Saturday, December 8, 2018

October 2018 Helles

What is a helles? When I think of the beer, I think German yeast, pilsner malt, and German hops. Little to no hop flavor or aroma. The malt should be the focus of the beer. Absolutely clean fermentation; no esters. Perhaps a touch of corny flavor or sulfur. Low abv, no more than 6%. Even that is on the upper range. A commercial standard: Weihenstephaner Original Premium. Am I correct on this? Perhaps. I'd have to go read the guidelines again.

I had taken a long break from brewing. I last brewed a beer in February of this year. Homebrewing is fairly strenuous work and somewhat time consuming. It takes several hours to brew a beer and clean. I had other things going on in my life and was also drinking a lot of commercial beer. There are so many good ones in the beer coolers these days.

But the itch started growing toward the summer into fall. I imagined the beers I wanted to make. One of which was a helles. I brewed no lagers in 2017 so it seemed a good time to make some more. My homebrew club had a competition in October. I went to help judge the competition at our usual meeting location, the homebrew shop. After judging, I looked around at their yeast selection and found Wyeast 2308. I think it was the only German yeast they had on hand. I was actually looking for a different yeast, maybe 2124 or 2206. Since 2308 was the only one they had on hand, I purchased it. The shop did not have Weyermann pilsner malt, only Avangard. So I went to a different shop and purchased 10 pounds of Weyermann pilsner.

The next day, I threw together a simple recipe in brewtoad. However, I forgot to update the batch size to 5 gallons from 5.5, the default. So I was thinking my 10 pounds of pilsner malt would generate a 1.50 beer. I had an ounce of Hallertau hops in my fridge. They were pretty old if I recall correctly. But these were 60 minute bittering hops so I was not concerned.

Brew day went smoothly. Wort, at 1.060 OG, went into the better bottle very clear. I pitched 2308 yeast from a swollen smack pack. I placed the fermenter in a plastic bucket filled with water and frozen water bottles. And then waited. And waited. Fermentation did not really take off for 24-36 hours. It formed a krausen about an inch thick, which faded fairly quickly. Six days later, expecting it was nearly finished, I checked the gravity. To my surprise, the gravity had only dropped to 1.030. I thought back to a single post I had read on a homebrewing forum about this yeast stalling and panicked. I thought that was happening to my beer. As such, I removed the beer from the bucket and let it ferment at ambient temperature. A few days later it had dropped to 1.020. And finally to 1.010-12 (sometimes hard to read the hydrometer) on November 8 when I kegged it. The yeast were still visibly moving around in the beer at that point, though to a lesser degree than before. However, I did not want the ABV increased any more, so I went ahead and kegged.

The first samples were hazy and a little sweet. Very grainy. Maybe slightly corny. Perhaps even a savory element. To the point that I thought perhaps others might detect diacetyl. I've never actually detected diacetyl in a beer. I drank it fresh from the keg this way for a few days before adding gelatin. Since then, the beer has started to clear up and is pretty crisp and golden.

By the second weekend in December, this beer has cleared up nicely. Taste is sort of a corny, pilsner malt with no detectable hops, in the aroma or flavor. Sometimes I pick up a musty almost metallic smell. But i noticed it yesterday while having some adjunct american lagers. So I'm not sure that its a flaw so much as a feature. That said, I also have Urban Chestnut Zwickel, which is not really a helles but sure tastes like one, and I didn't notice an aroma like that. Overall it's pretty drinkable and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. Not quite sure what I'd do to improve it. If I could somehow achieve the bready biscuity malt flavor that UC Zwickel has, I'd do it. But I don't have a clue what they do (their web site says their beer has caramel malt ... what!?).

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Kitchen sink pale ale thing

Every once in awhile it's fun to throw caution to the wind and just experiment. Except for when I first started homebrewing and didn't know what I was doing, I've generally tried to adhere to style guidelines. That doesn't mean that Brewtoad always tells me that my recipe conforms to the style, but they seem to be in the ballpark.

So this was a fun beer just to throw together with spare ingredients that I had. A little of this, a little of that. Literally. This beer has six different malts in it. Some of which were years old (some two-year-old pale ale (uncrushed); three-year special roast and victory (crushed)). But the resultant beer seems to indicate they are no worse for wear.

I also had a pound of 2016 cascade hops that I bought from YVH last year. I was wondering how the roasty malts would play with the grapefruit flavors from the hops. And now I have the answer.

Appearance: Still cloudy. Red. Tan head.

Taste: Maybe a touch metallic. I was thinking blood for some reason. Which sounds strange but I think it's just the way the roasty malts interact with teh grapefruit and bitterenss and it's only slightly percepitble in the finish and not unpleasant. Otherwise, notes of caramel, grapefruit. Breadiness. Kind of hard to detect roastiness actually. Regarding metallic tastes, this is something I don't usually perceive in my beer, so I don't believe it's a water issue.

Overall: An enjoyable beer. If I were given this beer not knowing anything about it, I feel like I would enjoy it. Which brings to mind something I've thought of often about my beers. Sometimes I wish I could enjoy them as I would a commercial beer or another homebrewer's, i.e., not being involved in the process and knowing everything about it. The first taste I have of any beer is impacted by my knowledge of what went into making it. Sometimes I wish I could just taste them blindly and say, yes I like this, or no I don't.

Another beer that is long gone. In fact, I dumped the remains (maybe half a keg) last week when I kegged my October 2018 smash/helles. I dry hopped this beer and intended to do so for only a few days, but ended up dropping the hop bag to the bottom of the keg when I opened it. So every pour had some hop bits floating around. The worst problem is that it sat in my garage for the warm spring months and I think some refermentation occurred. It seemed to have a slight off flavor after that.

Styrian Bitter tasting

If you want bright, punchy, "juicy" hops, look elsewhere. This beer isn't for you. But if you like hop flavor and bitterness and easy drinking beer, this is the one for you.

I brewed it on December 17, 2017, using the yeast cake from my brown ale. The brown ale was exceptionally clear after sitting in the fermenter since November 10 and I think the yeast sort of went dormant. Normally when I pitch fresh wort onto a yeast cake, the yeast starts fermenting it immediately. This one took close to 24 hours before things were really up and running. Initially there was a really odd fermentation as well. A krausen wasn't forming. Instead, the bubbles were floating to the surface and immediately dissipating, sort of like pouring soda. I got so worried that I impatiently pulled a sample with my thief and tasted it. Nothing wrong so I let it go. And a few hours later there was a normal creamy thick krausen on top. And I also had to install a blow off tube because it was seeping through the airlock.

I'm not sure how I thought of this beer. Perhaps I had read about Styrian Goldings somewhere and thought I'd try them? Whatever the thought process behind choosing the hops, the resultant beer is quite good, and I'm glad I used them.

It's not easy to describe the flavor. Some beers have flavors that are readily describable, others not so much. I've even heard of some hops tasting like chocolate. That's an interesting one. This one certainly doesn't taste like chocolate. What does it taste like? Maybe tea. Herbs. Grassiness. Maybe just the slightest flavor of lemon or orange juice.

Either way, they work well with in this beer, which is a real joy to drink. That was probably helped by the low ABV. The OG was 1.042. It was actually 1.046-48, but I added two 16 ounce bottles of water to the wort before pitching yeast (pitch #3 from the 1469 smack pack that fermented my ESB and Brown ale). FG was 1.014, probably owing to a mash temp in the 160s. I didn't intend to mash that high, but really didn't feel like waiting around with my cooler uncovered for it to cool off. According to Brewer's Friend, that calculates to a 3.68% ABV. This has to be the lowest alcohol beer I've ever brewed.

That's fine, though, because it makes it really drinkable. It's not thin. Good aroma, which matches the taste. Though sometimes I feel like I can detect a bit of funk in the aroma. When I kegged it, I noticed that some of the bubbles on the surface looked a little "dry," as if they were trapped below a thin surface of pellicle or something. Just to be safe, I went ahead and got a new smack pack of 1469 for the stout I brewed the same day.

Again, a really tasty beer and it seems like one I could call my flagship pale ale. I just love that it doesn't slam you in the face with bitterness, hop flavor, and sweetness. Yet it's not bland either. Just a really tasty, solid beer and a reminder that I need to keep brewing more session beers.

One other thing, the maris otter. I'm not sure if I can really pick it up or not. Sometimes, if I try it after it's warmed up a bit, I think I'm detecting some grainy, biscuity flavor that I assume Maris Otter tastes like, but I'm really not sure. I might have to make this one again with regular 2 row and see how it turns out. I had thought about doing a smash, but I didn't find the idea of a golden pale beer appealing this time. I've made a ton of those beers in my career and have ignore crystal malts during much of that time. It's time for a comeback!


5 gallons

7 lbs Maris Otter
.5 Crystal 60

1 oz Styrian Goldings (4% AA) at 60
1 oz SG at 30

Wyeast 1469.

This post has sat in my drafts for going on a year. This beer is long gone. I'm not even sure if I have any photos of it. It was a nice beer though. However, I brought it to a bottle share and I think only one person tried it. Homebrew -- at least a modest English bitter featuring restrained hops -- versus IPAs, sours, stouts and whatever else is all the rage is sadly not going to win out. 

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.