Wednesday, March 4, 2015

First tasting: Dark Mild v2 (aka Stock Ale)



As usual I’m behind on posting a review of a beer, but this time it’s because I was a little frustrated with it. The first time I brewed an English Mild it turned out awesome. This time from the beginning I could tell there was something off. I couldn’t figure out what it was but I knew there was something. About a week before sending samples to Bluebonnet Brewoff competition I poured a sample and little bits of pellicle came out of the faucet. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how it could have been infected. Although I use kegs for 100% Brett beers, this was not one of those kegs. It could have come from my draught lines, but all three of them could have been contaminated at one time and the other two beers were clean. It could have been from my better bottle or racking cane, but my IPA was in the carboy the batch before and used the same racking cane and it wasn’t infected. 

After some thought I think I narrowed the source down to the gas quick connect. I used the quick connect on the Mild keg to push my funky saison out of a storage corny keg and into a carboy for further aging and fermentation. Although I sanitized the connector when I put it on the saison keg, I can’t recall if I did that before returning it to the Mild keg. It’s an unfortunate situation, but I am intrigued to see if the judges notice any Brett character. I can get aspects of how the Brett has affected the beer, but not much on the flavor and aroma side. 

I brew a lot of funky beers, but rarely have infections. I’ve really only had 2 or 3 confirmed infections from cross contamination. There is, however, always a risk. If only there was a Stock ale category. 

Appearance: Slightly hazy but mostly clear brownish-red topped off by a quickly fading off white head. The head was the first thing that tipped me off to a chance of infection. When I poured the beer it made a fizzing sound and the head quickly faded as if something had destroyed some of the structure of the beer. So much for the Crystal malt.

Aroma: It seems to be more subdued then the last batch. I can get toffee and caramel hints, but not the same malty aroma that I had the first time. There isn’t any Brett stuff going on, but there is a mineral note in the background. 

Flavor: This is another aspect of the beer that seems empty. It just seems like it’s missing some of the flavor that was there last time. I get a stronger toffee flavor but less malty bready flavor. I would say it is not as sweet as it was last time, which is something that I wanted to change. I doubt that the small reduction in Crystal malt would have this much of an effect on flavor. 

Mouthfeel: The most obvious sign of an infection, other than the bits of pellicle, was the over carbonation and lack of mouth feel. My regulator is set at 6psi, which should be 1.6 volumes of CO2, however, it’s much higher than this. The mouth feel is thin and over carbonated with a dry finish. 

Overall: Things happen and it’s not that the beer is bad, it’s just not what I wanted. If I were a professional brewer, it would be going down the drain, but I’m a homebrewer and the beer is good. It’s just a good reminder that I need to be careful with my sanitization and pay attention to what I’m doing. At the end of the day, it’s a good beer, just not what I wanted. I am looking forward to the judges scores and reviews. At least I know what is wrong with it. I will definitely brew this beer again because I like having something low in alcohol on tap.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Club Brew: Low IBU IPA



This past weekend my homebrew club (Bexar Brewers) did a group brew for the upcoming Golden Age of Homebrewing event. This is the second time I’ve participated in a group brew even. Last time arrived towards the end with my carboy to collect wort to ferment and didn’t really do much brewing. This year I definitely wanted to help with the brewing. I chose to take an activate approach to the brewing process. As a group we decided to brew an APA, which is a bolder choice then what we normally chose to brew. Since we’re based in San Antonio we generally tailor our brewing choice to reflect the local beer scene. This isn’t Austin, we’re still learning as a city to enjoy craft beer, so we normally scale things back to be something approachable. This year, however, we’ve decided to take the training wheels off a bit and give people some hops (you can’t start to appreciate good beer if you never drink it).

After I took over brewing when our President left and forgot to add the first wort hop addition, I decided we should go with a non-traditional brewing approach. Why not? Just like people can be traditionalist with their beers, brewers can be the same way with their process. My plan was to use hop bursting since we were going to have left over hops. I shifted the first wort hoping to the 25 minute mark and combined it with the 20 minute addition. We then added a flame out addition. I had to convince everyone that we’re still going to have the bitterness for an APA but it will be more flavor than it will be bitterness. Some people couldn’t figure out why we were not adding a traditional early bitterness addition. It took a little bit of convincing, but luckily last meeting I brought my IPA that used hop bursting. It could also be that by then most people had consumed a good amount of beer and were more open to new ideas. I think an APA is the perfect plat form for carrying hop flavor and aroma. It doesn’t need to be as bitter as an IPA, but it can carry the same aroma. 

During the brew day we really didn’t encounter any brewing issues besides someone not showing up who was supposed to bring RO water, but a quick trip to the store fixed that problem. We did end up being more efficient then we planned, but it was only a couple of points so it won’t make much of a difference in the long run. The fun part will be trying everyone’s version to compare the influence of different yeast strains and to see what people do for dry hopping or if they choose to dry hop and their procedure for dry hopping. I plan on adding dry hops towards the end of the fermentation rather than after fermentation. 

Beer Stats
Batch size: 40 Gallons
Boil time: 60 minutes
Estimated OG: 1.055
Measured OG: 1.060
Measured FG:
ABV:
IBU: 37
SRM: 8o

Grain Bill
45 lb Pilsner malt
25 lb 2-row Pale Malt
5 lb Crystal 20L

Hop Schedule
25 min - 4 oz - Calypso
25 min - 6 oz - Cascade
5 min - 3 oz - Calypso
5 min - 5 oz - Cascade
Flame out - 3 oz - Calypso
Flame out - 3 oz - Cascade 

Mash Schedule
151oF – single infusion 

Water profile after adjustments
Ca 75, Mg 16, Na 25, Cl 53, So97

Yeast
1.5L starter of Conan Yeast

Notes:
2/22/15 – Brewed with members of the Bexar Brewers. Target efficiency was about 70% but we ended up being over. Added 12g gypsum, 2g CaCl 6g Epsom 4.5g salt to the mash with 30% blended RO water. Mash pH was somewhere between 5.0 and 5.4 according to the pH strips (made me happy I have an actual meter). Sparge 27 gallons filtered tap water and add 9 ml lactic, 10 grams gypsum and 2 grams CaCl. Chilled to 62oF and pitched yeast. Shook to aerate and placed in beer room to ferment at ambient temperature. Room at 64oF.

2/23/15 – Fermentation has started, nice one inch thick layer of krausen.

3/1/15 - Gravity down to 1.014. Added 2 ounces of Galaxy and 1 ounce of Mosaic hops. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

First Tasting: No-decoction Hefeweizen



Hefeweizens produce an interesting reaction from beer people. Some people really like them, while others range from indifferent to not liking them at all. I think a lot of this has to do with the specific strain of yeast that produces the traditional Hefeweizen aromas and flavors. It is a very phenolic strain that really needs temperature control. Without accurate temperature control and we’re talking 5-8oF, the phenolic esters produced can vary wildly. Some people don’t like the banana esters, some people don’t like the bubble gum esters (myself included), while others love them. 

I first really came to love Hefeweizens when I was in Germany for an internship. Up to that time I really didn’t like beer at all, but Hefeweizens were the first beer that I actually came to enjoy drinking, so for me they will always hold a place in my beer line up. I created my recipe to mimic the characteristics of commercial examples that I prefer: Live Oak, Weihenstephan, and Augustiner. They tend to be more on the side of balanced and restrained phenols. I also forgo a traditional decoction, because I’m lazy, and substitute with Melanoidin malt. Some people can say they can tell the difference, but I’m not convinced. 

Appearance: If I had enough beer I would have used two bottles to pour into a proper hefeweizen glass to highlight the color, but I gave half to my father since it’s his favorite style and I need some for competition entries. It pours a cloudy orange with yellow highlights and a creamy fluffy head that never fades completely and sticks to the side of the glass. If poured into a proper glass the yellow highlights are visible. 

Aroma: Thanks to fermentation control I was able to keep the esters at bay. There is a nice spicy/ clove aroma with bready notes and a touch of banana as it warms up. This is right where I like the aroma. I don’t like banana bombs nor do I like big spice bombs. 

Flavor: Spices up front followed by some grainy bready flavor from the melanoidin malt and finished with a hint of banana on the backend. Mixed in with the yeasty characteristics there is a slight acidity. At first I was worried that I lowered my pH too much, but I think it is more of a traditional “wheat-twang” and as soon as the yeast dregs are poured in it is subdued. Again all of the flavors are restrained without any one flavor standing out and screaming in your face. 

Mouthfeel: Bright carbonation, very prickly with a slightly creamy medium body and a dry finish. I’m very pleased with how easy this beer is to drink. I think the body is right where it should be and the finish is dry enough and carbonated enough to keep you coming back for more. 

Overall: I’m not really sure if this beer could have come out any better. I’m looking forward to receiving judge feedback (hopefully not to show I’m completely wrong and don’t know what I’m talking about). Normally I design a beer around what I like to drink and determine what category to enter the beer into. I have this problem with my IPA, it’s probably somewhere in between pale ale and IPA. This beer, however, is brewed to style. I guess I’ll wait and see if impartial judges agree with me or not.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Barrel Fermented Sour Saison (Gen 4)



Back in November over Thanksgiving I brewed a 10 gallon Saison batch for two purposes. Half of the batch was going to be fermented with Hill Farmstead dregs (I’m still not sure if the dregs were viable or if Hill Farmstead bottle conditions with a different strain or not) and the other half was to refill my sour barrel. This will be the 6th beer that I have aged in the barrel and the fourth sour beer. I initially started with two “clean” beers, an Imperial stout and a Barleywine. The barrel was a Ranger Creek Bourbon barrel that was drained and refilled with a smoked Bourbon. Neither clean beer has shown any sign of infection, even after two years of being in the bottle. After the second clean beer I decided to sour the barrel by adding Cantillon dregs. So far I believe that the barrel contains Cantillon, Crooked Stage, Upland dregs, and East Coast Yeast. 

Over time I have shortened the amount of time that I leave the beers in the barrel, which has also caused me to change my overall brewing procedure. The first sour beer I added I mashed high, as I typically do, and aged it for about a year. Generally this is not recommended with such a small barrel due to the high volume to surface area ratio, acetobacter acetic acid production will be higher than it would be in a large barrel due to the oxygen transmission through the wood. That beer did have an acetic character to it, but it was lower than I thought it would be after that amount of time. The second time I reduced the amount of time in the barrel from a year to roughly 6 months. This prevented acetic acid production, but I don’t think it fully attenuated (This is why I use strong bottles). 

For the third sour beer I decided to change my brewing procedure to account for a shorter time in the barrel. This time I decided I wanted the beer to be very dry and ferment quickly for a light tartness. I was targeting something you would find from an old school Saison. I mashed very low for a quick fermentation that would leave the beer with very little residual sugars to avoid bottle bombs and over carbonation issues in the future. I also knew that all the bugs in there would provide some acidity in a quick amount of time. My normal procedure for reusing my barrel is to bottle the day before brewing and rinse it with near boiling water just to clean out the yeast and trub from the bottle of the barrel, then rack directly into the barrel to ferment in the barrel. This time, however, I decided not to clean it out in hopes that the larger yeast count would start fermentation sooner than it has in the past. My target is terminal gravity with a light tartness in about a month and a half to two months. Then I might dry hop or add fruit to the beer. I’m hoping that I can use this barrel to start to crank out sour/tart Saisons every few months. 

Beer Stats
Batch Size: 5.25 Gallons
Boil time: 90 minutes
Original Gravity Est: 1.056
Original Gravity Measured: 1.055
Final Gravity:
ABV:
SRM: 5.29o
IBU: 15.62

Grain Bill
10 lbs - Pilsner Malt
1lb – White Wheat
0.75 lbs- Vienna Malt
0.5 lbs – Acid Malt

Hop Schedule
60 min – Kent Golding – 1 ounce

Mash Schedule
148oF - 90 min – Single infusion
160oF – 30 min – Boiling water infusion

Yeast
Wort added straight to the barrel, no additional yeast added

Notes:
2/7/14 – Brewed by myself. Added 2 grams of Gypsum and CaCl to the mash and 3 grams of Gypsum and CaCl to the sparge water. Somehow I came in about 10 points under my target pre-boil gravity, I really don’t know why it was so low. I added a pound of sugar to the boil which brought it up to where I wanted it. I’m fine with adding the sugar though because I want it to be dry and I was over my target mash temperature. Beyond that I didn’t have any other issues.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

First Tasting: Founder's Breakfast Stout Clone-ish



I’ve loved Founder’s Breakfast Stout for a long time. I feel it has the perfect balance of chocolate, coffee, and beer. All of the flavors are integrated well and nothing is truly over the top. I also enjoy that it’s an Imperial-ish stout that is not sweet, even with the chocolate addition. The coffee comes across as fresh coffee without the astringency, which I feel is both a testament to their process and the coffee that they choose to use. It also has an amazingly rich and creamy body and mouthfeel that makes it the perfect winter sipper, plenty of reason for me to attempt to brew something similar. 

My first example of this beer was pretty good, but it was very early in my brewing career, so I figured I would take another crack at it. Plus what’s better than to have 5 gallons of Breakfast stout on tap in the winter (even if its winter in Texas). 

Appearance: Pours a viscous black with a slightly off-white tan head about a centimeter thick that slowly fades to a thin lacing over the top of the beer. It certainly looks the part of a big Imperial stout. There isn’t much head that is produced when pouring due to the lower level of carbonation (and my issues I’m having with the keg) but its spot on for the mouthfeel.

Aroma: This is where the coffee shines though. I specifically chose a coffee that I thought would complement the flavors of the beer and was fresh. I went with a Mexican blend from Intelligentsia for its aromatics, subtle chocolate flavors, and low astringency. The aroma is a combination of fresh coffee beans, dark chocolate, caramel, and some roasted notes. I think the aroma is spot on for a FBS clone, only the coffee is fresher and more vibrant, not that it’s Founder’s fault. 

Flavor: This is where the chocolate shines through. When I first took a sample for my gravity reading I was worried that the chocolate was going to be overwhelming and too sweet, but luckily that faded and it balanced itself out. The flavor is predominantly dark chocolate with some coffee notes and a lingering bitterness. I would say that the bitterness is probably too high for the style, but its right where it should be for FBS. One of the things I like about FBS is the bitterness is on the high side, which I feel keeps the beer drinkable as opposed to cloying sweet. The bitterness comes across as a dark chocolate bitterness not as hop bitterness and it is not astringent. 

Mouthfeel:  Despite the issues I’m having with my leaky keg I’m able to keep the carbonation exactly where I want it. Low-medium carbonation that accentuates the creamy mouthfeel and full body of the beer. 

Overall: Personally I think I nailed it this time. I tried it next to FBS with a friend of mine and next to Austin Beerworks Spudnik and unanimously my beer was favored. Honestly I felt weird thinking that my beer was better, but it was hard to disagree, the flavors and aromatics were just brighter and fresher. I really don’t have anything that I feel like needs to be improved, other than using a keg that doesn’t leak CO2.  If you’re a fan of FBS I recommend brewing this beer.