Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Special edition post: lessons learned, tidbits from the process

I recently happened upon an excellent article on HomebrewTalk.com, where homebrewer Chris Callahan shared his Top 10 Tips for a Super Hoppy Beer. His tips are quite good, and I will definitely be using many of them in my upcoming Maris Otter/East Kent Golding IPA, but I also loved the way he presented the article, not claiming to be any kind of expert, but offering up some humble bits of advice in the form of lessons learned during the homebrew process. This caused me to reflect on important lessons I've learned throughout my own homebrewing process, ultimately asking the question, 'What makes my beer better now than it was when I started brewing six years ago?' Turns out, quite a bit. Let's explore:

On Cleanliness (Cleanliness is Godliness):
Sanitation is the key! Keep your stuff clean, and you'll be well on your way. The only reason I had any hope early on as a brewer was because I paid close attention to sanitation. You are never in too much of a hurry to make sure your stuff is clean, even if it just means one more dunk in the sanitizer. As sanitizers go, I really like StarSan. It is food grade, you don't have to rinse it, and you can reuse it as long as it maintains its acidity. I buy a big bottle of the stuff once in a great while and it lasts me forever. Keep it clean, y'all!

On Fermentation (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Starters):
Every time I have made a yeast starter for a batch of beer, I'm all like, why the heck don't I do this every damn time? Whenever I pitch a nice, healthy starter into a fresh batch of wort, fermentation is always speedy and beautiful, and the resulting beer is excellent. Happy yeast makes for happy beer. This is why I now make starters EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Whether it's a one-gallon experimental batch or a starter of simple wort on the stirplate, starters will make your beer better. You give the yeast more opportunity to do what it's supposed to do when you let it grow in the right conditions. While you don't need starters for dry yeast cultures, there are far more strains available in liquid form, and given my penchant for experimentation and recipe tweaking, I use almost exclusively liquid cultures, so it's important to always make a healthy starter.

On Fermentation Temperature (Keep it cool, man):
When I first started brewing, I was happy fermenting ales around or even above 70. My beers tasted fine, but once I started dialing my temperatures in and getting them closer to the ideal range for the yeast strains I was using, I noticed much cleaner, more nuanced flavors. This was especially effective in the crafting of English and American beers, and in the use of the German Hefeweizen yeast strain. Belgian strains do better at higher temperatures, but I still use similar methods to keep the temperature in check. I don't have a fermentation chamber or anything, but I have had a lot of success with the "swamp cooler" method. I put a wet T-shirt over the fermenter, and the evaporation of the water lowers the temperature significantly below ambient. I keep an eye on the temp and adjust the dampness of the shirt accordingly.

On Experimentation (A reminder to always be beer-curious):
Experiment as much as you can. This means exploring new styles AND perfecting familiar ones. It means brewing classic styles AND inventing perfect, inspired hybrid beers. It means conjuring up complex, inspired recipes AND seeking brilliance through simplicity with single malt and single hop (SMaSH) and other stripped-down recipes. Take risks and experiment as much as possible. This is one of the greatest joys of being a homebrewer (and human being), so get out there and get experimentin'! One of my favorite summer beers of all time was last year's Nuptiale, which was a summer wheat all-Citra pale ale with Shelburne farms honey and a generous helping of apricots...talk about brewing like a homebrewer! NOTE: Don't poo-poo fruit beers, if you do them well and still pay proper care to the base beer, you can end up with some great stuff with the fruit really complementing the other flavors. Additionally, if you are interested in experimenting with fruit, dried, unsweetened apricots do AMAZINGLY in beer. The two apricot beers I have made were magical.

On Belgian Beers (Big beer, good yeast, can't lose):
I feel like I could fill all four taps on my kegerator with different beers all fermented with WLP500. I have recently pledged to keep the Beehive Blonde as a semi-permanent fixture of the home kegerator. A delicious, complex beer resulting from a relatively simple recipe that SWMBO and I could drink all day, erry day. Here are a few points on the success I have found with Belgians:
-Higher alcohol (>5%) is good. Yeast/ester/phenol/fermentation character is so important to the flavor of Belgian beers, more sugar->more alcohol production->more fermentation character
-Some of this gravity should come from simple sugars. There are lots of great Belgian candi syrups and sugars out there, but this is also a great opportunity for experimentation. Honey, treacle, and other raw, unrefined sugars can create wonderful results.
-Find a strain you like. I love WLP500, which is the Westmalle Trappist Abbey strain. It is complex and wonderful, and it does really well at good ol' room temp.

On Roasty Beers (Brew simply so that others may simply drink):
In addition to having a pretty regular craving for a good Belgian-style ale, one of my main everyday beer cravings is for a good roasty toasty beer. I love stouts and porters, and I've made many good dark beers, all slightly different, all with some pretty key common denominators:
-Simple recipes. I find that simple recipes often give birth to the most complex and well-defined flavors I've ever experienced in my homebrewing. For me, this actually came out of a historical look at the porter/stout tradition. I realized that some of the most tried and true recipes in history were outstandingly simple, so when I gave my first go at an Irish dry stout, it was a very simple recipe. When I gave it my second go, it was with an even simpler recipe. Same goes for my historical porter, which only has a few ingredients. These beers had wonderfully well-rounded flavors and great roast character, with no muddiness.
-Skip the crystal/caramel malt. You just don't really need it. Brown malt has been one of my secrets to great porters, and I think it adds an amazing character to the beer.
-Session it up. I'm pretty sure the most alcoholic dark beer I've made has been about 5% abv, and I've never felt like I was sacrificing flavor. I contend that a session stout or porter is easily the best bang for your buck as a homebrewer, especially because most of the time, the only hop addition is at the beginning of the boil. Save some money and calories, and relish in a flavorful beer that you can drink all day long. I will definitely brew a big ol imperial stout someday, but for everyday enjoyment, I prefer a good session brew.
-Bonus:add a little roasty kick to other malty beers. I like an English mild or brown ale with a little hint of roast to it. Also, one of the best things about the only Irish red I ever brewed was the little bit of dry roast on the finish, which was achieved through some pale chocolate malt (highly recommend this).

On Hoppy Beers (Read the article I linked at the top!):
I have made many tasty pale ales, especially as single-hop beers. Like everything else, I try to keep them simple and balanced, with some nice citrus/pine flavors. It's time for some IPA experiments. First will be my Maris Otter/East Kent Golding SMaSH IPA, whose ingredients arrived in the mail yesterday! I also think I'm overdue for a go at a Belgian IPA (which I think will be good for summer) and I really want to try my hand at a big-ass imperial/double IPA, so there will be more on hoppy beers to come very soon!

Prost

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Husky Lad Mild Porter

Hey there readers! As you already know, I was right in the middle of another brew day when I last posted, so obviously it's time to post about the next beer! I am very excited about this one, as it is a sort of concept beer. I find that concept beers help creativity by giving brewers different parameters to explore in each recipe. This is why I love doing things like single-malt and single-hop (SMaSH) beers, hybrid styles like Belgian IPA and Belgian mild, and high-quality session (less than 5%--in many cases less than 4%) versions of beers. Thusly, drawing inspiration from one of my favorite recipes, the Westminster Porter, as well as one of my favorite and oft-revisited styles, English mild, I formulated a recipe for a flavorful low-abv dark beer that will be quick to mature and perfect for early fall. Here's the husky lad, then:

Target OG: 1.039
Target FG: 1.013
Target ABV: 3.5%
Target SRM: 27 L

6 lbs Maris Otter
1 lb brown malt
8 oz Special B malt
8 oz black patent malt

Mashed trains at 154, then I realized that I had about 

5 oz coconut palm sugar

So I added it to the wort. It has a great flavor and should help the beer to have a nice dry, roasty finish.

Hop schedule is as follows:
1 oz East Kent Goldings (4.5% AA) @60 min
1 oz EKG @30 min
1 oz EKG dry hop (because why not...I love dry hopping beers even when it is minimal and the beer is malt-forward. The EKG character should make for a beautiful, balanced beer)

Then I pitched WLP002 English Ale yeast

I had another excellent brew day, and ended up with beautiful wort the color of chocolate sauce that smelled and tasted of toasted bread crusts, coffee and sweet toffee. Fermentation is still going, but starting to slow down. WLP002 is very floccullent, and I cleared the beer with a whirlfloc tablet, so this should be a very clear, beautiful dark beer with those signature brown porter garnet hues. I can't wait to taste this one. I think it will be a recipe worthy of repeating, especially because of the low cost and sessionability. Anyway, we shall see! Until next time...cheers!





Saturday, September 26, 2015

Autumnal Equinox Beehive (Belgian) Blonde

Well, I have just pitched the yeast for beer number two in Ewing, so I better get to posting about beer number one! My first brew day in the new apartment went great. The stove far exceeded my expectations in functionality (it is electric), and I ended up with a gorgeous, big golden Belgian beer. I brewed the beer on the autumnal equinox, and something about that just felt right. Here is the recipe I used:

9 lbs Belgian Pilsner malt
2 lbs flaked wheat
1 lb Belgian biscuit malt
Mash @152 for 90 min, mashout for 10 min @168

1 oz East Kent Goldings hops @60 min
1 oz EKG @10 min

At the end of the boil add 1 lb clover honey and steep for 15 min

WLP500 Trappist Ale yeast with 1 L starter on stir plate (which took off like a shot!)

Mash temp started a little high, so I added some ice and brought it down to target. My stove heated things up very quickly during mash and sparge, and even brought a full volume of wort to a rolling boil relatively quickly with no signs of scorching, so I'm very pleasantly surprised with my setup in the new apartment. At flameout, I added the pound of honey and let it steep before chilling the golden wort down to 68 degrees and pitching the WLP500 starter. Fermentation has been healthy and vigorous, and has slowed a bit but is still going along steadily. I'm hoping the beer will dry out appropriately with lots of spicy/fruity yeast character, and the honey should help with that while adding a nice floral subtlety to the beer. I also think the EKG character will be beautiful in this big, flavorful blonde ale.

Can't wait to see how it turns out...Prost!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Post-move return to the game

Greetings, readers! It has been quite a while. After a couple of wonderful summer brews, including several repeatable highlights, a few factors led to a temporary hiatus, including lots of time away from home and a move to a new apartment (more about that in a second). While I have missed brewing a great deal, I am supremely excited for my next reboot. With the new apartment, I have enough room again for my homemade four-tap kegerator! Naturally, I had to plan out four brilliant batches to go on it first. 

I wanted to do a few simple-but-wonderful explorations, with one really wild "homebrew"-style beer. As such, it's now time to play "One of these things is not like the others":

Belgian Honey Blonde: a classic exploration of a 6-7% abv flavorful Belgian blonde, but instead of the classic candi sugar, I will use honey. Honey is awesome and I love the floral subtleties it adds to beer.

"Mild Porter": a porter-inspired English mild, so named because it will straddle the line between robust mild and low-abv porter 

SMaSH English IPA: a big ol' English IPA using only Maris Otter (my all-time favorite base malt) and East Kent Goldings. I bought my first-ever 1-pound bag of hops, because I will be using a great deal of EKG in the IPA, and I will also be using them in ALL FOUR OF THESE BEERS, so it will be a total EKG party.

PSL Stout: make fun if you want, but I love pumpkin beers, and I do crave a pumpkin spice latte from time to time when the air gets colder and crisper and the leaves start changing colors. This beer will be a coffee milk stout brewed with pumpkin and a potion of pie spices. I haven't been into making many crazy flavored things lately, mostly because I like the classic ingredients speak for themselves, but this idea just seemed too delicious to pass up.


Return of the four-tapper! Woohoo!

Monday, May 18, 2015

One-Gallon Dampfbier and Classic Hefeweizen

First batch in the new Big Mouth Bubbler!
I know this one is coming a bit late, but the last two Fridays have been terrific brew days that have involved the exploration of a beautiful, forgotten style of beer and the replication of a classic and beloved style. The first of these, my one-gallon yeast starter experimental batch, was a Dampfbier (German for "steam beer"), a style that finds its origins in the forests of Bavaria. The beer has a malt bill similar to a Märzen/Oktoberfest, but it is fermented with a German wheat beer strain of yeast, known for its banana/clove notes. I am very excited to see how this one turns out. The first taste of it was delicious, and since I was feeling adventurous, I dry-hopped the small batch with a little amount of Kent Goldings hops just for fun, thus influencing the eventual name of the recipe. I think this will be a delicious beer. When it had had a good week in the fermenter, I used the yeast cake to brew the second of these Bavarian beauties, a classic 50/50 wheat/pilsner Hefeweizen. For this 5-gallon batch, I got to use my new Big Mouth Bubbler, which worked great! Going to be very easy to take samples, rack, and clean later on, too.

It is worth noting, as well, that the brew store was in between shipments and out of WLP300 and Wy 3068, so I tried WLP380 Hefeweizen IV Ale on these beers. It supposedly creates a more pronounced banana/clove profile, and so far, showings have been excellent.

Steamy WASP ale:
Target OG: 1.050
Target FG: 1.011
Target ABV: 5%
Target IBU: 21
Projected SRM: 7°L (light amber)

1 lb Pilsner malt
10 oz light Munich malt
6 oz Vienna malt

.25 oz Hallertauer @60 min
.25 oz East Kent Goldings dry-hop for 7 days

WLP 380 Hefeweizen IV

El Jefe Bavarian Hefeweizen:
Target OG: 1.052
Target FG: 1.012
Target ABV: 5.2%
Target IBU: 12
Projected SRM: 3.2°L (straw/golden colored)

5 lbs German Pilsner malt
5 lbs German Wheat malt

,75 oz Hallertauer @60 min

WLP 380 Hefeweizen IV cake from Steamy WASP ale

I am very excited to taste both of these beers. I will probably bottle the Dampfbier on Friday, and I will keg the Hefeweizen a few days after that. Next up will be a 2-gallon experimental Nelson Sauvin/Vienna malt SMaSH Belgian IPA as the starter for Sarah and Evan's Nuptiale!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Westminster 1839 Porter Brew Day & Ordinary People Bottling

Tuesday morning, I went outside to grab my mash tun for some cleaning, and I knew that day had to be brew day. I prepped everything, got my mash going, and did a bunch of cleaning and sanitizing during the mash. During the boil, I racked Ordinary People to secondary, because I needed the yeast for the porter but there was still a little ferm action in the jug. I bottled it today, as FG was on point and fermentation had clearly died down. Ended up with 9 bottles of what should be a very tasty session beer.

Brew day of the porter went really well. I was very conscientious about sanitation, wort chilling was fast and efficient, the whirlpool/trub removal went really well, and I pitched a nice large volume of healthy yeast. Additionally, I collected a heaping volume of wort that I ended up boiling down for about an hour before adding my first hop addition, and the extra kettle caramelization should result in a really nice malt profile. My efficiency was 69%, which is a little low for my system (I usually get somewhere between 70-75%), but I still got an OG of 1.051, which should still give me a really nice ~5% ABV beer. I am really looking forward to this one, as the original version of this recipe (everything the same, but fermented with a different yeast strain) was my single favorite batch I've ever brewed. Here are a couple shots from brew day:

Blanket-insulated mash tun:

Siphoning Ordinary People to secondary to finish fermentation:

Siphoning clear, trub-free wort after the whirlpool:

Prost!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ordinary People Brew Day

Oh man, what a treat this was! When you are used to the sweaty, exhausting, and at times cumbersome act of brewing 5-gallon batches, with all that grain and water, brewing 1-gallon batches is a welcome change to the routine. I found that my brew day on Tuesday evening went much faster, as I was able to bring the wort to a boil and cool it to pitching temps much faster with the smaller quantity, plus cleanup was much easier and faster. I also found that certain elements, like the mash, were more accurate and easy, though the monitored brewpot method requires much more vigilance than the cooler method. In terms of efficiency, I hit my target OG on the money. At the end of the day, I was very happy and satisfied, and in many ways reminded of why I love brewing in the first place. Fermentation was off like a shot by this morning, and still trucking along vigorously now more than 24 hours later! I did a bit of live tweeting during the brew day, which was quite fun. And now...some pictures from the day!


A bamboo spatula makes for a perfect tiny mash paddle
Mash accuracy
Even had time to enjoy a barleywine
Vigorous fermentation by the next morning

Cheers!