Thursday, 20 December 2012

Brewing a Smuttynose Finestkind IPA clone

Smuttynose Brewing Company is probably one of the more well-known craft breweries in New England. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they are the sister company of Portsmouth Brewing, and have been brewing great beers since 1994. They brew several seasonal beers each year, monthly to bi-monthly editions of their "Big Beer" series, and, of course, their regular-release beers, my favorite of which is their Finestkind IPA.

Finestkind has often been described as the East Coast's version of a West Coast IPA. With what West Coast IPAs are now, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's definitely a very tasty beer. Quite piney, with some complementing citrus, and a very firm bitterness in the finish, it still manages to be very drinkable, and is easily an IPA that you could drink in quantity. The Smuttynose website page for Finestkind provides some helpful information to brewing a clone at home: OG and FG, IBUs, as well as the types of malts and hops used. However, there aren't percentages or amounts listed, which are obviously needed if you want to have a good chance at replicating the beer. Luckily for me (and other homebrewers), Mitch Steele's (of Stone Brewing Co.) latest book, "IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale", has plenty of additional information to help.

In addition to an extremely thorough history of India Pale Ale, Steele's book has a large recipe-section (probably at least 40 recipes), with information and notes provided by many breweries. Some recipes have more-detailed info than others, and, happily, the Finestkind recipe is one of these. With my Alpine Duet clone completely gone, and my Kern River Citra DIPA clone dwindling fast, attempting this recipe was an easy decision.

The Finestkind grist is quite simple, with the majority being 2-row malt, a small portion listed as "Pale ale malt" in the book (the Smutty website specifically mentions Crisp brand), and a tiny bit (3%) of Crystal 60 L. My personal experience has shown that simple malt bills like this typically make a more-drinkable IPA. What sets this apart from a lot of other IPAs is the high mash temperature: 155 F. However, the FG is still listed as 1.010, which is quite dry (as an IPA should be), so maybe the small proportion of specialty malts isn't enough to provide too many unfermentable sugars. I didn't have any Crisp Pale malt, so I subbed with Maris Otter (both have the same Lovibond rating and are fairly interchangeable).

Now, the important part for any good IPA: the hopping. Like a lot of other recipes in Steele's book, the hops are listed in percentages, specifically here 41.2% Magnum at the start of the boil, 24% Simcoe in 5-minute increments for the last 30 minutes, and 19.9% Centennial and 14.9% Santiam during the whirlpool. This approach makes it a bit tricky when trying to make your own recipe, since you don't know the final weight of all the hops, so you have to play with your brewing software a bit to a) come up with the correct percentages, and b) make sure your final IBUs come in correctly (since AA% will play a role). I did have to sub for the Santiam; Tettnanger and Hallertau are listed online as possible substitutes, so I went with Hallertau since I had it on-hand. Finally, after crash-cooling, the beer is to be dry-hopped with Amarillo for 7-10 days at a rate of 0.13 oz/gallon, or about 3/4 oz for your typical 5 gallon homebrew batch.

Other tips for the recipe include treating your brewing water with gypsum at 2.16 g/gallon (of course, your source water profile could cause varying results), and fermenting the beer with an American Ale yeast at 68 F. I had a packet of US-05 on hand, so used that. Otherwise, that's mostly it. For the recommended whirlpool, I stirred the wort at flameout and whirlpooled for 10 minutes before starting chilling. So, the IBUs will likely be a bit higher than calculated.

I'm a little confused by the listed color of the beer in the book; at 10.6 Lovibond, it seems higher than what the beer actually looks like, and Beersmith figures a color of 6.4 SRM from the recipe. From what I understand, Lovibond and SRM are close to interchangeable, but you normally see Lovibond reserved for malt color, and SRM for beer color. Either way, 6.4 SRM sounds closer to the real thing to me.

Luckily, for this clone, the actual commercial beer isn't impossible for me to find. Houlton, Maine isn't TOO far from here, and has a first-rate beer store (I know... in Houlton!), so I'll try to buy some Finestkind (and hopefully, fresh) to compare.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.060, FG 1.010, IBU 73, SRM 6.4, ABV 6.6%

4.64 kg (84%) Canadian 2-row
727 g (13%) Maris Otter
159 g (3%) Crystal 60 L

Magnum - 49 g (10.25% AA) @ 60 min
Simcoe - 24 g (11% AA), 4 g each @ 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 min
Centennial - 21 g @ 0 min (for 10-min whirlpool)
Hallertau - 14 g @ 0 min (for 10-min whirlpool)
Amarillo - 13 g dry-hop for 7-10 days
Centennial - 8 g dry-hop for 7-10 days

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 package, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; treated with 16 g gypsum (11 g mash, 5 g sparge)

- Brewed December 17th, 2012, by myself. 60-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at 155 F. Mashed out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp 168 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7 gallons in the kettle.

- SG 1.048 (target 1.049). 60-minute boil. 10-minute whirlpool at flame-out. Chilled to 62 F in about 20 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured and filtered into Better Bottle. OG a touch low at 1.059. Pitched rehydrated yeast at ~62 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after pitching. Placed BB in room with ambient temp set to 68 F.

18/12/12 - Temp was only at 64 F, and airlock activity was low. Turned on a space heater in the room to bump the temp up some.

19/12/12 - Better airlock activity, temp up to 68 F, now. Continued for several days before stopping.

2/1/13 - Racked beer to secondary and placed in fermentation chamber with temp set at 45 F.

6/1/13 - Added dry hops. Realized that I didn't even have 21 g of Amarillo as the recipe calls for, so I made up the difference with Centennial.

15/1/13 - Bottled with 98 g table sugar, aiming for 2.25 vol CO2 for 4.75 gallons, with a max temp of 74 F reached (due to being in warmer environment with Saison). Also added ~1/4 package of Nottingham yeast, rehydrated.

29/1/13 - Some early tasting notes... drinking nice, but the hop aroma/flavor is too subdued compared to the real thing (from what I remember). Maybe an issue with hop freshness?

5/2/13 - Oddly tasting much better now... the hop flavor/aroma is coming through quite well. I definitely see the similarities to Finestkind.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Tasting/Recipe : Stone Vertical Epic 090909 clone

An increasing number of craft breweries are releasing special beers once a year that are, of course, highly sought-after and therefore difficult to get. Some off the top of my head include Portsmouth Brewing's Kate the Great (of which I brewed a clone last November), Three Floyd's Dark Lord, and Boston Beer Company's Utopias (actually, I think that's every TWO years). One yearly-beer that is easier and cheaper to get your hands on comes from one of the most popular craft breweries in the U.S., Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA. I'm talking, of course, about the Vertical Epic series.

Since 2002, Stone has released a Belgian-style ale every year, on the same-numbered month and day of each year (i.e. February 2nd, 2002, March 3rd, 2003... the last beer in the series was just released yesterday, December 12th). The beer is different every year, varying from a Belgian Wit to a highly-spiced Saison, to a "Belgian Imperial Porter", which is the beer that I brewed in August of 2011. The VE090909 was the first of this series of beers that I tried, and I really enjoyed it. It had a lot of chocolate-character to it, some roastiness, with a slight background of fruit, oak, and characteristic Belgian-spiciness.

Luckily for all of us, the people at Stone have been good enough to release very-detailed homebrew recipes of each of their VE beers, about a year after they've been released. The recipe that I followed (to the best of what I had available) is found here; Stone even encourages sending in your homebrewed clones for a little competition, but only the year after the beer was originally made (putting mine out of commission).

This beer was by far the most-complicated recipe I had brewed at the time, and it probably still is, actually. It involved seven different malts in the grist, two hop additions (just at the bittering stage), some dark Belgian candi syrup, some spices in the whirlpool, and a short aging period on French oak. I used an equal amount of Bohemian Pilsner and Canadian 2-row to substitute for the recommended "Pale Malt". Aside from an additional substitution in the spices (I had no idea how to get dried tangerine peel, so I went with dried sweet orange instead, which I'm sure was a perfectly-suitable replacement), I was actually able to follow the recipe pretty closely.

The brewday went very well - I hit my numbers almost perfectly, had a healthy starter of Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes going... perfect. I pitched the yeast starter at 66 F (Stone fermented this beer at 72 F to maximize fruity esters) and set the Better Bottle in a laundry sink with some ice water. It was a very hot August day, and I knew temperature-control would possibly be an issue, so I aimed to keep the temp in the mid-to-high 60s until fermentation activity upped it to the low-70s. I had read that Wyeast 3522 was a bit of a powerhouse yeast, but I wasn't worried. Only 8 hours after pitching, however, the airlock had a lot of activity; however, the temp was still just at 68 F, so I went to bed and didn't think about it.

I woke up the next morning to my first (and so far, only) major beer explosion. The airlock had exploded out of the BB, and the walls, floor, ceiling, and door of the laundry room were completely covered in beer. It took hours to scrub off. A word of advice: use a blow-off tube when you can! Surprisingly, I didn't lose as much beer as I thought, but I'd say a good 3 litres were gone. After three weeks in primary, I racked the remaining beer into secondary and added the sanitized French oak chips. The Stone recipe recommends tasting the beer every 3 days until you get the oak character that you want; being afraid of overdoing it, I only keep the beer on the oak for 6 days. Therefore, the amount of oak character in my homebrewed version is very low, but it IS slightly detectable!

I plan on doing more of these Vertical Epic beers in the future, as the 090909 recipe does make a very tasty beer, and it ages great. My next attempt at this series will likely be the 020202, a high-gravity Witbier.

Appearance: Poured with a medium-sized, light-brown head that sticks around for a good while before finally starting to fade. Body is jet-black and opaque.

Aroma: Lots going on here. First off, the chocolate comes through pretty prominently, but it's backed up nicely by some complementing caramel/toffee sweetness, just a hint of oak, and a little alcohol. No hop aroma, as expected.

Taste: Dark chocolate, some caramel sweetness, and coffee. Finishes sweet, but with a firm, moderate bitterness and some nice spiciness from the yeast. Maybe a bit of astrigency. The flavors have mellowed now compared to a year ago, now that it's had some time to age. The oak and vanilla are there, but are pretty mild, as is the orange peel. Nice to see that they don't overpower the beer at all.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation. A slight amount of alcohol warmth that is actually welcome on a cold night!

Overall: Very tasty. I was lucky enough to have the real thing for the second time just a couple of weeks ago... it was among other beers, but I'd say the homebrewed version is pretty close. The commercial beer is definitely smoother, however.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 70% efficiency) OG 1.080, FG 1.018, IBU 54, SRM 46, ABV 8.1%

2.86 kg Bohemian Pilsner
2.86 kg Canadian 2-row
772 g Crystal 80 L
409 g Chocolate malt
341 g Aromatic malt
136 g Black Patent malt
136 g Carafa II

Magnum - 28 g (9,4% AA) @ 90 min
Pearle - 28 g (8.3% AA) @ 90 min

227 g Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (D2) @ 15 min
1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min
14 g Sweet Orange peel @ flameout
2.5 g Vanilla Bean (chopped) @ flameout

23 g French Oak chips, at 40 F, for 6 days

Yeast: Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes (with a 3 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, mash and sparge water treated with 1/2 tablet of campden.

- Brewed August 9th, 2011, by myself. 60-minute mash with 20.69 L of strike water, mashed in at 151 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. SG 1.059 (target 1.057). 90-minute boil. 10-minute whirlpool at flame-out. Chilled to 67 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched yeast slurry at ~66 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after pitching.

- Airlock activity quite high after only 8 hours; complete blow-out by next morning. Temp got as high as 75 F at one point, but mainly was able to keep it at ~72 F by keeping the BB in the laundry sink and continually adding ice water daily.

- Racked to secondary on August 30th and put in fermentation chamber with temp set at 40 F. Added sanitized French oak chips a few days later. After 6 more days, bottled with 111 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Brewing an Extra Special Bitter

Extra Special Bitter (ESB), one of the English Pale Ales, is one style of beer that even most non-beer geeks can say that they've tried at some point. This is mainly due to the wide availability of Fuller's ESB, probably the most well-known ESB around. If you can get it in the Maritimes, what does that tell you? It may not be the best ESB out there, but it's a classic example of the style that I always enjoy.

ESBs (also known as Strong Bitters), while exhibiting a medium to medium-high bitterness and hop flavor, as well as some hop aroma, still have a strong, supporting malt backbone and usually fruity esters to varying degrees. Despite the name, don't expect an English version of an American Imperial IPA. Usually reaching up to about 6% ABV, they're really not overly "strong", especially when compared to a lot of other beer styles. They're meant to be quite drinkable, if not sessionable like the Standard and Special Bitters of the same class.

The third beer I ever brewed was the ESB recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. I enjoyed that beer, but it was an extract batch with a partial boil, so I didn't get the hop utilization that you'd really want for this style. As a result, the bitterness was too low. For today's ESB, I decided to try something different. I looked at the recipe online ('Guvnah', by Matt and Jake Tucker) for the English Pale Ale gold-medal winner of the 2010 NHC. Substituting ingredients that I had on hand, the recipe below is what I came up with.

This is the first time that I've ever used a first wort hop (FWH) addition, where you add the hops into the boil kettle right before you drain the first runnings into it from the mashtun. You continue filling your kettle as normal; meanwhile, the hops are sitting in the hot wort, releasing their oils and resins. A lot of brewers have claimed that performing a FWH results in a better hop aroma and a less-harsh bitterness. I plan on doing a separate post on FWHing in the near future, so I'll get into more details then.

I also decided to alter the water profile for this beer, with a specific target in mind: England's Burton-on-Trent, an area that has a very important history in the brewing of English Pale Ales and IPAs. The water in Burton-on-Trent has a very high mineral content, especially calcium and sulfate, meaning that IPAs and Bitters brewed here had a crisp, dry finish that accentuated the hop bitterness very well. Because the sulfate level in Burton-on-Trent water is SO high (ranging from 650-850 ppm, depending on who you ask), and I'm a bit worried of overdoing it (which can happen quite easily when you start adding brewing salts), I decided to add 25 grams of gypsum (calcium sulfate) for an end target of about 250 ppm calcium and 500 ppm sulfate. I'll be splitting these additions between the mash and the sparge water.

For the fermentation of the first ESB, I used Wyeast 1968 London ESB (the Fuller's strain). This is a great English Pale Ale yeast, producing a good amount of fruity esters, and it has an extremely high flocculation rate, making for a very clear beer. However, since I've used it several times, and because I already have some Wyeast 1028 London Ale slurry on hand from the Southern English Brown I brewed last month, I decided to switch things up this time and go with the 1028.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.060, FG 1.014, IBU 48, SRM 9.6, ABV 6.0%

4.43 kg (82.7%) Maris Otter
454 g (8.6%) Crystal 40 L
227 g (4.2%) Honey malt
132 g (2.5%) Flaked Barley
113 g (2%) Wheat malt

East Kent Goldings - 56 g (3.5% AA) - FWH
East Kent Goldings - 49 g @ 60 min
Fuggles - 28 g (5% AA) @ 5 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale (~1 cup slurry, harvested Nov 21/12)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; treated with 25 g gypsum (divided b/w mash and sparge)

- Brewed Dec 2nd, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 15 L of water for a mash temp of 154 F. Mashed-out with 4.25 L of boiling water, resulting temp 168 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with ~15 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of ~6.75 gallons (slightly under target of 7 gallons).

- SG 1.049 (target 1.047). 75-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout; took about 25 minutes to get to 62 F. Poured into BB with a little more hop sludge than I would have liked; volume lower than expected, maybe 5 gallons; as a result, OG a bit high at 1.062. Pitched yeast slurry at 63 F, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB in room with ambient temp set at 64 F.

3/12/12 - 4/12/12 - Lots of airlock activity, bubbling a couple of times per second, and a large, fluffy krausen sitting on the beer. Temp 68 F. Activity slowed quickly within a couple days, temp hovering in the high 60s.

30/12/12 - FG only got to 1.019 for some reason. Bottled with 67 g table sugar, aiming for 1.9 vol CO2 for 4.5 gallons with a max temp of 68 F reached.

2/3/13 - Tasting notes... came out oddly over-carbonated (likely due to the high FG and residual sugars), but I'm really enjoying the effect of the high gypsum addition.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Happy 1-year birthday, MBC blog! (slightly-belated)

Now that this blog is one-year old, I thought I'd post a few stats, gathered from Blogger and Google Analytics. A big thank-you to those who have read some/all of the posts, and especially to those who have taken the time to comment. Like most bloggers, I wish that I did it more often, and I hope that over the next year I'll increase my time blogging, even though my brewing has decreased over the last 6 months!

Any stats from Google Analytics are a little off, as I didn't start using it until about 3 months into blogging...

Total Pageviews: 8,192
The first few months were really slow; less than 70 per month, and I think a bunch of those were me! Luckily, I learned to stop monitoring hits from computers I used. By February, the numbers started increasing, and the last two months have seen the biggest "action", with ~1400 pageviews/month. Pretty small potatoes compared to a lot of blogs, but a big improvement since the beginning.

Total Visits: 4027
Unique Visitors: 2575

Most-viewed Posts: Dry-hopping Tips (1121 views), Alpine Duet clone (710), Deschutes Black Butte Porter clone (364)

Top Countries by visitor: United States (1st), Canada (2nd), and Australia (3rd)

Browser: Firefox (1st), Chrome (2nd), and Safari (3rd)

What I've learned from the stats are two things: 1) a lot of homebrewers are seeking out clone recipes of their favorite beers, and 2) I should probably be blogging more about homebrewing tips and techniques. The main reason I haven't done this is because I feel like there are a lot of resources out there, and I'm far from an expert on anything to do with homebrewing. That being said, I know I personally like to read about other homebrewers' methods and brewing results, so it only makes sense to blog a bit more about my own experiences, as opposed to mostly posting recipes and tasting notes.

I plan to brew once more before 2012 is over. Ideally, I'd get in two brew days, but realistically, with the holiday season already on us, that won't happen. That will bring my total number of brews for 2012 to 14... unfortunately, very low considering 2010 and 2011's totals of 20 and 19, respectively. Hopefully things will pick up for 2013!

Other things on the horizon for the next year include more sour beers (a Lambic and Oude Bruin, specifically), a session IPA of around 3.5% ABV, a re-brew of my Oktoberfest and Sweet Stout from 2 years ago, and, of course, a few more new clone beers (including Smuttynose Finestkind IPA and Russian River Blind Pig IPA). As always, looking forward to more brewing!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Tasting : Neighborino (Flanders Red)

It's been almost 21 months since I brewed my first sour beer, a Flanders Red. The beer sat in the primary fermenter for the first 15 months, with the last few months having a couple of commercial sour beer dregs pitched into it. After that, a little more than half of the beer was bottled, while the other portion was racked to secondary on top of frozen/thawed cherries. Over the next few months, another couple of beer dregs were pitched, before the beer was bottled.

Add another several months of aging the bottles/dragging my feet at writing some notes on how the beer(s) taste, and here we are. The results? A beer that went from not tasting too sour for the first year (I pulled a sample and took a gravity reading and taste every 3 months), to two extremely sour and acidic beverages. Flanders Reds are supposed to be very fruity (plum, orange, black cherry) in both the aroma and taste, along with a sourness and acidity that ranges from "complementary to intense", according to the BJCP guidelines.

The Neighborinos (both the plain and cherry portion) definitely lie on the "intense" side. Two of the better-known commercial Flanders Reds are Duchesse de Bourgogne and Rodenbach Grand Cru. I found both of these beers to have a really nice malty and fruity side to them, with just a touch of sourness in the Duchesse, and a bit more in the Rodenbach Grand Cru. This is just my opinion, however, as I know some people find the Grand Cru to be quite sour. Regardless, the Neighborino's sourness is so high that I find it overshadows the malt and fruit character of the beer a bit; those characters are still there, but quite in the background in comparison. If I had to compare my homebrewed version to a commercial brand, I'd have to go with Brouweij Bockor's Cuvee des Jacobins, from what I remember (it's been a couple of years since I've had that beer). I should also mention that both homebrewed beers lack oak character, because, well, I didn't add any oak. I know that some Flanders Reds have a slight oak flavor, but I was a bit wary of including oak in the brewing process, since I hadn't used it before, and was worried of over-doing it.

While the BJCP lists the carbonation for Flanders Reds as "low to medium", I feel that it came in even a little TOO low for my attempt, especially for the plain half. I'm sure this has to do with the acidity having an affect on the dry ale yeast that I bottled it with. When I saw the results of the plain portion, I had the time to bottle the cherry-half with a dry red-wine yeast, which has a better acid-tolerance; therefore, the cherry beer's carbonation is a bit better.

In the end, I'm still glad that I brewed this beer and found the patience to wait it out to let the sourness develop. For my next Flanders, I wouldn't mind having the malt character brought out some more. Generally, I think I hit the mark with the beer, based on the range of descriptors in the BJCP category. If you're a fan of the more-sour Flanders Reds, this beer would be just the ticket! If you like the enamel on your teeth as-is, well, then I'd suggest trying something else...

The plain half:

Appearance: Poured with hardly any head at all; the bit that is there fades immediately to a thin ring. Still. Body is a dark copper/orange color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Aroma is a bit funky (horseblanket), with a sweet, candy-like, very sour smell coming through with the most intensity. There is a bit of cherry aroma in the background which is quite pleasant.

Taste: Intensely sour and acidic. The flavor does have some fruitiness to it, but the sour character overshadows, maybe too much so, even for a Flanders Red. No hop flavor or bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with low carbonation.

Overall: There’s not a lot of malt/fruitiness complexity in this beer in either the flavor or aroma, but it IS there in the background; it’s just overshadowed by some major sour/acidic character with the beer. I’m not sure if that happened because of the time I gave the fermentation, or from the bottle dregs I pitched, or both.

The cherry half:

Appearance: Poured with a small, thin, light-red head that vanishes without a trace. Body is a deep ruby-red with excellent clarity.

Aroma: More prominent cherry aroma than the regular portion, with a good amount of sourness coming through, and a touch of funk. Mouth-watering.

Taste: Just as sour and acidic as the other half, but a more-intense cherry flavor that adds a bit more tartness. At the same time, the boost in fruit character helps lessen the punch of the sour. Slightly red wine-like. A bit of horse blanket in the background. No hop presence at all.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Medium-low carbonation.

Overall: Very similar to the other half, but again, more fruit presence thanks to the cherry addition. Very tasty, although it would be more drinkable if the sourness was turned down a tad. If you had told me this beer was a fruit lambic, I'd probably believe you...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Brewing a Southern English Brown - no-sparge method

I would say that one of my biggest dilemmas as a homebrewer is finding the time to brew all of the beers that I'd like to brew. Aside from all of the new beer styles out there, along with the numerous tried-and-true recipes available in books, from other homebrewers, and on the internet, there's also a lot of recipes that I've done myself that I really enjoyed and would love to brew again, exactly as before. And yet another group of beers: the styles I've brewed before, and would like to try again with some tweaking to the previous recipe.

All you can really do is find a balance that works for you. I usually do new recipes that I haven't tried before, and sometimes I'll fit in a style where I try to improve a previous attempt (like my Twenty Dollar Blonde). This can be pretty enjoyable, as it's really a great way to increase your knowledge of homebrewing ingredients and methods, along with basic recipe-formulation. Two years ago I brewed a Southern English Brown, a malty-sweet, medium-bodied, low-ABV, smooth session ale. I'm pretty low on sessionable homebrews at the moment, so it seemed like a good time to tackle the style again.

While I generally liked how the beer turned out the first time, I don't think I was a huge fan of what the Special Roast grain added to it, and would have liked the body and carbonation to be a bit higher. Here are the basic changes I made to the beer this time around:

- Completely cut out the Special Roast.
- Decreased the Crystal 80 L and 120 L, and added Crystal 40 L to make up the difference.
- Increased the amount of Pale Chocolate malt.
- Added a bit of Amber Malt for flavor and darkening purposes.
- Mashed at a slightly-higher temp for (hopefully) more body (155 F vs. 153 F the first time).
- Changed the yeast from Wyeast 1968 London ESB to Wyeast 1028 London Ale (mostly on a whim).
- When bottling, I'll likely aim for a carbonation of around 1.8-2 vol CO2 (vs. the 1.5 for my first SEB).

After reading up on and posting on the subject, I also decided to try the no-sparge method. Since many claim this approach gives a richer and more-intense malt flavor, I figured a SEB would be a good style to try it on. I went with Strong's suggested method, where you increase your grist by 33%, mash and mash-out as usual, then make up the remaining boil volume by simply pouring water into the boil kettle. I assumed 80% efficiency on BeerSmith and multiplied my grain amounts by 1.33, and luckily only missed my target OG by one point.

I still have one bottle of my first SEB on hand. It's almost two years old now, but I'd still like to compare the beers when this current batch has been bottled. With a high mash-temp, the no-sparge method, and 35% of the grist coming from specialty malts, I'm hoping this beer will come through with more malty-sweetness and a fuller body than my first attempt.

I should also note that my brew day came about a little short-notice, and it happened to be Learn to Homebrew Day. Unfortunately, it was too last-minute to get some friends who have been curious about homebrewing in on it... but luckily my mother was visiting, and was more than happy to assist!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons): OG 1.036, FG 1.010, IBU 14, SRM 22.5, ABV 3.5%

64.3% Maris Otter
10.7% Pale Chocolate malt
7.1% Crystal 40 L
7.1% Crystal 80 L
7.1% Crystal 120 L
3.7% Amber malt

East Kent Goldings - 28 g (3.7% AA) @ 60 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale (PD Oct 6/12, with a 750 mL starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed Nov 3rd, 2012, with my mother. 60-minute saccharification rest with 13.8 L of water for a mash temp of 155 F. Mashed-out with 4.85 L of boiling water, resulting temp low at 163 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Filled kettle with another ~4 gallons of filtered-water, to a final pre-boil volume of 6.75 gallons.

- SG 1.029 (target 1.030). 60-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout; took about 30 minutes to get to 64 F. Poured into BB; OG 1.035. Pitched yeast at 65 F, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after.

4/11/12 - In AM, airlock bubbling two times per second, temp 68 F. Some beer in airlock, but krausen has already settled back.

5/11/12 - In AM, activity virtually over, maybe bubbling q 10-15 seconds, krausen gone completely. Temp 68 F. Moved the BB into a separate room the next room, with the ambient temp set at 70 F.

20/11/12 - FG high at 1.014.

21/11/12 - Bottled with 67 g table sugar, aiming for 1.8 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with max temp of 68 F reached.

22/1/13 - Tasting notes. Very malty and sweet, and extremely sessionable at 2.6% ABV, but I'm disappointed with the thin mouthfeel.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Tasting : Citra Not-Quite DIPA

It's been about a month since I bottled my Kern River Citra DIPA clone, and I wanted to get the tasting notes posted ASAP, since a beer that has this many hops starts fading noticeably even after only a couple of weeks.

I missed my targets for this beer by a fair amount; due to a higher-than-expected final volume after boiling, my OG came in low at 1.065 (target 1.070). And, despite pitching US-05, a dry, American-style yeast that is notorious for having very good attenuation, my FG came in high at 1.014 (target 1.010). The beer therefore has an ABV of about 6.7%. With all of these factors, along with a calculated IBU of only 70 (however, throw in a 20-minute whirlpool, and the IBU is probably actually closer to 90-100), this beer appears to be more of an American IPA on paper, as opposed to an Imperial IPA.

Whatever. Call it what you want, this is a damned tasty beer! I'd love to do a side-by-side with the real Citra DIPA, but that's just not gonna happen. For now, I'm happy drinking this very hoppy, yet oddly-balanced, smooth IPA/DIPA.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, off-white, fluffy and creamy head, which sticks nicely to the glass before fading to 1/2-finger or so. The body is a deep, burnished-gold color, and surprisingly quite clear after all the dry-hopping.

Aroma: Huge citrusy-hop aroma, big on grapefruit and mango especially. Any type of malt character is far in the background.

Taste: The hops win out again, of course, but there is a pleasant, slightly-sweet background from the malt to help balance a bit. The hop flavor, very citrusy, is quite high, and the beer finishes fairly dry with a medium-high bitterness. No real flaws... maybe a bit of astringency from all those hops. Despite this, the beer is very smooth.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate-low carbonation.

Overall: Although I missed the numbers some, this is a very enjoyable IPA/DIPA, whatever you want to call it. Lots of hops in the aroma and flavor, with enough malt character to help balance the taste a bit. Smooth, and dangerously drinkable, despite the quite-bitter finish. Definitely a beer I’d brew again, if I can ever get my hands on that much Citra in the future.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

No-sparge Brewing - A simple approach to more malt flavor?

For homebrewers, the sparging portion of the brew day (where you add water to your grain bed after draining the wort from your mash, to rinse remaining sugars out of the grain) usually comes down to two options: batch sparging and fly sparging. Batch sparging - the more popular option - involves adding all of the sparge water at once (or in two portions, if your mash tun can't hold it all), stirring well, and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before vorlaufing and draining the wort into your boil kettle. Fly sparging, on the other hand, requires sparge water to be added at a continuous rate, while simultaneously draining into the boil kettle. This results in a slightly-increased efficiency, but obviously involves more time (approximately an hour).

A technique that seems to be growing in popularity eliminates the sparge from the process... conveniently enough, it's called no-sparge brewing! It's pretty straight-forward... you mash as normal (with or without a mash-out), vorlauf and drain the first-runnings into the boil kettle. Instead of sparging, you then make up the remaining volume by adding brewing liquor (a fancy name for water used for brewing) directly into the kettle. This is the method suggested by Gordon Strong in his book, "Brewing Better Beer".

Why do this? Apparently, it results in a richer and more-intense malt flavor, with less harshness compared to other methods, according to Strong; he also mentions that the resulting beer is also a bit deeper in color, with lower acidity. This may not be a technique you'd use for a hop-forward beer, such as an American IPA, but for malt-forward beers, such as Scotch Ales, it sounds like something worth trying.

One thing to keep in mind here is that with this method your efficiency will obviously take a big drop, which means that no-sparge brewing is more expensive. Since you're adding water to your first runnings to get up to your boil volume, as compared to lower-gravity second runnings from a sparge, you would have to use more grain than normal for your mash. Strong suggests measuring the gravity and volume of your first runnings, which you can then use to calculate your efficiency for future no-sparge brews. This basically means your first attempt will be a bit of a guinea pig-approach. As for this first attempt, Strong writes that a 1/3-increase in your grist is a good place to start.

A slightly different no-sparge method is suggested by John Palmer, another very well-respected and well-read homebrewer. Palmer's approach involves adding the water that you would normally use for the sparge (roughly 1.5 times the water used in the mash) into the mashtun at the end of the mash. The full amount in the tun is then drained into the kettle, and should equal your target boil volume. This method has the benefit of requiring less grain then Strong's approach (approximately 25% more than the standard grain bill, instead of Strong's 33%). However, the disadvantage is that your mashtun would obviously have to be large enough to hold the entire amount of brewing liquor and grain; maybe not a concern for small (lower-ABV) beers, but could easily cause trouble with bigger, or even moderate-strength beers for those of us with 10-gallon mash tuns. You would also have to calculate the temperature of the additional water to add, so that you don't exceed 170 F, which may lead to leeching of tannins into the wort. For Palmer's full article (and some handy calculations you can complete to make things easier), check it out here at the Brew Your Own site.

I've never personally tried the no-sparge method, but I've been considering it for awhile. My next planned brew day (which should be within the week) is going to be a second attempt at the Southern English Brown style (recipe and tasting of my first attempt here). A low-gravity, malt-forward beer, I thought this style may benefit from a brewing method that's supposed to increase malt flavor and intensity. I already have my recipe planned out; I'll likely follow Strong's method and multiply all the grain amounts by 1.33, and hope that I get relatively close to my target OG.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Tasting : Zombie Printemps

While the separate 8 L or so of Saison that was racked to secondary still sits on 600 g of raspberries (along with some yeast dregs from a bottle of Fantome Saison), the plain portion has been bottled for about 5 weeks now. I've only had several bottles, but I think I like how the beer has turned out. Despite aiming for 3.5 volumes of CO2, I'd definitely go higher next time, as the carbonation didn't come out quite as high as I would have liked (Saisons are generally very carbonated, as in "bottle the beer in Duvel-type bottles" high).

From some individual descriptions of the Wyeast 3711 French Saison blend, I was expecting more fruitiness to come through in both the aroma and flavors of the beer; however, while it IS present, I feel that the spiciness/phenolics win here. The beer DID attenuate very well, however (FG 1.004), and the characteristic dry-finish was achieved nicely.

Next on the Saison brew-list is a clone of the very tasty Oxbow Freestyle #5, based on some very helpful notes from the head brewer/co-founder of Oxbow Brewing, Tim Adams. Hopefully that will be something I'll be able to tackle in the next month or two.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large, white fluffy head. Fades slowly, to 1/2-finger or so. Body is a golden color, and slightly hazy.

Aroma: Fruity and peppery, with some definite alcohol coming through. Some of the spiciness in the aroma could be coming from the Saaz hops. The alcohol fades to a background presence.

Taste: Fruity and spicy, again with the pepper being prominent. A bit of spicy hop flavor. Some phenolics in there; I don't think it's from wild yeast or chlorine-treated water. Very dry finish, with moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Moderate-high carbonation, medium-light bodied. Some alcohol warmth, but nothing harsh.

Overall: Not bad at all. Don’t know how much I hit/missed the mark here. I’d like the beer to be more on the fruity side... seems to me it’s leaning towards spicy. Still, it mostly looks the part, has some pleasant character in the aroma and flavors, and finishes dry and pretty well-carbonated.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Brewing a Berliner Weisse

Since I finally got around to bottling both halves (cherry and non-cherry) of my Flanders Red - that I originally brewed over 18 months ago - I thought it was time to brew another Sour beer. I had originally intended on delving deeper into Sours, and maybe trying a different style every 3-6 months, since it takes so long to build up inventory of them... but unfortunately, it didn't happen. Some Sour beers take longer to reach their peak than others; Berliner Weisse - a very pale, low-ABV, tart, acidic, refreshing beer - doesn't take quite as long as some (a minimum of 3-6 months), so I decided to go with this style. Throw in the fact that the last few batches I've bottled have been >7-8% ABV, and it makes it a no-brainer!

Berliner Weisse (nicknamed "Champagne of the North" by Napoleon... not Dynamite) comes from the Berlin area of Germany, dating back to the 17th century. Apparently it used to be a lot more popular (in terms of brewery production) than it is now. In Germany, it is still often served with a choice of flavored syrups to cut down on the tartness, but on this side of the pond most people drink it un-syruped.

One of the more readily-available Berliners (in the U.S., anyway) is Dogfish Head's Festina Peche. It's a tasty peach-flavored beer, but not one that I would really call very tart or acidic. I had a better example of the style on tap at Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, ME... Haverhill Brewery's Beerstand BerlinerWeisse, from MA. It was great - very tart, slightly sour, and extremely refreshing on a warm day. Unfortunately, Berliner Weisse isn't a beer style that is commonly brewed by most breweries. I would imagine this is due partly to the time necessary for it to achieve the appropriate sourness and acidity, as well as that many consumers don't want to spend more money on craft beer that has LESS alcohol. Sadly, big flavor usually doesn't win over big-alcohol, even for most beer geeks.

As for your standard Berliner recipe, you're not looking at anything complicated, here. Basically a 60/40 or thereabouts ratio of Pilsner malt and Wheat malt... that's it. No specialty malts, no adjuncts; at least not for the majority of the recipes I've seen floating around. The hopping is even MORE simplified - you're only looking to provide 3-8 IBUs here, with no flavor or aroma additions needed. The reason for this basically comes down to what really sets apart this style from other beers.

Like other Sour beers, Berliner Weisse requires the addition of bacteria. You CAN achieve the sourness in this beer in other ways, notably adding lactic acid to bring the pH down ("like microwaving a steak", according to Jamil Zainasheff), or by performing what's known as a sour mash, where you throw in a couple handfuls of grain after the mash is complete. Grain is notoriously coated with Lactobacillus, which creates lactic acid and therefore provides the acidity needed. The sour mash method requires more guess-work, because you have to decide how LONG to let the sour mash continue, and you may be unintentionally adding other bugs as well.

The other method is more expensive, but is a simpler and more accurate way of getting the acidity and sourness that this beer needs. This involves adding commercially prepared bugs, or specifically, Lactobacillus. Wyeast 5335 is a Lactobacillus delbruckii culture that you can add along with a yeast strain. I went ahead and purchased one of their private collection smackpacks, Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse blend, which has a German ale yeast, Lactobacillus delbruckii, and a Brettanomyces strain as well. I've since been told by other homebrewers that this blend doesn't produce as much acidity as one may desire from this beer.

According to this recent presentation at the 2012 NHC, the best way to get the most acidity in a Berliner would be to first pitch a Lactobacillus strain for one week, and THEN pitch an ale yeast, to allow the Lacto to start making some acid. Apparently the presence of the ale yeast can inhibit the Lacto to some degree. Lactobacillus is a bit finicky; it grows best at temperatures around 90 F, does a bit better with lower amounts of oxygen, and HATES HOPS. This is why you want your IBUs so low... a "bitter" environment will inhibit Lactobacillus growth. Because of this, you don't need a lot of hop utlilization in the boiling stage, so Berliner Weisse only needs to be boiled for about 15 minutes. In fact, I've seen recipes before where the wort isn't even technically boiled... just brought up to about 210 F for awhile, and then chilled.

I plan to leave the beer in primary for three weeks or so, and then rack to secondary for about 6 months. Like other Sour beers, it takes time for the bacteria to produce enough acid and the Brettanomyces to give some funk. I may decide to rack some of the beer onto some fruit at that point, but right now it's just another waiting game. Hopefully it won't take the 15 months the Flanders Red took before I was happy with the flavor!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.031, FG 1.006, IBU 4, SRM 2.7, ABV 3.3%

1.59 kg Bohemian Pilsner
1.14 kg Wheat malt

Hallertau - 21 g (2.75% AA) @ 15 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3191-PC Berliner Weisse Blend (PD Sept 11/12)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed Sept 30th, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 9 L of water for a mash temp of 149 F. Mashed-out with 4.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp low at 162 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of 6 gallons.

- SG 1.031 (target 1.029). 15-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout; took about 35 minutes to get to 66 F. Poured into BB. OG a bit high at 1.033. Pitched yeast, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after.

1/10/12 - In AM, already signs of activity in airlock. By PM, some beer in airlock, bubbling 2 times per second, temp 72 F.

2/10/12 - In AM, airlock had blown off. Replaced with new one, bubbling every 4-5 seconds, temp 72 F.

22/10/12 - Racked to secondary.

10/4/13 - Gravity reading of 1.006 (target FG).

6/5/13 - Racked about 8 L onto 700 g of frozen and then thawed cherries. Bottled the other ~3 gallons with 137 g table sugar, aiming for 4 vol CO2 with a max temp of 72 F reached.

UPDATE: I apologize for forgetting about this post! I never did put up any tasting notes, the reason being that the beer never got very sour and I stubbornly waited for the pH to drop a bit more, but it never did. A recent reading had it at about 3.85. I'd say both beers, the plain half and cherry half, would at best be described as "lightly tart". The cherries do provide a pleasant fruitiness to the beer, but otherwise, as a Berliner Weisse, it's extremely lacking. I know now that pitching Lacto on its own, and then fermenting out the beer after the pH is where you want it, is the way to go.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beginner Tips: Start-up Homebrew Equipment

Brewing your own beer at home has a lot of perks. You get to attempt styles that aren't available in your area; you're involved in the entire process from start to finish, and will therefore appreciate the final product more; and, with some experience and hard work, you can make beer that is every bit as good, or better, than what's available commercially. Another advantage is that it is usually cheaper than paying for beer at the liquor store.

However, while your final cost per bottle may seem cheaper compared to that microbrew you normally buy, homebrewing, like any hobby, has a bit of a high cost in terms of start-up equipment. And, knowing exactly what you need to start brewing beer at a beginner's level is kind of overwhelming at first. It was for me, anyway, especially after reading different opinions in books and from online forums.

So, we're going to go over the equipment an outright beginner would require to brew their first batch of beer, and hopefully brew it well. I'm not going to get into actual recipe ingredients here, because this equipment is what you would need whether you bought a ready-made brew kit, or wanted to purchase your malt extract, hops, yeast, etc. separately and build your own recipe. I'm sure there's some things here I've missed; feel free to let me know in the comments section. I'll try to publish another post later that would get into what you need for when you make the next step, into all-grain brewing. I know some people start at all-grain, but I think the majority of us do at least a few batches with malt extract. It's certainly an easier and less-daunting place to begin!

Electronic scale
I guess you don't really NEED a scale, especially if you're brewing from a kit, where everything will be previously weighed out for you. But even here, you're still going to need to measure out your sugar for bottling. If you want to be exact in any ingredients you need - whether it be malt extract, hops, sugar, spices - weight is much more accurate than volume. And these little kitchen scales really aren't that expensive, and often go on sale. The more decimal points they go to, the better. Look for one that goes to at least three points (e.g. will read as 1.675 kg).

Boil kettle
With a few exceptions, all wort has to be boiled. When you're making 5-gallon batches, which is usually the case, you're going to need at least a 5-gallon kettle/pot. Most beginner homebrewers use a partial boil - this is where you boil about 3 gallons of water, along with the malt extract and hops, down to 2.5 gallons or so. This is then chilled in the kettle, poured into the fermenter, and an additional 2.5-3 gallons of water is added to make up the difference in volume.

If you want to make the best beer you possibly can, it's better to do a full boil, where you're boiling all 6-7 gallons of water with the beer ingredients, but I'll save the details of this for another post. However, if you're anxious to start brewing, and, like me, have a stove that couldn't handle bringing and maintaining 6-7 gallons of water to a boil, you can buy a 5-gallon kettle for fairly cheap. When you make the transition to all-grain brewing, the 5-gallon kettle will still come in handy, trust me. Either way, you want a kettle that is a good 2 gallons larger than the amount of wort you plan to boil.

In terms of stainless steel vs. aluminum, you'll find about three thousand arguments online. Stainless steel is more expensive, but aluminum has some people worried about increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Keep this in mind: there has not been any documented proof of these worries. I could start quoting about how there's more aluminum in a tablet of Rolaids then in boiling water in an aluminum pot, but I won't. If aluminum is available and is cheaper, go for it. I personally have a 5-gallon stainless steel pot (because it was dirt-cheap when I found it), and a 10-gallon aluminum kettle.

Large spoon
This seems pretty obvious, but I DO want to try to be thorough! Brewing involves a lot of stirring, especially during the boiling stage, and with a minimum of 3 gallons of hot wort, you need a nice big spoon to help you out. I wouldn't go with a metal one, because it's more likely to scrape the bottom of your kettle when stirring. Find a food-grade plastic one instead.

While you're not measuring temperatures in extract brewing near as much as all-grain, you'll still need this from time to time, mainly in making yeast starters, and when cooling your recently-boiled wort, to see when you're in yeast-pitching territory. I'd recommend spending the extra bit of cash and getting a digital model - much more accurate and easier to use. Also, make sure you calibrate it after you buy it (and periodically thereafter) - test it in ice water to make sure it reads 32 F (0 C), and in boiling water for 212 F (100 C).

Not sure if this qualifies as equipment or not, but it's extremely important to sanitize ANYTHING that will come in contact with your wort/beer after it's been boiled. There's a lot of them out there, and they all have their fans and otherwise, but I really can't see the problem anyone would have with Star San. It's a no-rinse sanitizer that you simply mix with water, keep in contact with whatever you're sanitizing for 30 seconds, and then you're done. Simple. Mixing it with distilled water (6 mL in 4 L of water) greatly increases its shelf life, and keeping a small amount of the mixture in a spray bottle is fantastic for sanitizing small items such as spoons, funnels, thermometers, etc. Two 100 mL bottles of Star San have lasted me for 45 brew and bottling sessions, and I still have some left.

You need somewhere to put your wort and let the yeast turn it into beer, right? Now, you have some choices here. The three most-common ones are buckets, glass carboys, and plastic carboys (e.g. Better Bottles). Make sure that whichever you decide to go with is large enough for all of your wort, and roughly about 1-1.5 gallons more.

Buckets are great because they're cheap, very easy to clean, and easy to get your wort, dry-hops, and other ingredients into. The biggest con is that oxygen permeates a plastic bucket much more than the other vessels, which you don't want. Also, you can't see what's going on inside unless you open the lid. They can also be scratched easily, which gives an area for microbes to hide.

Glass carboys let you see what's going on inside, are fairly easy to clean since they can be brushed and can't scratch, and they keep oxygen out better than all the other options (if you're using an airlock, of course). But, these buggers can be heavy (especially with 5 gallons of beer in them), slippery when wet... see where I'm going here? They can be dangerous. Laugh all you want, but I've heard enough horror stories of people having tendons in their arm cut when they bumped a glass carboy, or even just when cleaning one out and having the bottom shatter! Also, if you have a clogged airlock (which happens when you have an overly-active fermentation), an explosion can occur. Their openings are usually narrow as well, which makes adding ingredients during fermentation more difficult.

Better Bottles share pros and cons of both glass and buckets. Like glass, you can see fermentation activity, and oxygen permeability is very low. Like buckets, they're very light and safe to use. The opening is larger than a glass carboy, and therefore a bit easier to add ingredients. The main downsides are that they can be a bit more expensive, and can sometimes be a real pain in the arse to clean, since they have a narrower opening than buckets, and can be scratched. A good cleaner, combined with a cloth stuffed into the bottle and swished around, usually takes care of the problem.

Pretty obvious what this does, keeps oxygen out of your fermenting beer. There are a couple of different types; as far as I know, either one is fine. Some people choose to use a blow-off tube, especially during early, active fermentation; depends on how much room you leave yourself in your fermenter, and just how active your fermentation is. Just make sure to keep your airlock filled with sanitizer (some use vodka), to prevent oxygen from getting in. You'll also need a stopper of some sort if you're using a carboy.

You'll need one for pouring your cooled wort into your fermenter, if you're using a carboy or Better Bottle. You COULD also rack the wort via tubing, but having a funnel for adding other liquid ingredients is nice as well. Just don't skimp - buy a larger funnel. Trying to pour 5 gallons of wort from a heavy kettle into a little funnel can be messy. Trust me.

I've actually talked to people who have lots of brewing equipment, but don't own a hydrometer or refractometer for measuring starting and finishing gravity. I highly recommend spending the little bit of extra money for a hydrometer. If you really want details about your beers (which can help lead to improving them), you need to know the OG and FG.

Bottling Equipment
More time-consuming than kegging, but a smaller start-up investment. Basically this involves purchasing a bottling bucket (really just a bucket with a hole drilled near the bottom for a spout), racking cane and tubing (to bring the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket), bottling wand (to fill the bottles with very minimal spillage), empty bottles (you can re-use bottles of beers you've drank, as long as you clean and sanitize them), and a bottle capper and caps.

It should be noted that a lot of this equipment can be purchased as a homebrew start-up kit. When I first started homebrewing, I bought a kit that had a 6.5-gallon carboy, 6-gallon bottling bucket, spoon, tubing, racking cane, bottling wand, capper, airlock, and hydrometer. But if you have access to everything separately, it will likely be cheaper to buy them this way.

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you ended up buying a 10-gallon kettle, you'd likely need an outdoor propane burner to get a boil going. Then, you'd probably want to buy a chiller so that you can get the temperature down quickly after boiling... this is how it goes with homebrewing! There's always something else you can buy to make better beer. If you ARE just starting, and doing an extract batch or from a kit, everything listed above should get you to your first completed batch. You can then start adding what you feel is necessary to improve your beer - mashtun, water carbon-filter, temperature-controlled fermentation chamber, etc.

Tasting : A Witter Shade of Pale

I'm quite overdue (again) posting the tasting notes for this beer... not only was I drinking this beer throughout the better part of the summer, but Witbier is definitely a style that should be enjoyed young - it's freshness can fade very quickly and is generally pretty susceptible to age. I actually DID write down my thoughts on the beer a couple of months ago, but just got around to typing them up now.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this beer; it definitely came out MUCH better than my first attempt a couple of years ago. And my wife, now that she's able to enjoy some beers again, has been enjoying it even more than I have! The beer is fairly balanced between spiciness and fruitiness for the most part (I find that a lot of commercial versions out there are actually too spicy, which I'm not a fan of). There's definitely some changes I'd make for next time (more on that below), but generally it came out to be a tasty, refreshing summer beer.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white creamy head that lasts for awhile before fading to 1/4-finger. Body is light yellow and hazy.

Aroma: Subdued aroma of coriander and orange, with both coming across as nicely balanced. The citrus/orange aroma could probably be bumped up a little more. A bit of grainy smell from the wheat. No diacetyl or other flaws.

Taste: Like the aroma, quite balanced... here, though, I’d say the coriander comes out a bit ahead. Again, I’d like to increase the orange peel. Creamy and smooth, and slightly tart from the wheat. Low hop bitterness in the finish. No hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with medium-high carbonation.

Overall: Very nice... a great summer beer. Not much I would change... I really like the yeast characteristics here. Next time I may use either bitter orange peel, or try using freshly-grated orange peel. Either way, very pleasant overall.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Brewing a Kern River Citra DIPA clone

When I was in San Diego a year ago, I was able to try a lot of fantastic new beers. Unfortunately, not every beer that I had hoped to find was available to me at the time. Some beers are just so sought after, that as soon as they are available in a beer store or beer bar, they can sell out pretty quickly. I'd say the #1 beer I really wanted to try that I couldn't find was Citra DIPA, made by Kern River Brewing Co. Currently rated #4 in the Imperial IPA category on Beer Advocate, it's supposed to be an excellent beer that has a high amount of Citra hops (of course) used during the brewing process, which would naturally provide a "strong pungent aroma" and a lot of the tropical fruits that one expects in the flavor. Anyone who has used Citra before can tell you that even a little bit goes a long way.

Every beer store that I checked in San Diego was out of Citra DIPA. When I started looking at beer lists online for the better beer bars in the area, I found that Hamiltons Tavern had just had a shipment in. We ended up there a couple of days later, but when I asked one of the bartenders if they still had it available, he informed me that they just sold out, and in fact, "I just had the last bottle myself. And it was awesome." Sonofa! Oh well, still a great beer bar, with lots of other awesome beers. So, I left San Diego resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn't get to try it anytime soon. And I haven't.

HOWEVER, luckily for me (and for lots of other homebrewers), the folks on the Can You Brew It podcast contacted Kyle Smith, the owner/brewmaster of Kern River Brewing, and he was kind enough to provide them with a homebrew recipe for Citra DIPA, which they were able to clone. I still had a pretty good supply of Citra hops on hand, so I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to really put them to use. I also hadn't brewed a DIPA in over a year, when I attempted ANOTHER highly-rated and sought-after DIPA, Russian River's Pliny the Elder (which is a great recipe and turned out pretty awesome, by the way... I suggest you try it if you're a fan of the style).

The Citra DIPA recipe (which can be downloaded as the podcast, and is also written out here) is, as expected, pretty interesting. The grist is roughly 80% 2-row, 5% Munich malt, 2.5% each of Honey and Wheat malt, and 5% each of Carapils and Crystal 10. I didn't have access to Crystal 10, and since it's actually pretty comparable to Carapils, I just subbed in some more of that.  That seems, to me, like a pretty high amount of nonfermentables for a DIPA, but the mash temp is quite low at 148 F, so the beer is supposed to finish quite dry, with a lot of fermentable sugars provided for the yeast.

And this doesn't even include the dry hops
The hop schedule is where this beer really stands out, of course. While the bittering addition is Nugget, there are four more hop additions for the flavor/aroma, all Citra. Note that the amounts used are nothing crazy (about an oz each), but keep in mind that as I mentioned, Citra is a very pungent, powerful hop variety. Throw in four different dry-hop additions (combination of Citra and Amarillo, another citrusy hop), and you have a beer that is bound to pack a lot of hop punch... and be more expensive to brew than others! The calculated IBUs for this beer was 69.4, but with a 20-minute whirlpool, it'd probably be closer to 90-100, about on par for a DIPA.

Kyle notes in the podcast that the beer should be racked to secondary after only about 3 days, when fermentation is roughly 80% complete, and then the dry-hopping process can begin (they do it "warm" at Kern River Brewing, as opposed to cooler temps). I've always read that fermentation should be completely done before you start dry-hopping, but obviously these guys know what they're doing, and it worked for Tasty (who brewed the beer for CYBI). However, I'll be away for several days and won't be able to keep a strict watch on the every-3-day dry-hop schedule, so I'll be waiting a little longer than 3 days before racking to secondary. Fermentation will therefore likely be completely finished, but it's better than the alternative - racking too early.

As for fermentation, the easy-going/neutral WLP001/Wyeast 1056 is the strain of choice, with fermentation temps around 67 F to keep things focused on the hops. I didn't have time to make a starter, so I used Fermentis US-05 Safale dry yeast (rehydrated); I've had to go this route before, and have had results similar to Wyeast 1056 American Ale.

I'm not sure what to expect with this beer. Since I never got to try the actual Citra DIPA, I have nothing to compare to, as usual. And I've used Citra in healthy amounts before, and the resulting beer has been very hop-strong. I'm really looking forward to the results of this recipe... hopefully, at the very least, it'll make a decent DIPA that'll tide me over until my next trip to San Diego.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 73% efficiency): OG 1.070, FG 1.010, IBU 69.4, SRM 6, ABV 8%

5.32 kg Canadian 2-row
682 g Carapils
341 g Munich malt
168 g Honey malt
168 g Wheat malt

Nugget - 25 g (12.25% AA) @ 60 min
Citra - 28 g (12% AA) @ 15 min
Citra - 28 g @ 10 min
Citra - 28 g @ 5 min
Citra - 28 g @ flameout, begin 20-minute whirlpool

Dry-hop schedule:
33 g Citra & 14 g Amarillo for 3 days... then
20 g Citra for 3 more days... then
28 g Amarillo for 3 more days... then
28 g Citra for 3 more days.

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale dry yeast, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 5 g of gypsum

- Brewed Sept 9th, 2012, with Jill. 50-minute saccharification rest with 17.35 L of water for a mash temp of 148 F. Mashed-out with 11.12 L of near-boiling water, resulting temp 167 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with 8 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of close to 7 gallons (slightly over target).

- SG 1.054 (target 1.057). 60-minute boil. Began chilling 20 minutes after flameout and whirlpool; took about 40 minutes to get to 70 F. Poured into BB and set in ice water to drop temp a few more degrees. OG low at 1.065 (likely partially due to the bit of extra volume I had after boiling). When temp dropped to 66 F, pitched yeast, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB back in sink with a few ice packs to try to keep the temp in the high 60s.

10/9/12 - 12/9/12 - Over the first few days, fermentation took off in about 18 hours after pitching... activity got quite high by the second day, with some beer getting into the airlock. Bubbling 1-2 times per second, temp got as high as 70-72 F, but I managed to bring it quickly down to 68 F by adding ice packs to the water bath.

20/9/12 - Racked to secondary and added first dry-hop addition. Gravity 1.014 - 4 points above target FG, and I doubt it'll go down much more, if at all.

23/9/12 - Second dry-hop addition. Temps still around 70 F.

26/9/12 - Third dry-hop addition.

29/9/12 - Fourth and final dry-hop... smelling intensely Citra-y, as expected.

2/10/12 - Bottled with 120 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons with max temp of 72 F reached.

4/11/12 - Despite the numbers being off, this really made a delicious beer... tasting notes.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tasting : Z.E.D. IPA

While I actually bottled this NHC final round American IPA back in the middle of May, and even jotted down the tasting notes for the beer(s) soon afterwards, I'm just now getting around to posting about it. No excuses at all. Basically, I just waited until I could take the opportunity to open both versions at the same time, for picture purposes - even though the two beers look exactly alike.

This beer was brewed a little hastily... after my Alpine Duet clone won a bronze medal in the 1st round of the NHC, and therefore moved on to the finals, I decided to brew it again, in case the bottles I had left over wouldn't taste as fresh for the competition in June. Unfortunately, I lacked the hops needed to do a total rebrew of the recipe, so I changed things up a bit, and even increased the amount of hops in the beer. I also split the beer into two batches, the only difference being the dry hopping - one with CTZ/Nugget, the other with Citra/Simcoe. I decided to send the Citra/Simcoe version on to the NHC final round, which the judges felt was actually TOO hoppy for an American IPA, and a little harsh-tasting as a result.

The beers obviously look alike, but it's pretty amazing just how much of an effect the dry-hopping has on the aroma and flavor, even though the grist and boil-hops are exactly the same. In the end, while I did really like both of these replacement beers, I still feel the Duet clone was the better beer, and even now, 7 months later, is still tasting better then the replacements. In hindsight, I think I would have even entered the older beer into the competition, as I feel it's smoother and better-balanced.

Appearance: Both beers have a moderate-sized, fairly sticky white head that leaves good lacing. The body is a burnt-orange, with a bit of haziness (that isn't unexpected with the high amount of dry-hopping).

Aroma: Both are very hop-forward, with very little (if any) malt background. The CTZ/Nugget beer is slightly dank and earthy, with an odd candy-sweetness that I assume is from the Nugget. The Citra/Simcoe, however, has a huge citrus aroma - very big on a grapefruit/melon character, with a bit of pine.

Taste: Again, neither beer has much to offer in terms of malt character, which should be considered a fault. I'd have to say both taste pretty much like they smell, with the Citra/Simcoe version being more intense due to the huge grapefruit/melon presence. Oddly enough, the CTZ/Nugget version actually comes across as slightly more bitter... say, medium/high bitterness in the finish for both, with the CTZ/Nugget having a bit of an edge.

Mouthfeel: Both are medium-light bodied, with medium carbonation, and a bit of astringency.

Overall: As I mentioned, really tasty beers, but the Duet clone definitely wins out, even now.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Brewing a Saison

All beer styles can be interpreted fairly loosely to some extent, especially by the homebrewer. But not all styles are created equal - while there's a lot of approaches you can take to brewing a Flanders Red, for example, you're more restricted to what you can do with an Oktoberfest (if you want to be authentic, anyway).

There may be no beer style that is more "loose" than Saison, a style that originated in southern Belgium many years ago. Originally thought to be brewed in winter to have on hand in the summer as a refreshing drink for farmhands, Saison has certainly come a long way since. As many families began brewing their own Saison, recipes began evolving at a rapid rate, and "terroir" (the effects the local environment has on the beer) contributed even more to the ever-changing end-products. Now, there are very many interpretations of this wonderful beer style; colors range from light-gold to black, ABVs from 3% table beers to 10% "Super Saisons", and simple 100%-pilsner grists to 8-different malt, heavily-spiced beers.

One thing Saisons generally have in common, however, is high attenuation. It is not-unheard of for final gravities to reach as low as 1.000-1.002, with apparent-attenuation rates as high as 95% being reported by some homebrewers. This is due to the yeast strains used in fermentation, low-temp saccharification rests, and the fact that many Saison strains can handle abnormally-high fermentation temperatures, including up to the mid-90s F. Saisons are also one of the most highly-hopped Belgian beers, especially in terms of flavor and aroma. More brewers are even now dry-hopping their Saisons, which isn't a method usually seen for other Belgian styles.

Anyway, I won't delve too deep into the history and evolution of Saison. An excellent reference for this is "Farmhouse Ales", by Phil Markowski. If you're new to this style of beer, I also recommend seeking out some of the finer commercial versions, especially the ultimate classic, Saison Dupont. While definitely a more "simple" Saison, at least in terms of the recipe (the grist is 100% Belgian pilsner malt), this is an awesome beer packed with flavor, thanks to the highly-expressive yeast used by the Dupont brewery. Also keep in mind that this yeast strain is available to homebrewers as the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison. And if you'd like to try a Saison that brings more of terroir into play, seek out any beer made by Fantome, a small brewery in Soy, Belgium that brews extremely innovative, ever-changing, funky Saisons... oh, and they're awesome.

So, for this, my 50th homebrew, there were a lot of Saison recipes to choose from. I finally went with this Printemps (spring season) recipe taken from an article in the May/June 2008 edition of Zymurgy. It's definitely different than your typical beginner's Saison, in that it has a high percentage of malted wheat (~45%), to go with an equal amount of pilsner malt. A bit of Aromatic malt and Carapils make up the remaining grist, along with a pound of table sugar to help make a very dry beer. With a target OG of 1.073 (and a potentially very low FG), this would definitely be considered a "Super" Saison, with an ABV that may reach as high as 8-10%.

As for the hopping, there's a bittering, flavor, and aroma addition for a total of almost 34 IBUs. I changed the bittering hops to East Kent Goldings, since Styrian Goldings were not available. I also didn't have any Tettnanger hops on hand for the flavor addition, so I substituted Saaz, which I'm sure will be fine. Since Saisons are typically more bitter than other Belgian beers, as I mentioned, I added a small amount of gypsum in the mash to increase the sulfate in the water, to slightly (hopefully) accentuate the hop bite of the beer.

While tempted to use the Wyeast 3724 mentioned above, I decided to go with a Saison yeast that produced more citrus flavors, compared to spicy... in this case, Wyeast 3711 French Saison. Also, the temperature range for this yeast isn't quite as high as the 3724 (homebrewers often have to use a heat belt to bring temps up high enough to get the yeast to finish fermenting), so I figured that would be a plus now that my house is cooler thanks to the wonderful world of air conditioners.

My tentative plans for this beer is to bottle half of the 5.5 gallons in a few weeks, and rack the other half to secondary, where I'll pitch the bottle dregs of a Fantome Saison. Not sure how much this will add in terms of funkiness, if anything, but I think it's worth a try. I may also dry-hop with a bit of Sorachi Ace, or even add some raspberries to secondary, and let the beer develop for several months before bottling.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.073, FG 1.005-1.008?, IBU 34, SRM 6, ABV ~8-9%

Grains & Other:
2.61kg Bohemian Pilsner
2.61 kg Wheat malt
227 g Aromatic malt
227 g Carapils
113g Rice hulls
454 g table sugar (added when fermentation starts to slow)

EKG - 49 g (4.5% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 28 g (5.5% AA) @ 20 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (PD July 7th, with a 2.25 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 4 g of gypsum

- Brewed August 6th, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 16 L of water (I think I accidentally added ~2 L too much here), for a mash temp of 152 F, a little above my target of 151 F. Mashed-out with 9.65 L water at ~203 F, resulting temp 167 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with 16 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of 7.5 gallons.

- SG 1.045 (target 1.048 before sugar addition). 90-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout, and added last Saaz addition a few minutes afterwards. Had down to 68-70 F after 40 minutes. Poured into BB and set in ice water to drop temp a few more degrees. OG 1.062 before sugar (so, 1.070 including) - a bit low, but not surprising considering the extra volume before and after the boil (say ~1/4 gallon). When temp dropped to 66 F, pitched yeast slurry, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB in sink, no ice water, to let ferment to as high as it will go.

- 7/8/12 - In AM, bubbling q 2 seconds or so, temp 70 F. By PM, bubbling at least 2 times per second, temp high at 76 F.

- 8/8/12 - In PM, bubbling q second, temp 77 F. Added sugar (boiled and cooled in 1-2 cups of water) to fermenter. A few hours later, bubbling 2 x per second again, and the temp exceeded the 78 F on the fermometer.

- 14/8/12 - Took a gravity reading... already down to 1.006. The sample I tasted was quite citrusy, with some spiciness as well, and a bit of warmth from the alcohol (already ~8.4% ABV).

- 28/8/12 - FG 1.004... ABV going to come in at about 8.6%.

- 5/9/12 - Bottled ~2.5 gallons, using 98 g table sugar for a target of 3.5 vol CO2 with a max temp of 80 F reached. Added ~1/4 package of Champagne yeast, rehydrated. Racked the other 8 L into secondary, onto 600 g of frozen, and then thawed raspberries.

- 6/9/12 - Pitched in the bottle dregs of a Fantome Saison into the raspberry-half. Not sure how much sugars are really left for the Fantome yeast to have an effect, but what the heck.

- 16/10/12 - Tasting of the plain portion.

- 18/1/13 - Bottled the raspberry portion. FG 1.002. Used 70 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 2.1 gallons with a max temp of 80 F reached.

- 18/12/13 - Long overdue, but here are the tasting notes... was waiting to see if some funk would develop, but it didn't. However, the result is still a pretty tasty raspberry Saison.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

NHC 2012 Final Round results

Several months ago, I entered a few beers into the ALES competition in Saskatchewan. This is the only homebrew competition in Canada that is a qualifying round for the National Homebrew Competition (the largest homebrew contest in the world), which takes place in a different city in the U.S. each year. Two of my entries, an Oktoberfest and American IPA (the Alpine Duet clone I brewed in January), won medals (gold and bronze, respectively), and therefore moved on to the final round in Seattle in late June. I was worried about the age of the IPA by the time the competition came around, so I brewed a replacement American IPA in late April - a different recipe, however, due to a shortage of Amarillo hops.

Unfortunately, neither of the beers placed in the final round, but I wasn't exactly disappointed. I didn't have high hopes, what with the quality of beers that I would be competing against. I just recently received the scoresheets for the two beers... it's always nice to get unbiased, informative opinions from BJCP-certified judges, especially ones who have had a lot of experience judging homebrew competitions. Below is a summary of the scores for each beer.

Oktoberfest (Groundskeeper Marzen) - Category 3(b)

The overall score for this beer was 34.3 (in the 'Very Good', 30-37 range) out of 50, which I was actually pleased about. The three individual scores were 36, 34, and 33.

- Aroma: Scores were pretty good here (two 8s and a 10/12), with the judges commenting on the "rich, clean malt" aroma, with it being a bit bready and toasty - pretty much what I would hope for in an Oktoberfest.

- Appearance: No complaints here either (2, 3, and 3/3) with an amber/copper color, great clarity, and excellent head retention.

- Flavor: Not as many comments in this section as I would have liked to see (scores 15, 13, and 12/20). The judge who gave it the highest score said to "eliminate the grainy/astringent element"; the other two judges had no complaints regarding astringency. The only other comment was from the judge who gave the LOWEST score; he simply said "good malt complexity". No other flaws were noted.

- Mouthfeel: Pretty average (3, 3, and 4/5); again, the first judge noted a "slight astringent finish", marking it only as a 1/5 in the astringency section. Another judge said that it "may be overly carbonated"... may?

- Overall: 6, 6, and 7/10. I would agree with the scores for this beer... it's always been one of my favorites that I've brewed. It's definitely a bit too old now (brewed in May, 2011... maybe a fresher batch would have scored even better?), but I think it's held up REALLY well, considering.

American IPA ("Z.E.D. IPA") - Category 14(b)

This beer didn't score as well as the Oktoberfest; the overall score was 27.6/50 (in the "Good" range of 21/29). Individual scores were very consistent with 28, 28, and 27.

- Aroma: Scored pretty well here, with 7, 7, and 8/12. The hop aroma was generally agreed to be very high, with notes of citrus, grass, and pine. The judges all seemed to think that the malt aroma was too-overshadowed by the hops. I have a bit of an issue with this... the BJCP clearly states the following regarding American IPA:
"A prominent to intense hop aroma with a citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, and/or fruity character derived from American hops. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional grassy aroma, although this is not required. Some clean malty sweetness may be found in the background, but should be at a lower level than in English examples."
I suppose the judges thought there was no malt aroma (two of them rated the malt aroma as 1/5 in terms of prominence), but one clearly thought there was some there (3/5).

- Appearance: Good scores (2, 3, and 3/3); gold color, with pretty good clarity and a bit of hop haze, and very good head retention.

- Flavor: Here's where the beer stumbled... three 10/20s. Basically, all three judges felt the hopping was too aggressive, with no real malt-backup, causing the beer to finish "fairly harshly". Bitterness was ranked 4/5 by all three, with the malt at 1, 2, and 3/5 (hops were 4, 4 and 5/5).

- Mouthfeel: Again, not so great... 2, 2 and 3/5. "Harshness" was mentioned again, along with astringency by one judge.

- Overall: 5, 5 and 6/10. The notes on flavor and mouthfeel speak for themselves; the judges felt some more malt presence and complexity would really help this beer.

I thought the scoring may have been a bit unfair for the aroma (based on the BJCP guidelines), but I completely agree with all the other comments. I DID overhop this beer, especially in the dry-hop, which accounted for 3 oz each of Citra and Simcoe for a 5-gallon batch. I still have a few of the Duet clones left, and I feel even though they're 5 months bottled now that they're still a better beer. Looking back, I would have probably been better off entering the clone, or at least classifying the new beer as an Imperial IPA!