Thursday, October 13, 2016

First Tasting: Two Hearted Clone

I’m way behind on this post, mostly due to laziness, but partially due to work travel and GABF. By now the keg has kicked, but I still have my tasting notes thankfully. I wanted to brew a beer that was as close as I could get to Bell’s Two Hearted. It’s one of my favorite IPAs due to how well balanced it is and its availability (if you’re in Bell’s distribution footprint, which I am not yet). It’s malty without being sweet and hoppy without being too bitter. The aroma is restrained, but complex. Since it’s not overly bitter, you’re able to drink a few of them without ruining your palette. To hold me over until Bell’s starts distributing in Texas (early 2017) and for the challenge I decided to try brewing a clone.

I was able to find a recipe from one of the Bell’s brewers online and went from there. There were a few adjustments on my part to adapt to my system, the grain I had on hand, and my water profile. I have no idea if Bell’s brews uses RO water and builds it up or if they use MI water, but I do know that their water source is somewhat similar to mine, in that it’s hard. I did my usual mash with SAWS water and sparge with RO to cut down on CaCo3 in the finished product. I’ve found this has really helped my hoppy beers by reducing the astringency. Other than that it was a pretty straight forward brew day. Since I don’t have access to Bell’s, however, I was not able to culture any house yeast from their bottles, but I did some research and determined that Cal V is a close representation to their house strain.

Appearance: Mildly hazy, just chill haze as it goes away when the beer warms up, orange-copper with a creamy white head, good retention that clings to the side of the glass.

Aroma: Citrusy, grapefruit, and some bready malt character. Balanced and restrained, not in your face but still hoppy with fruity yeast esters as well.

Flavor: Smooth bitterness on the citrus side with some bready malt character rounding it out. Clean with a slightly lingering bitterness balanced with the malt character.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation (could be a little higher), dry finish.

Overall: I’m very pleased with how this beer ended up. I wouldn’t say it is exactly like Two Hearted, but it’s pretty close and very good on its own. If I owned a brewpub, this would be one of my staple IPAs. After I increased the CO2 it helped to dry the beer out a bit and bring out the hops a little more, which I preferred. There isn’t really much I would change if and when I brew it again, perhaps the dry hopping, but that will probably take away from the malt character. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Helles: The Return of Hell Camino

If you read this blog you should have realized by now my love of pilsners. I have a ton of respect for any brewer and brewery that can brew them well. I feel, however, there is an often over looked style similar to pilsner, that should be much more popular, helles. Think of helles as the maltier, less hoppy, and smoother brother of pilsner. 

This is another post in my never ending quest for the perfect pilsner, but before I continue with that I’m going to point out how the title says helles but I said pilsner first. I first set out to brew a pilsner using the quick lager method from Brülosophy, but I wanted to change the recipe that I’ve used in the past to fit what my pallette has shifted to recently. I wanted a maltier and less hoppy pilsner, something along the lines of Live Oak Pilz. As usual I’m starting with Wayermann Pilsner as my base malt, but this time I’m adding Melonoidin malt to simulate a decoction mash (because I’m lazy and time is important to me). I forgot to purchase Carapils like I normally do for head retention, but it should be fine regardless. I also decided this time to use noble hops for hopping and no dry hop, rather than extract for bittering and Saphir for finishing and dry hop.

Back to my original point, I’ve been drinking this beer for a while and it is definitely not a pilsner. It’s not hoppy enough and it is too malty, however, it’s still very good and it ended up being my second favorite lager style, a helles, which I wanted to brew soon. This was a double batch so I could refill my other barrel and attempt to remove more of the booze and alcohol flavor. Hopefully it will take just one more beer to make it natural like my other barrel.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 10.5 Gallons
Boil time: 90 minutes
Est Original Gravity: 1.052
Measured Original Gravity: 1.053
Measured Final Gravity: 1.011
ABV: 5.5%
SRM: 5.9o
IBU: 28

Grain Bill
20lbs Wayermann Pilsner Malt
0.75lbs Melanoidin malt
1lbs Acid Malt

Hop Schedule
60 minutes – Hallertauer – 2 ounces
30 minutes – Tettnanger – 2 ounces

Mash schedule
146F single infusion for 25 minutes
156F Infusion with 5 quarts of boiling water

Two rehydrated packets of 34/70

8/5/16 – Brewed by myself. Mashed with RO water, pH 5.28 added 5 grams of gypsum and 0.5 grams of CaCl. Sparged with RO water. Chilled to 82F, the best I can do with my ground water in the summer and placed in the chest freezer to bring down to 60F. Oxygenated with pure O2 for 45 sec then pitched yeast when proper temperature was achieved. Fermentation temperature set to 60F

8/10/16 – Temperature increased to 70F

8/20/16 – Decreased temperature to 45F and added gelatin for clarifying. Decreased temperature to 34F to cold crash

8/21/16 – Kegged beer and set pressure to 30psi.

8/24/16 – Decreased pressure to 8psi.

Friday, September 2, 2016

First Tasting: Celebration Ale Clone

My goal for attempting a clone of Celebration ale was to nail down a recipe that I could use whenever I felt I wanted to dink Celebration out of season. I also liked the challenge of making it because it’s one of my favorite beers. To construct the grain bill and hop bill I went to Sierra Nevada’s website to gather information. Their site list the starting gravity as 16oP (1.065) and final gravity as 4oP (1.016) and 65 IBUs. The hops are Chinook and Centennial for bittering, and Cascade and Centennial for flavor and aroma. The grain is pale two-row and caramel malt and the yeast is obviously Chico. There is no mention of SRM, but there are plenty of pictures and I’ve drank enough (I’m a professional at that part) to have a reasonable idea of what I’m looking for in the end. Somewhere around 18-22 SRM would be my guess.

To create my clone I entered everything into my calculator, playing with the additions and amounts until I ended up with the target bitterness, gravity and color. I was afraid I was using too much Caramel malt, but it is the only malt listed that would provide color. When it came to brew day I forgot to pick up Chinook hops so I just substituted with extra Centennial hops for my desired bitterness. If you recall from my original post it was kind of a screwed up brew day with everything else going on, but I ended up hitting my gravity target, just not my volume target.

Appearance: Mildly hazy, just chill haze as it goes away when the beer warms up, deep ruby-mahogany red, with an off-white head, good retention that clings to the side of the glass. It might be a touch dark.

Aroma: Slightly grassy, pine, grapefruit, and some caramel sweetness. The aroma is spot on from what I remember from Celebration ale, if not perhaps a touch sweet.

Flavor: This is where things get a little off. Rich bready caramel malt with a hint of pine like bitterness, but nowhere near enough to balance the sweetness. Looking back at it now I can see that I used way too much Crystal malt. In fact I don’t really know why I added Carapils.

Mouthfeel: Malty and chewy with a sweet finish and lingering malt flavor. The hops are all but covered up by the sweetness.

Overall: I know where I went wrong; it’s obviously the excess Caramel malt. To be honest, I’m not sure why I didn’t notice how much I was adding. I will definitely brew this beer again but I’m going to decrease the Caramel malt, or perhaps go with a lighter color and remove the Carapils. I’m going to assume all the Crystal malt is the reason for the slight under attenuation, which doesn’t do anything to help the sweetness. It’s not that it’s a bad beer; it’s just not Celebration ale. I can taste aspects of it in between the sweetness, but for someone who doesn’t like sweet things it’s over whelming. I’m slightly biased when it comes to that. When I brought it to a HBC meeting, everyone loved it for its maltiness. This is just an excuse to try again; rarely do I ever feel I nailed a beer on the first attempt. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bell's Two Hearted Ale Clone

As much as I love NEIPA I also really enjoy other more traditional IPAs. For me there will always be a special place for Bell’s Two Hearted ale. It was the first craft beer I had that really blew me away. It tasted so different and foreign from everything I had that I had to try more. When I first moved back to Texas there was a severe lack of options on the beer shelf at the liquor store, however, after some of our laws changed we’ve been experiencing an influx of new options. Yet out of them all there was one large brewery that we still don’t have that I wanted more than the others. That would be Bell’s. Luckily a few months ago the announced their decision to finally expand distribution to Texas, now I will have room in my suitcase when I visit Michigan for beers other than the 15 pack of Two Hearted.

Oddly enough I’ve never attempted a clone of Two Hearted. My guess was because after my first IPA attempts I decided not to brew IPAs until I started kegging and when I started kegging I was fascinated with NEIPAs, so that’s all I brewed. I figured it was finally time to brew one since I had the left over hops from my Celebration ale clone and all of the required base malt. The first step was determining the yeast I needed. I knew Bell’s used a specific house yeast strain, but I had to figure out what would be closest. After some research I gathered that Cal ale V was probably the closest thing to Bell’s house yeast if you can’t culture it from one of their bottles (they bottle condition and I’ve heard their pale ale is your best option if you can go that route). If you do a little research you can also find the clone recipe that John Mallet gave out for Two Hearted, which is helpful since their website doesn’t provide much information. I did find it odd that the clone recipe has a different starting gravity than the website.

As far as the brew day goes it was a little strange. I thought I came in under gravity, but I think I was just measuring my gravity incorrectly. I’ve changed the way I measure my pre-boil gravity as a result. I now either vigorously stir or wait for the wort to come to a boil before I pull some off and chill it. This process gives me a more accurate measurement. However, this time I ended up adding some DME to bring the gravity up, which subsequently brought it over my target, requiring me to add water later in the boil to balance it out. All in all it worked out.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 5 Gallons
Boil time: 75 minutes
Est Original Gravity: 1.066
Measured Original Gravity: 1.066
Measured Final Gravity: 1.012
ABV: 7.1%
SRM: 5.9o
IBU: 47

Grain Bill
10lbs Briess 2-row malt
2.85lbs Pale Ale malt
0.5lbs Cara-40 malt
0.5lbs Acid Malt

Hop Schedule
45 minutes – Centennial – 1.2 ounces
30 minutes – Centennial – 1.2 ounces
5 Days Dry hop – Centennial – 3 ounces

Mash schedule
151F single infusion for 60 minutes

1.5L starter of WLP051

7/29/16 – Brewed by myself. Mashed with SAWS water, pH 5.28 added 5 grams of gypsum and 0.5 grams of CaCl. Sparged with RO water. Chilled to 82F, the best I can do with my ground water in the summer and placed in the chest freezer to bring down to 65F. Oxygenated with pure O2 for 45 sec then pitched yeast when proper temperature was achieved. Fermentation temperature set to 68F

7/28/16 – Temperature increased to 70F

8/5/16 – Dry hops added and temperature set to 60F for pilsner fementation

8/10/16 – Beer placed in chest freezer to cold crash, gravity down to 1.012

8/17/16 – Beer racked to keg and placed CO2 set to 30psi

8/19/16 – CO2 lowered to serving pressure

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sierra Nevada Celebration Clone

Every year I buy a slim keg of Sierra Nevada Celebration ale because I realized that I love that beer and normally buy close to that amount in bottles. Why not buy the same quantity and keep it in a closed system? In theory the beer will stay fresher longer than if I were buying it in bottles, but really time is not a factor since I try to consume it quickly. I’m a professional, remember? Due to the fact that I always buy a keg of it I’ve never attempted to clone it. I also generally don’t like cloning beers that I can buy, because what’s the point? However, I can only buy Celebration seasonally, which means if I want to drink it now I can’t. Unless I’m drinking really old bottles. After looking into it I realized I basically only needed two different hops, aside from one addition in the beginning, I just needed Centennial and Cascade. I was low on Cascade and its cheaper to buy hops in bulk, so I put in an order for a pound of each. I didn’t need a pound of Centennial, but it gave me an excuse to try a Two Hearted clone (which is also one of my favorite beers that I’ve never tried to clone). Before anyone says anything, I’m aware that Celebration ale is a wet hop beer and I’m not using wet hops, but I’m trying to make a beer as close as possible without using the exact same ingredients.

I’m going to start by saying there were definitely a few issues during this brew day. I normally brew alone so when I brew with someone else it usually throws me off and I become distracted. On top of that I thought I planned to rack off a gallon to be used in a cider, but I didn’t take into account the volume difference, just the gravity. Then just for good measure my whirlpool hose clamp decided to not hold the hose and spray hot wort all over the garage. All and all I ended up with about 3 gallons of beer when I was planning on 5 gallons. Slightly disappointing, but since this is the first time I’ve brewed this recipe I’ll probably want to tweak it and rebrew in the future, I just don’t have to wait as long with only 3 gallons.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 5.5 Gallons
Boil time: 90 minutes
Est Original Gravity: 1.067
Measured Original Gravity: 1.065
Measured Final Gravity: 1.018
ABV: 6.1%
SRM: 17.4o
IBU: 67

Grain Bill
12.5lbs Briess 2-row malt
1.75lbs Crystal 40L
0.5lbs Caramel pils malt
0.5lbs Acid Malt

Hop Schedule
60 minutes – Centennial – 1 ounces (Should have been Chinook, but I forgot to buy it)
15 minutes – Cascade – 1.5 ounces
15 minutes – Centennial – 1.5 ounces
Whirlpool - 15 minutes – Cascade – 1.5 ounces
Whirlpool - 15 minutes – Centennial – 1.5 ounces

5 Days Dry hop – Cascade – 2 ounces

Mash Schedule
155oF single infusion for 60 minutes


1.5 L starter WLP001


7/16/16 – Brewed with Melody. Added 5 grams of gypsum and 0.5 grams of CaCl to the mash. Sparged with RO water. Mash ph measured at 5.27. Racked one gallon from the kettle to do a side boil for the cider. Pre-boil gravity 1.055. Chilled to 80F, which is as cold as I can get it in the summer, added pure O2 for 45 seconds and placed in chest freezer to chill wort to 65F. Yeast pitched 3 hours later after wort is correct temperature.

7/21/16 – Increased temperature to 68F

7/23/16 – increased temperature to 71F

7/25/16 – Placed in bathroom downstairs and added dry hops

7/29/16 – Kegged and set psi to 30, gravity only down to 1.018

7/30/16 – Lowered psi to serving pressure

9/2/16 - First tasting, overly sweet, way too much Crystal malt. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Zombie Barrel: How to bring an old barrel back to life

About a year ago I was presented with the opportunity to brew a beer with Freetail Brewing at their new commercial brewery. When we were finished they gave me 5 gallons of the Berliner we brewed to take home and ferment. However, this post isn’t about that beer. Before I left they also asked if I wanted any barrels (5 gallon barrels) since they don’t have any use for them at a large production facility and they had been sitting there for a long time. I only know a brief history of these barrels. I believe they are Balcones Distilling barrels, but I don’t necessarily know which product was in them. Based off the smell of mine I think it was a blue corn whiskey barrel. These barrels sat at the pub unused for a few years and then in the dock of the production brewery for at least a year, before I took one, where it sat in my upstairs guest room for over a year. I never planned on using the barrel for beer, just to break it down and use it for decorations. But then I was given another barrel, which was in pretty rough shape. Now that I had two barrels I thought to myself, “why not try to salvage the old one and see if it can make a drinkable beer”? I figured the worst thing that happens is that I’m out of 5 gallons of beer, or I never fully seal the barrel and can’t use it. The best outcome is that I have another barrel that I can make more sour beer with for blending and added biodiversity.

Step 1: Involved seeing if the barrel could even hold liquid. I placed the barrel in the sink, which had remained plugged from the time I took it and while it was at the brewery, and attempted to fill it with water. Right away there was a problem. The barrel was leaking water from between the staves faster than it could fill up. As a barrel dries out the wood shrinks, which causes gaps between the barrel’s staves, which is why it’s important to keep a barrel filled.

Step 2: After realizing I couldn’t fill the barrel to swell it I decided to fill the sink with water and fill the barrel as full as I could get it, hoping this would cause the barrel to hold water and start to absorb it to swell the wood again. The issue I had with the sink is that it was not deep enough to fully submerge the barrel and I didn’t have a bucket big enough to hold the barrel. I left the barrel right side up for 24 hours and then rotated the barrel upside down. I repeated these steps twice over the next few days. After rotating the barrel I could see an immediate difference in the look of the staves.

Step 3: After draining the barrel and removing it from the sink I attempted to hammer some of the rings closer to the center to tighten the staves.

Step 4: I drained the sink and checked to see if the barrel was leaking. Since it was still wet it was hard to tell. I filled the barrel until it was full and removed the barrel from the sink and placed it on a paper towel on its stand to let the outside dry to check for leaks. As the barrel dried it was clear there were still leaks on the bottom and around the head, through some of the staves and the bottom of the barrel head.

Step 5: I drained the barrel and filled it up with boiling water in an attempt to melt the wax that is in the barrel to plug up any holes. This worked for the staves on the head and the staves on the bottom of the barrel, but the barrel was still leaking around the head. The problem was the fact that the barrel was missing its ring that fits round the head. I didn’t have it and who knows where it was located.

Step 6: Lucky for me I had the backup barrel I wasn’t planning on using for beer. I decided to use one of the rings from it to replace the missing one and hopefully stop the leak. The problem was that my backup barrel was a different shape, so its smallest ring was too big for the head of my barrel. I decided to cut the rivets out of the ring and re-rivet it to the correct size. This process was pretty easy. I used my Dremel to cut the rivets out and I bent the ring as tight as I could around the head and marked it. I let the ring over hang a little bit knowing I would need it to be smaller than what I could bend it to tighten the head. After it was marked I drilled two holes through the ring and used the hand riveter I picked up to re-rivet the ring together. Once that was done I drained the barrel and hammered the ring to the head. Finally I refilled the barrel and left it to see if it would hold water.

Step 7: The next day I confirmed that the barrel was no longer leaking water and thus needed beer in it to find out if it could still make something drinkable. Luckily I had beer sitting around for blending and didn’t need all of it. I drained the barrel and gave it a smell test. I figured if it smelled awful then there was no point in using it. It didn’t smell bad, a little musty and it didn’t have the blue corn whiskey aroma any more, probably from all the rinsing, but well enough to where I thought I would refill it with beer. I filled it with my generic Saison recipe that I use, about 4 gallons worth, and topped up the remaining head space with a beer containing my house bug blend. I was not planning on using this barrel to get any clean beers out of it.


7/7/16 – Filled the barrel with beer.

8/7/16 – Pulled my first tasting from the barrel that I am attempting to bring back from the dead. Big barrel aroma, some booze, clean tart flavor. I might have actually saved it. I don’t think I’ll use this beer for fruit or anything yet since the barrel character is still really strong. I’ll need to give it a few batches until it becomes neutral. I might dry hop it. 

8/15/16 - Added 2 ounces of Galaxy dry hops

8/25/16 - Bottled 4 gallons with 180 grams of table sugar

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

First tasting: Tart Saison

I’ve been neglecting posting updates lately, which gives me a lot of new post in the next coming weeks so get ready for some hot and fast blogging in the next coming weeks. I’ll start with a beer that I’ve had for a while and never got around to reviewing. Partially out of the fact that he beer wasn’t ready and partially out of laziness. I brewed this beer a few weeks prior to blending for my “gueuze” so that I could use it to cut acidity if need be and to make some other blends at the same time. I have an ongoing quest to create the perfect tart saison. There are a few professional breweries that make great examples, slightly tart, dry, effervescent, spicy and fruity, and most important highly drinkable. I’ve attempted a few different methods in the past:

1)      Pitching sacc and bugs at the same time, which generally turns the beer into a sour beer and not a tart saison.
2)      Pitching only sacc and blending with a separate sour beer into it post fermentation. Results are nice this way and it allows me to control acidity post fermentation.
3)      Brewing exclusively with sacc and pitching bugs post fermentation – only attempted once and it might have been the closest to what I was looking for in the end

I have yet to try fermenting a beer separate from my barrel and then adding it to the barrel for a secondary fermentation, but it’s in the works. For this beer I went with method 2 since I had plenty of already soured beer around for blending.

Appearance: Pours clear golden yellow with some chill haze topped with a fluffy white head, moderate head retention.  

Aroma: Grapefruit up front with some underling grainy malt character and some spicy saison fermentation products.

Flavor: Tart grapefruit, citrus, lime, with a touch of bready malt and spices. The acidity is approaching the sour side of things, which takes away from the saison base.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied, crisp mouthfeel with a bone dry finish and lingering acidity. High carbonation

Overall: I’m pretty happy with how the beer turned out overall. I think it’s a good beer, but I think it lacks some of the saison character that I’m looking for in this beer. I might want to up the maltiness with some melanoidin malt, which I would normally say would be too malty for a saison; however it might hold up better with the acidity. I’m also thinking dry hopping with some type of spicy noble hop might increase the perception of spicy yeast characteristics. While I enjoy this beer I think there are some tweaks that can be made to improve it.