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.

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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

11-20-16 IPA

I've cut back on drinking lately, so my beer hangs around longer. I brewed this beer on Nov. 20 and kegged it Dec. 11. The keg is mostly full, owing to drinking the veterans day ipa first, and to the fact that this one is a bit harsh.

I was going for the New England style. I'd say I nailed the appearance. It's certainly hazy, but not murky.

Low to medium-low aroma.

Flavor is generic fruit. Grapefruit. Orange juice. Where do these beer reviewers come up with all these specific terms? Mango, papaya, and what not. Most of the time they taste like some sort of unidentifiable fruit. Or grapefruit. As does this one.

Upfront this beer tastes fine. But the aftertaste is where it fails. As usual, I dry-hopped this beer in the keg, using a paint bag suspended with unflavored dental floss.

I had difficulty carbonating the beer. I set the PSI at 30 or 35 for a day or two and the beer simply would not carbonate. I have no idea why. Ultimately I decided to use the shake method. Unfortunately, when I did that, the hops leaked out of the bag. So now, the beer has bits of hops in it. And I think the hops are contributing the harsh character to the beer. Before I kegged it, I sampled it, and it was well balanced. Not overly bitter. Good fruity flavor. Nice maltiness. But now it's slightly harsh. I've never had this issue with harshness for prior keg-dry-hopped beers.

Anyhow, going forward, I'll be cautious about dry hopping.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Veterans Day (Galaxy & Citra) IPA

Coming off about seven months of lagers, I was ready for an IPA again. I felt inspired after trying some IPAs at Narrow Gauge in Florissant, MO. I've read a lot about the northeast style ipa (NEIPA), but I had never tried a real one, and still have never had one from the actual northeast.

But, again, I've read a lot of the research, so I felt like I knew enough to brew one myself (and this actually wasn't my first attempt). 

For this beer, I went with Wyeast 1318, oats, wheat, and galaxy and citra hops. The result is certainly hazy.

The keg just kicked today, and for a three-month old beer, it has held up amazingly well. Perhaps because I dry-hop in the keg and don't remove the hops. Which might also be my downfall for this and the beer just after this one.

As I recall, I used the shake method to carbonate this keg at least once. I guess that wasn't enough, because I know I set the PSI at about 30-35 for 24 hours just before Thanksgiving, which got the carbonation to the level I wanted. But anyway, the shaking somehow allowed a lot of hop matter to get out of the mash paint bag I use to dry hop.

The result is a somewhat harsh beer, and a lot of tiny hop pieces visible in the beer.

It tastes pretty solid though, if a tough astringent from all those hops. Galaxy dominates; maybe citra just a tad in the background? 

Pretty strong aroma.

Low clarity, as seen in the above picture, but that was taken a week or two ago, and the beer had cleared up substantially as of today. 

Brewed: 11/11/2016
Kegged: 11/20/2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

Vienna Lager

Over the past year, I took a strong interest in lagers, particularly German lagers. I researched a number of varieties and tried several commercial beers. Eventually, Vienna Lager made it onto my list of beers to brew. I understand it's not of German heritage, so it doesn't really fit the German theme, but for this beer I used German yeast (34/70), German malt (Avangard Vienna), and German hops.

I kegged this beer nearly three months ago, and it cleared nicely without the use of gelatin or other clarifying agents (aside from Irish Moss in the boil). However, this keg is stored elsewhere, and the CO2 tank with it is too large to fit in the fridge, so I just attach the gas when I want to draw off a pint. The end result, though, was dwindling carbonation. The beer in the photos is under-carbonated. I later utilized the shake method to force carbonate the beer, which rendered it cloudy again.

How does it taste and smell? The aroma is of slight caramel, sweetness, bread. The taste is bready, with hops lacking. Commercial examples (including the fantastic Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager) I've had were prominently hoppy. The upside is that the restrained hops allow the malt to shine through nicely, and it does. Taste is not quite as complex as the nose. When crystal clear, meaning that all the flavor-impacting solid particulates have dropped out, it even has a tangy, fruity quality--apparently in the realm of citrus, according to my dad. Perhaps some residual hops? This beer tastes extremely clean, so I don't believe any esters made it through.

Finally, I have to say I'm quite pleased with 34/70 yeast overall. It's pretty easy to use and produces a tasty beer. There might be a limit to the number of generations you can use it before it starts throwing off flavors (this last packet I used three times, with Helles 5 being the last), but when it's doing what it's supposed to, it's excellent. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Helles 5

This is probably the best helles I've brewed to date. It has the perfect mix of grainy flavor and lager crispness, without the astringency or metallic notes from prior versions.

It is yet another simply smash beer, with 100% Weyermann pilsner malt and 3.2% AA Hallertauer hops (purchased a couple years ago, but they worked out fine).

I kegged this beer over three weeks ago, in hopes that that would be enough time for any yeast and chill haze to settle out. But it didn't. So I hit it with gelatin on Sunday night (October 23), and the beer was clear by Tuesday night. It is really looking nice.

A little under-carbonated at this point, but it tastes great.

Further clarification:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Helles 4 - failure

They can't all be winners I guess. I fermented this beer with yeast I cultured up from a can of White River Fall Creek Lager, an oktoberfest. I began culturing the yeast before I knew exactly what strain it is. The brewery replied that it is 34/70, which was disappointing as I had used that yeast many times.

Nonetheless, I continued trying to build up yeast cells. However, I think I rushed it, and as a result, my starter wasn't strong enough. I decided I wanted to brew one day and that was the yeast I had on hand, so I went for it. I didn't think much of the lag period, as that's typical for a first pitch of 34/70.

In retrospect, though, I think I massively underpitched. This beer tastes heavily of clove and maybe a touch of banana. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was some sort of Belgian beer, such as saison. A helles is all about malt, and there is no malt flavor in this.

I purchased the grain for this beer with a gift card I got for my birthday, so I feel bad about just dumping it. So I've been more or less choking it down -- overly strong language, actually. It's not undrinkable. Just not a helles. Oh well, live and learn!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Helles version 3 - kellerbier?

Lagers have quickly become my favorite type of beer to brew, and buy, for that matter. If I had to add up the receipts for all my commercial beer purchases this year -- at least for the last six months -- lagers would certainly be the majority.

true color. other photos are filtered.

I've brewed so many, I think, because I realized I love them; the (perceived) challenge; and lack of commercial availability, at least locally.

Like any beer you make, though, it takes awhile to figure them out. There are a million different grain, hop, and yeast cominations, and each will lead to varying results.

With this beer, I think I've found one that I really like. It's another SMASH, with 100% Avangard pils and an ounce of Tettnanger hops at 60 minutes.

If you look at the beer advocate definition of kellerbier, it would seem to fit: unfiltered cloudy lager, which this definitely is. But this helles will clear up over time, and was actually quite translucent going into the keg. I guess kellerbier remains cloudy, which this won't, so maybe that's the difference. The style guidelines don't seem to distinguish it from other styles aside from cloudiness. In fact, the BJCP definition for kellerbier is extremely ambiguous, noting that "the style is somewhat hard to pin down" and that it is often just young beer. Which this is. So maybe this is a kellerbier helles.

The past helles I've brewed needed some lagering, but this is tasting great already. It has a tasty grainy, corny flavor that I really like. If I didn't know better, I wouldn't think there were any hops in it, aside from apparent yet subtle bitterness.

This beer is nearly white; it has just a twinge of yellow. Perhaps out of style? I really like the taste of just pilsner malt. Maybe I could add some color through decoction. Yet my brew days are long enough as they are, so decoction is probably not in my future, at least any time soon.

Did I hit upon a good malt/hop combo, or have I settled on a recipe that suits my preferences? I've brewed two prior helles. The first had avangard pils, a touch of munich, and two ounces of hersbrucker hops. As I recall, the sample from the fermenter as it was kegged tasted pretty good. It's hard to say for sure how it was, though, since the beer was ruined by a paperclip in the keg.

Version 2 used 100% Rahr pils and Hallertau hops, one ounce at 45 minutes. This one sort of had a metallic flavor at times. No paperclip this time, but I've read that noble hops can taste metallic.

I currently have two additional versions fermenting. Both smash beers. One is a Rahr/Hallertau combo and the other is a Weyermann/Hallertau combo. I'll see how they compare.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Random lager - or just a lighter dunkel?

So often in brewing I reach a point where I have a little bit of a variety of different ingredients. I had a bunch of munich and pilsner on hand but not enough to make anything for which I'd need a substantial amount of either of those. So I just threw a bunch of grains together: munich, dark munich, pilsner. And caramunich II and carafa iii for color.

I didn't intend to adhere to any specific style in brewing this beer, and in fact, I was deliberately avoiding a particular style. Nonetheless, it occurred to me later on that I had basically made another dunkel. This one is much lighter and less sweet, having a FG of 1.008.

It's a solid beer. Good color, good clarity and flavor.

This beer is the first one I've clarified with gelatin. I kegged it on July 11 and the next night I added 1/4 cup and about a teaspoon of gelatin to the keg. About 20 hours later -- obviously less than the recommended 24 hours -- I drew off a pint or two of yeasty clumpy beer and discarded it. From there on, the beer has cleared up quite well. I think I will use it on all pale or semi-pale lagers going forward. It seems to create clear beer much more quickly than my typical method, which is to let the keg sit in the fridge for awhile. But I can't resist drinking/sampling the beer, so the first half or 2/3 of the keg is cloudy and yeasty and not as good as the last 1/3, which is bright and delicious. But by then the beer is nearly gone.

I don't mind cloudy beer for pale ales and IPAs. The hops are so prominent that any protein or yeast in suspension is overridden. But I have found that lagers need to be clear in order to taste right. They need crispness that only comes from clear beer.

Flavor: caramel. Malt. Moderate sweetness. No hops. Lager tanginess and crispness.

Appearance: deep amber. Good clarity.

Overall: pretty solid beer for something that I just threw together. It's fairly dry, so it's quite drinkable on a hot day.

On another note, I really wish there were more "craft" lagers available to purchase. Right now it seems mostly what you see is IPAs, stouts, and sours. I think lagers are quietly making a resurgence though. For example, Stone, of all breweries, just came out with a pilsner. More and more you'll see them on the shelves. They're really delicious beers and are quite underrated.

I think someone looking to get into commercial brewing could carve out a niche by specializing on lagers. Sure, there are some that already do that, but the vast majority focus on ales. Which leads to a lot of "sameness." After awhile, an IPA starts to taste the same everywhere you go. Make it pale and use popular fruit-forward hops. That's the current trend. You see that everywhere and they taste the same. But you just don't see lagers all that much. A nice helles somewhere? Rare. A Vienna lager? Nope. A dunkel? What? The world of lager is vast and overlooked; that needs to change.

Update: This beer looking (and tasting) really nice on a hot day:

Monday, July 18, 2016

helles version 2

Helles #1 turned out to be a disaster, due to brewer packaging error. All that research and waiting time for naught.

Before I realized a paper clip in the keg ruined that beer, I decided I'd give helles another shot, before perhaps just giving up on lagers altogether. So I brewed a very simple smash helles. Simply Rahr pilsner malt and hallertau hops.

After it was brewed, I dumped helles #1 and found the paper clip, which lifted my spirits, as I realized there wasn't a problem with my water or brewing process. Again I was encouraged when my dunkel turned out really well.

This beer was in the fermenter for about four weeks. Brewed on May 22; kegged on June 20. It stayed in the fermenter longer that I intended. I worried that that might have a negative impact on the beer. But I don't think it did. I tried a sample of the beer as it was being kegged (and thus warm and flat) and it tasted like warm, stale beer. That was concerning. But it tastes great now that it's cold, carbonated, and cleared up.

OG was 1.050, volume at about 5.25 gallons. Racked onto yeast cake that fermented the dunkel and helles #1. FG was 1.012.

I'm still trying to achieve something that tastes like Kansas City Bier Company helles or Weihenstephaner Original Premium. I'm not there yet. But this is a good beer. It reminds me of Gordon Biersch's Golden Export, which uses the same yeast and hops as mine (not sure what grain they use).

I've found that these beers just need to clear up to taste good. I don't really think there's any magic that happens with "lagering." Given time, gravity, and low temperatures, yeast, protein, hops, and other particulates will drop out of suspension, leaving behind a clear, crisp, clean, flavorful beer.

Clarity is important for this style of beer. In my opinion, a lager should be crisp, and it simply won't be crisp if it's hazy and yeasty.

Appearance: Very clear, but not crystal clear. Clearing with every pint drawn from the keg. Golden, with a faint haze.

Taste: Grain. Maybe a touch of astringency. Clean. No diacetyl, no off flavors. No hops. Except maybe a touch of a metallic hop flavor. NOT a paper clip this time. Grass. Hay. Bread. Little in the way of hop flavor. But there is a certain metallic flavor there. Incidentally, I had a miller lite in Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago. It tasted kind of like this beer. Not sure what to make of that. I'd be curious to find out what the PH of this beer is. It's got just the slightest touch of crisp, tanginess that a typical lager has.

Aroma: a hint of sulfur. grain. malt sweetness.

Overall, I'm pleased with this beer. I would definitely brew it again. I am fermenting these with a swamp cooler and ice bottles. I encourage anyone to give lagers a try.

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 sto...