Friday, April 29, 2016

First Tasting: Hoppy Pilsner

I’ve only brewed one lager in the past so this was my second attempt at a lager. Pilsner is one of my favorite styles of beer, but it is also one of the more difficult styles to get right. Since it’s so light there is no easy way to hide flaws, they will be noticeable. I decided to brew something similar to Firestone-Walker Pivo Pils. It’s clean, bright, very drinkable and hoppy. It is probably my all-time favorite pilsner.

I’ve read in the past that the base malt you choose is crucial to the overall flavor of the beer. While this is true for all beers, it’s particularly important for Pilsner because it makes up anywhere from 90-100% of the malt. The lack of specialty malt is part of the reason that pilsners are so light colored. I’ve also heard that for the best malt character you have to use Weyermann Pilsner Malt. Unfortunately I only had Briess malt on hand, but I figured I’d give it a shot and see how it turns out.

Appearance: Slightly hazy very pale yellow in the beginning, probably from the dry hopping, since it clears up as it sits in the glass to become very clear.  The beer has a rocky white head, with what I consider poor retention for a pilsner. I’ve never brewed a beer this light looking before. I have no idea how it ended up that light.

Aroma: Slight grassy note and a hint of acetaldehyde with little to know malt character. I can’t figure out if I’m getting off fermentation notes or if it’s from the hops.

Flavor: More of the grassy and acetaldehyde in the flavor. Over time the acetaldehyde has died down, so it could have just been a young beer characteristic or I’ve become use to it over time. Very little malt character, which is disappointing. A slight acetic tinge on the back end, not off putting, nor is it from an infection. It might just be carbonic acid.

Mouthfeel: Light and crisp with high carbonation and a dry finish. Despite the other aspects I’m not pleased with, I’m very happy with the mouth feel. Since I don’t have a dual regulator on my CO2 tank I worry about having beers with different levels of carbonation.

Overall: There are definitely parts of the beer I don’t like, but there are other parts I do like. I have acquired a bag of Weyermann pilsner malt so in the future I will use this instead. I feel like a lot of flavor and aroma that I’m getting is due to the base malt. I might also dry hop during diacetyl rest instead of during my ramp down. I feel like the character of the dry hops will be less grassy if I let them sit at 70F instead of 50F, but that could be all in my head. Assuming the malt will make a big difference I’ll probably stick to a simple malt bill like before, however, I’m also contemplating adding some melanoidin malt for color and added maltiness, since I don’t perform a decoction mash.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New England Style "Juicy" IPA

There has been a recent trend and discussion between home brewers and between beer nerds regarding the clarity of beer and how it affects flavor and aroma. Some people believe that a hazy beer is a sign of “handmade craft” and clear beer is mass produced swill. On the other side of the debate, there is a discussion on whether or not the appearance of a beer changes the flavor. The long standard for IPA has most often come from the west coast. These IPAs are usually aggressively bittered, clear or with slight chill haze, dry finish and usually a combination of citrus and pine flavors and aromas. All of the sudden a different tasting IPA started coming out of New England, mainly Vermont, but has now spread to other areas in NE. These IPAs are usually very hazy, often described as turbid, with a soft creamy mouthfeel, with flavor and aroma usually described as “juicy.”

The debate rages around the appearance of the two different beers. Does the turbidity of the beer drastically affect the flavor and aroma? I personally don’t think that it does as much as people think. But since some of the IPAs that are coming out of NE are some of my favorite beers, I figured I’d attempt making one. I have a bunch of the 2015 harvest that I purchased and needed something to do with them. I believe that the flavor and aroma differences are less dependent on base grains, yeast, and appearance and more dependent on hop varietal selection and timing on hop addition. The grain bill I used is similar to the Mad Fermentationist attempt on a “NE style” IPA, however, I increased the pale malt to up my ABV to something similar to what I see coming out of NE. In the future I’m going to attempt to rebrew this beer using the same hop schedule and a different yeast and grain bill to make it more “west coast” style.

Normally I don’t mess with RO water, since I don’t have an RO system and it’s a pain to have to pick up and transport 5 gallons of water home. However, I decided to use it this time to cut down on my CaCO3 concentration. I feel that when you’re using a large amount of hops the CaCO3 causes an astringent taste and affects the aroma. I used the RO water to sparge so that my mash pH wouldn’t be too low like it was the last time I mashed with RO water.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 5.5 Gallons
Boil time: 60 minutes
Est Original Gravity: 1.072
Measured Original Gravity: 1.068
Measured Final Gravity: 1.012
ABV: 7.3%
SRM: 6.6o
IBU: 33

Grain Bill
9lbs Briss Pale Ale Malt
5lbs Wheat Malt
2lbs Flaked Oats
0.5lbs Carafoam

Hop Schedule
60 minutes – Hop Extract – 2 ml
0 minutes - Mosaic – 1.5 ounces
0 minutes - Cascade – 1 ounce
Whirlpool - 30 minutes - Citra – 2 ounce
Whirlpool - 30 minutes - Mosaic – 1 ounce
Whirlpool - 30 minutes - Cascade – 0.5 ounce
Fermentation Hops – 5 days– Cascade – 0.75 ounce
Fermentation Hops – 5 days– Mosaic – 1 ounce
Dry hops – 6 days – Citra – 1.5 ounce
Dry hops – 6 days – Mosaic – 1 ounce
Dry hops – 6 days – Cascade – 0.75 ounce

Mash Schedule
154oF single infusion for 60 minutes

1.5L starter of Wyeast London ale III 1318

3/28/16 – Brewed by myself. Added 6 grams of CaCl, 2 grams of gypsum to the mash, and 16ml of Lactic acid. Mash pH was 5.45 and my target was 5.28. Pre boil gravity measured at 1.058 and I collected 7 gallons. Sparge water was RO water with no adjustments made. Final boil pH measured at 5.3. Wort chilled to 72F and oxygenated with pure O2 for 45 seconds, then placed in bathroom at ambient temperature of 68F. Pitched yeast and 4 hours later I added the fermentation hops.

3/29/16 – Fermentation has begun

3/30/16 – Huge krausen that nearly came out of the top of the airlock, even with 1.5 gallons of head space.

4/2/16 – Added dry hops to carboy.

4/7/16 – Placed in chest freezer to cold crash. Gravity down to 1.012

4/9/16 – Racked to a CO2 flushed keg and set pressure to 20psi to force carbonate.

4/12/16 – Decreased CO2 setting to 10psi for serving.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hoppy Pils split batch

Ever since I brewed my first lager a few years ago, I’ve wanted to brew another; however, I don’t like tying up my kegerator/fermentation chamber to for extended periods of time. Since I was going to be in Iceland for a few days I decided to brew one of my favorite styles, a hoppy pilsner. Whenever I’m buying beer I usually buy things I don’t brew, more often than not its Firestone-Walker Pivo Pils (actually that was one of the beers I took with me to Iceland).

Lagers are not particularly difficult to brew, especially if you’re not doing any fancy mashing, they just require more temperature control. I have seen some exbeeriments with faster less traditional fermentation, which I plan on looking into in the future. For this beer I wanted to also test out the programing feature that my Black Box temperature controller has built into it. I thought it would be a good idea to learn to use it for future brewing endeavors while I’m away somewhere. The nice thing about a pilsner is that it has a pretty straight forward malt base and hopping schedule, because of this, I decided to brew 10 gallons and use half of it to top up my sour barrel.

I set the fermentation schedule that I have below in my notes. It started at 55F and went up over the next few days for a diacetyl rest, then back down for lagering. Luckily for me I correctly programmed the Black Box and it did all the work for me while I was away. If you have the chance to purchase a Black Box or are in the market for a temperature controller, I would highly recommend it.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 10.5 Gallons
Boil time: 75 minutes
Est Original Gravity: 1.051
Measured Original Gravity: 1.052
Measured Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 5.5%
SRM: 3.6o
IBU: 43

Grain Bill
20lbs Briss Pilsner Malt
1.25lbs Acid Patent

Hop Schedule
60 minutes – Hop Extract – 8 ml
0 minutes - Saphir – 2 ounce
Dry hop (55F) 5 days – Saphir – 2 ounce (Pilsner only)

Mash Schedule
146oF single infusion for 30 minutes
154oF infusion with 5 quarts of boiling water for 20 minutes

Two packets of W-34/70 Bohemian pilsner

2/19/16 – Brewed by myself. Added 5 grams of CaCl and 0.5 grams of gypsum to the mash. Mash pH was 5.27 and my target was 5.28. Pre boil gravity measured at 1.044 and I collected 13 gallons. Added 10 ml of lactic acid to sparge water. Boil pH measured at 5.15.Wort chilled to 78F and oxygenated with pure O2 for 30 seconds, then placed in chest freezer for 4 hours to chill further. Yeast rehydrated and pitched after additional chilling. I programed my black box temperature controller for the first time since I was going to be in Iceland for the first week of fermentation. The initial temperature was set at 55F.

2/28/16 – Increased temperature to 64F

3/1/16 – Increased temperature to 71F for diacetyl rest

3/4/16 – Slowly decreased temperature to 55F

3/13/16 – Decreased temperature to 34F for lager and set pressure at 20 psi.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Homebrewed Wine

To date the only things I’ve fermented are beer and bread. It’s not like I’m opposed to other beverages, and I’d like to start fermenting vegetables at some point, I just don’t normally want as much as the end product will produce and a small batch isn’t worth the time to me. I, however, have a friend who really enjoys wine. I told her “you know, you could always make it yourself.” I wouldn’t generally tell people that if you start to brew beer at home it will save you money, because most people that end up getting really into it invest a lot of money in equipment. Although, often, justified to make better, it certainly isn’t cheaper than buying a case of SNPA. She agreed that we should try it, because I already had all of the equipment we would need and actually had an open carboy for a change. 

We went with a wine kit, having never made it before, we both felt that would be the best way to make sure we come out with something drinkable.  We went with a vintners reserve series, because it came with everything we would need, yeast, fining agents, and stabilizers. The process was much different from brewing beer, even brewing an extract batch. 

Step 1: Pour in a half gallon of water into a cleaned container (it didn’t specify sanitized, even though I used 5 Star, I guess it’s not as emphasized in the wine industry) and add the bentonite. Stir until dissolved. 

Step 2: Pour grape must on top of water and clay mixture and top up with water to 6 gallons or 1.097-1.080 standard gravity. 

Step 3: Pitch yeast, wood powder and shake to mix thoroughly (the instructions didn’t specify to oxygenate, I would assume because either most home wine makers don’t have an oxygenation kit or because it’s not necessary). It was at this point that we were done. It didn’t have the same feeling of accomplish than that of brewing beer. Even extract brewing involves boiling and sometimes adding hops and chilling your boil. Wine, from a kit, is much more like adding ingredients together in a bowl, mixing and letting it sit. 
Step 4: Let the wine ferment in a cool (64F-72F) dark location for 5-7 days or until the gravity reaches 1.010. It took my batch a little bit longer due to my house being colder. At the end I wrapped my heater around it to warm it up to 72F. 

Step 5: Once the gravity has reached 1.010 rack the wine to a secondary vessel. I wasn’t sure if this was something that you are told to do in wine making, just as in brewing, from instructions, even though it usually isn’t necessary. However, I did it anyway. 

Step 6: When the wine has reached terminal gravity, roughly 10 days (0.996-0.998) add the stabilizers (metabisulphite and sorbate) to a cup of water and pour into the carboy. These are killing the yeast and potentially anything else in the wine so that it won’t carbonate in bottles if you are planning on adding sugar to back sweeten the wine or if the yeast were not finished. Shake the carboy or use a cleaned stirrer to degas the wine of residual carbonation. 

Step 7: Pour in fining agents to clarify the wine. I’ve never used finning agents before, but the instructions said to degas before or they won’t work.  Wait 14 days for the wine to clear fully. 

Step 8: After the wine has cleared and stabilized it’s time to bottle. I used my normal process, minus adding priming sugar. We went all fancy and actually used my corker for wine bottles and when we ran out of wine bottles I just filled up some beer bottles. 
At this point the wine is ready to drink, since it doesn’t need to be carbonated. At the end of the day it, as I stated earlier, it wasn’t as satisfying of a process as is brewing. What I like about brewing is that you have the ability to buy the same ingredients as professional brewers. With wine, the grapes do the speaking and many are only available to the grower. I felt like making wine was more like baby-sitting, not to belittle it, but when even compared to watered down beer production, there isn’t much you have to do. Use good grape must and take care of the yeast, you can make good wine. I’m not going to say it was the best wine ever, but it was definitely not the worst either. I have no problem making wine again, but I probably won’t be doing it for myself, as I’m rarely in the mood for a bottle or wine (maybe I’ll have to make a steak sometime for that).  It was an interesting experience, but I think I’ll stick to beer production.