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.