Monday, October 10, 2016

Bacchanalia and Lisztomania

One bill, two beers, and a very full mash tun
Cheers, friends! Last weekend, I had a wonderful time brewing up my two Belgian beauties--beers whose inspiration (and names) literally came to me in a dream--Bacchanalia and Lisztomania. After making a nice starter of Wyeast 1214 on a stir plate, the big beer took off like a shot and fermented quite completely in only about four days. On Saturday evening, I brewed up the first, big beer by utterly filling my mash tun to the brim, then I re-sparged to collect the volume for the second batch and finished the second batch on Sunday afternoon. Here is what the two beers will look like, and the grain and hopping that I used for these beautiful batches:

Bacchanalia, a big dark Belgian strong ale:
Original specific gravity (measured by refractometer!): 1.096 (Target ABV: ~10%)
Bitterness: 32 IBU
Color: 15°L (deep amber)

18 lbs Belgian Pilsener malt
6 lbs white wheat malt
2 lbs dark Munich malt

Mash at 153° for 60 minutes

1 lbs Belgian dark candi syrup (90° L)

1 oz Phoenix hops (pellets 8.4% AA) @60 minutes
1 oz Phoenix hops (8.4% AA) @30 minutes

1 oz Hallertauer Hersbrucker (whole cone 4.5% AA) dry hop, 14 days

Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey yeast, 1.5 L starter

Aged on medium-toasted French oak (perhaps soaked in red wine) for 1 month

This should be a big, dark, complex beer with lots of dark fruit and spicy notes from the Belgian yeast and some real vanilla smoothness and light tannins from the French oak aging. As we found with my Sea Symphony Barleywine, whose last bottles we tasted on my birthday (mid April) this year, a good high-alcohol beer will age beautifully and improve in subtle complexity for years if you have the patience/willpower to let it do so. My plan for Bacchanalia is to try and be patient and taste a couple bottles per year, with a few careful tastes in the first year to gauge the potential of the brew. Luckily, we won't have to wait nearly as long for Bacchanalia's virtuosic little brother, my "small" second-runnings beer, Lisztomania:

Lisztomania, a virtuosic Belgian mini-IPA:
Original specific gravity: 1.036 (Target ABV: ~3.7%)
Bitterness: 32 IBU (but the bitterness balance will be very different in a smaller beer)
Color: 13°L (amber)

Same grain bill as above! Second runnings collected after first batch by sparging with ~180° water.

5 oz Belgian extra-dark candi syrup (180°L)

First-wort hop: 1 oz Belma (9.7%AA, notes of citrus, pineapple, strawberry, melon)
1 oz Citra (9.4%, notes of citrus, papayal, tropical fruit) @ 5 minutes left in boil
1 oz Belma @ flameout
1 oz Citra @ flameout

1 oz Belma dry-hop 7-10 days
1 oz Citra dry-hop 7-10 days

Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey yeast

This beer should be drinkable as soon as carbonated, with a bright, juicy, fruity hop character and a little bit of extra fruitiness/spice from the Belgian yeast. A virtuosic fresh, flavorful session beer with under 4% ABV, and in the ballpark of 115 calories (about the same caloric content as a BudLight, with about 50 times the flavor). I designed this beer to be a sort of mini Belgian-IPA, inspired in flavor profile by big Belgian IPAs like Green Flash Le Freak or Houblon Chouffe but with half the ABV.

We'll have the best of both worlds with these two dream-beers...a deep, complex dark Belgian strong ale that well likely age well for years to come, and a fruity mini/session-IPA that will be delicious, bright, and flavorful right out of the bottle once it's all carbonated. I will miss the speed and ease of my kegerator, but it'll still be great to make some tasty bottled beers in the meantime. I'll be tasting both soon to see how they are doing, and then we'll enjoy Lisztomania nice and fresh and savor Bacchanalia over the years...early tasting notes and a delicious coffee cream stout yet to come from the new setup here in MA!

Friday, September 30, 2016

The stuff on which dreams are made...literally

Greetings and cheers, readers! This entry finds me back in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, back where my wonderful journey with this hobby all began. As stated via Twitter earlier in the year, I have been sitting on ingredients for a couple of batches for a little while now. Since then, life happened and all of a sudden I found myself traveling, moving, and finally setting up shop back in my old stomping grounds. I am now finally in a place where I can actually get to brewing again. First up is a highly exciting project, one that literally came to me in a dream...

...Bacchanalia/Lisztomania--one grain bill, two beers. As previously seen with my Sea Symphony Barleywine, the last of which we drank on my birthday this year (nectar of the gods at 4 years old and around 10-11% ABV), I will do another go of one of the coolest and more historic brewing practices in existence--partigyle brewing. For the brewing novice, this is where we take one gigantic grain bill, this particular one involves 27 lbs of grain, and make two glorious batches from it. It is highly common in a home system to lose efficiency when brewing a super high gravity beer, so this process involves WAY overshooting the grain bill, making a large 10-12% beer from the first runnings with no sparge, then resparging and making a 3-4% small beer with the leftover sugars. This is great because we will end up with a delicious session beer that can be drunk right away and big ol' strong ale that will get better literally for years to come. But enough of the technical nonsense, let's get onto the beer.

Beer 1 - "Bacchanalia": a 10-12% dark Belgian strong ale with some oak aging (perhaps some wine-soaked oak aging). Expect lots of dark fruit, spicy complexity, and warming alcohol that will mellow over time.

Beer 2 - "Lisztomania": a virtuosic 3-4% pale ale with Belgian yeast, this experimental guy will be a sort of "mini-IPA" with Belma and Citra hop varieties, which carry lots of juicy, tropical fruit notes and a soft, mellow bitterness. I have a feeling this one will be gone in a flash.

More info to come once I get brewing. Until then, Prost!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sir Reginald's SMaSHing IPA (and a new cider experiment!)

First wort hoping kept this full pot from boiling over!
Hey all! Those of you that keep up with my twitter feed (@cuttshomebrew) have probably seen some of the updates from the last couple of brews, but I thought it was time to log them officially and give a little more information about these upcoming beauties. First of all, my new technique of yeast harvesting worked wonderfully well, and the WLP002 culture from the Husky Lad Mild Porter stayed clean, made a good starter, and is now fermenting vigorously away at the beautiful English IPA I cooked up. I am very excited to have such an easy and reliable new method for harvesting (and reharvesting) yeast, because I definitely have zeroed in on my favorite "house" strains for English (WLP002) and Belgian (WLP500) ales, and it's really nice to save some money on batches, as yeast is one of the more expensive elements of homebrewing.

I had a lot of fun brewing up this beer. I did a long (~2 hours) mash at 152°F, and then, instead of the usual bittering addition, I did some first wort hopping. This is a technique I've used in other beers to nice effect, where you add the hops to the hot wort in the boil kettle as you collect the runoff. Because the wort is hot but not boiling at this stage, certain volatile hop oils and compounds are extracted more effectively, resulting not only in an effective bittering component after boiling, but also more complexity in the flavor and aroma of the finished product. Additionally, this also helped to prevent a boil over in a very full pot. First wort hopping was one of the Top 10 Tips for a Super Hoppy Beer that I followed for this recipe. I also followed Callahan's advice of adding the aroma (flameout) addition once the beer cooled below 180°F and then doing a relatively long (~15 minute) steep of the aroma hops before chilling. I must say, whenever I smelled the hops hitting the hot wort, I got really excited for an EKG hop bomb of a beer. The starter made with the harvested yeast from the porter got the batch going really nicely, and it has been happily and vigorously fermenting for the last several days. Here is the simple yet specific recipe:

Sir Reginald's SMaSHing English IPA:
Projected ABV: 7%
Projected SRM: 7.6°L (a deep golden color)
Projected IBU: 46

14 lbs Maris Otter


3 oz East Kent Goldings @FWH
1 oz EKG @20 minutes
1 oz EKG @15
1 oz EKG @10
1 oz EKG 15 minute steep @180°

1 oz EKG dry hop 7 days
1 oz EKG dry hop 5 days
1 oz EKG dry hop 3 days

Awww yeah.

Prior to my brew day, I was really catching the fever while waiting for the starter to reach its full potential, so I finally whipped up a batch of graff, a type of cider that uses malt to achieve a desirable level of body and residual sweetness. I used the very popular Brandon O recipe on, combining 1 oz torrefied wheat, 1 lbs crystal 60, and 2 lbs of malt extract with 4 gallons of apple juice to make 5 gallons of delicious homegrown alchemy. I threw in some dry Nottingham yeast that took off like a shot and fermented like crazy for quite a few days, kicking off some really nice apple aromas. The other key with graff is that it is supposed to be very drinkable very quickly, so I should be enjoying it soon. I am very excited about this project, because while I have had some decent success making homebrewed ciders, I have never done more than a gallon or two at a time, and they've never come out quite exactly right. I really enjoy cider, and I know that many others do as well, so it will be nice to have a good, reliable recipe for draught cider.

The graff cider bubbles away
More updates to come soon! Prost!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Special edition post: lessons learned, tidbits from the process

I recently happened upon an excellent article on, 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 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!