5.25 gallons. I pitched a smack pack that swelled maybe 3/4 of the way. Pitching temp was in the upper 60s or so, but fermentation didn't really take off until the next day. Ambient temp in my house was around 60-62. Fermentation was well udnerway by the next afternoon.

I kegged the beer on November 10. I also bottled five beers, each with 1/4 tsp table sugar. FG was at 1.010.  Despite the relatively low temperature, the yeast produced a lot of fruity esters, which it is known to do. I'm impressed by the flavor, but it is nothing like Honkers Ale (not that I was necessarily trying to emulate that beer). At least the sample from the fermenter wasn't. Maybe after it's clear and carbonated it will more closely resemble it. It is hard to tell where the hops begin and the esters end, and vice versa. I don't have a lot of experience with these hops, particularly with an expressive yeast like West Yorkshire. Also, this yeast is not flocculent at all, despite what Wyeast has to say about that. The beer was very cloudy going into the keg. Which probably also explains the very small yeast cake. I had expected it to be much more substantial, given how vigorous the fermentation with this beer was. The krausen seemed to keep growing and growing. It even began to creep up into the airlock. A creamy krausen hung around for several days as fermentation completed.

Speaking of things not necessarily to Wyeast's specs. This yeast attenuated at 80%. That is well above what Wyeast indicates (67-71%). Therefore, the abv on this beer is around 5.5%. I had been aiming for 5% or under. This is something to keep in mind when designing recipes with this yeast.

After being in the kegerator about five hours, I opened the keg again and added gelatin (1 tsp of gelatin in a 1/4 cup of water heated to 150 degrees). I set the PSI around 30. This beer should be ready to drink pretty soon.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

July 1 Pale Ale

Aside from a failed English Bitter in March, I hadn't brewed since December, when I made my troublesome vanilla chocolate coffee stout. The keg with my 11-20-16 IPA had kicked a few weeks before (it stuck around for over six months; a record for me, I think) and I was down to less than half a keg of the stout.  So it was time to brew. I had temporarily lost interest in brewing, especially after the bitter didn't turn out. And I had also cut back on drinking, so I didn't need to brew as often. It was good to get back in the game.

I had a packet of US-05 sitting around for a long time; it expired in May 2017. Against my better judgment, I went ahead and used it. I figured there might be some risk, but I wasn't too far beyond the expiration date and the packet remained refrigerated the entire time. Nonetheless, I was worried, since I've had so many bad beers due to old yeast (usually just slurry sitting around in my fridge). It turns out that trying to save money on yeast a lot of times ends up costing you in time and ingredients.

Anyhow, I went forward with it. Thankfully, the beer turned out great. There are no off flavors. The beer is clearing up nicely and there's a strong fruity hop aroma and flavor. When I really think about it, this beer might suffer from a touch of harsh bitterness, just like the second beer. Occasionally, there's a slight odd flavor detectable in burps (blech), but I'm not sure if that's from the hop combination or a yeast issue. I can't detect the same flavor in the actual beer, though.

This beer is not what I had in mind when I decided to brew it. I had wanted to make something light, drinkable, somewhat malt-forward, maybe something with some crackery, biscuity, slightly toasty malt. An old school pale ale, kind of like Springfield Brewing Company's pale ale. To that end, I added a pound of two-year-old (!) victory malt. In the end, I think all it did was make the beer an orangish color. Maybe the hop flavor is too strong, but I just don't taste any victory malt. But I also veered away from old school by using a bunch of newish hops, including el dorado, galaxy, and equinox. So much for an old school pale ale!

But this is a solid beer and I would brew it again.

Update 11-5-17:

The beer has cleared up nicely. Still hanging around. The keg feels nearly empty, but the beer keeps flowing. Maybe because the difference between a gallon or two in a keg versus five is so great. But yet a gallon or two of beer is still pretty substantial. And I keep buying commercial beer, so the homebrew hangs around longer.

July 11 Pale Ale

This was the second beer brewed from a packet of US-05 that expired in May 2017. No off flavors and the first beer started fermenting quickly. This beer fermented swiftly as well. I kegged the first beer on July 10, put the yeast cake into a jar, and brewed this beer the next day. Once again, the yeast took off right away and the beer was, at least visually, completely fermented within three to four days.

I kegged this beer on July 20. It's remarkably clear; the wort, when I racked it to the fermenter, was pretty cloudy, despite a dose of Irish moss, so I was anticipating a somewhat murky beer. Additionally, the malt is a hodgepodge -- Avangard pale ale, 2-row, Avangard pilsner, and vienna -- so I kind of wondered if that might contribute some cloudiness, but it didn't. Or the higher mash temp. I'm not sure how PH works with beer and mash temps, but I wondered if that caused the haze.

I added about half an ounce each of equinox and galaxy hops to the keg. As a result, the aroma is pretty strong, mostly of equinox hops in my estimation. Equinox seems to be one of those hops that dominates, even though it didn't make up any more of the hop bill than any other hops.

This beer is slightly thin, perhaps owing to the two 16 oz bottles of mineral water I added to the wort post-chill. The beer came in over my anticipated gravity and under volume, so I added the water. I think it has just enough body though to not taste watery. It also makes the beer very "crushable." That said, there is something about the hops that I sort of find unpleasant. Maybe some harsh bitterness. Maybe it needs some sweetness to balance out the hops. Not a bad beer by any means though.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Chocolate Coffee Vanilla Stout

This beer is both a success and a bit of a letdown.

First the letdown. I intended to brew something along the lines of Stone Xocoveza. That's a really great beer, but it's expensive, and, plus, it's fun to try to homebrew a beer that rivals the real the thing. I started with the same base beer that I used for my chocolate coffee porter last year, though slightly modified. I considered all the ingredients I'd use and researched various clone recipes.

The biggest question, though, was how to get the chocolate flavor into the beer. In my porter, I added cacao nibs to the keg, but for some reason -- perhaps I didn't use enough, or maybe the coffee overwhelmed the flavor -- the chocolate just didn't come through in the resultant beer. So after reading some articles and watching a Northern Brewer video, I decided I'd try baker's chocolate. Research indicated that a long and vigorous boil would break down the fats in the chocolate. So I added eight ounces of baker's chocolate at the beginning of the oil. I can now report that the research is wrong.

The fat does not "go away." It stays right there in your kettle. So, right before racking to the fermenter, I spent a decent amount of time skimming oil from the top of the wort. I never got it all. In fact, it more or less blended into the beer, disappointingly not settling to the bottom. After being in the fermenter for three months, a layer of fat remained floating on top of hte beer. This was alarming to say the least.

I tried the beer. It was moderately astringent, presumably due to the suspended cocoa oils or from the cocoa itself. I considered giving up on the beer altogether, but I stuck with it.

I kegged it and added gelatin. That seemed to help with removing the solid particles and it cleared the beer, but the astringency never went away.

By now, I had given up on making this a Xocoveza clone. Instead, I decided I'd just add coffee, and, for the heck of it, a vanilla bean, since Brown Derby, just down the street, had Madagascar vanilla beans for about $1.50 each.

That astringency really disheartened me, though, so I just kept putting off adding the coffee and vanilla. Finally, about three or four weeks after kegging, I decided I'd waited long enough.

I had trouble with bits of ground coffee in my porter last time. So this time, I decided I needed to figure out how to make it coarser. Crushing it in a plastic bag? Nope, didn't work; took too long. So I just got out my coffee grinder again.

I ground three ounces of Heroes Kenya coffee as coarsely as I could. I transferred it between two paint bags three or four times and shook the bag, which removed a lot of coffee dust.

Next, I split the vanilla bean down the middle. I added the coffee and vanilla bean to a paint bag and dropped in the beer. Voila, coffee vanilla stout.

The beer looks really nice, with a tan to brown head. Carbonation is slightly low, but seems to be in line with the style. Aroma is coffee and chocolate malt. Fairly clear, surprisingly. The head retention seems better this time around, since I was able to get rid of those small coffee bits. The vanilla is pretty intense, and so is the coffee for that matter. But the chocolate is really no where to be found. If I try using coffee again, I'll probably use nibs, but in the boil, not in the keg. I will not be using baker's chocolate again. The coffee and vanilla seem to have hidden the astringency, which is a relief.

All in all, not a bad beer; it's just not the one I aimed to make starting out. But that's ok, it's still pretty tasty.