Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tasting : Ordinariest Kind (Smuttynose Finestkind clone)

Okay, I'm doing better this time... actually posting some tasting notes for a beer that I just bottled a couple of weeks ago. Maybe this isn't necessary for a Russian Imperial Stout, but for style like American IPA, I really should be doing this more often when the beer is actually fresh. I would have done this even sooner, but this beer has actually been taking its time reaching a decent carbonation level. I had added some dry yeast when bottling (since the beer was at lower temps when I dry-hopped it, I didn't want to take any chances), but maybe it's been slower due to the extremely cold temperatures here in New Brunswick, and therefore lower temps in the house. While still a bit low, it seems to be where it should be, now.

I've had the real Finestkind plenty of times, but it's been awhile, so I need to pick some up during my next trip to Maine to refresh my memory. However, I think I can say now that I'm a bit disappointed with how the homebrew clone turned out. I find the entire hop character - aroma and flavor - to be quite mild for an American IPA. Is Finestkind the hoppiest IPA out there? No. As I mentioned in my brewing post, it isn't near as hoppy as a lot of the "West Coast IPAs" that are so popular now. But while this homebrew is tasty, it could definitely use more hop aroma and flavor. Since this recipe apparently came straight from the brewers at Smuttynose, I'm going to assume that the problem lies more with the freshness of my hops. The every-5-minute Simcoe additions, while small, should have added some nice pine flavor and aroma to the beer; however, I have had them for at least six months now. They were stored in ziplock bags in the freezer, but this isn't the best-case scenario for hop storage, and they undoubtedly lost some of their punch.

I'll be posting again in the (hopefully) near future, where I will compare the homebrew to the actual Finestkind, to see if the difference between the two is as obvious as I think.

Appearance: Poured with a small-moderate, off-white head that sticks around nicely for awhile and then fades to 1/4-finger. Body is golden-colored, with some slight haze.

Aroma: The aroma isn’t very strong in any regard. The malt character is there, and a bit bready. As for the hops, they dominate, but not overly so... they come through as citrusy, here. Not near as hoppy as a lot of the other IPAs I’ve brewed.

Taste: Same goes for the flavor, here... some neutral malt background with a pleasant citrus-hop character, but maybe a bit mild for an American IPA. Medium bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, and medium-low carbonation.

Overall: A very drinkable IPA; a good entry-IPA for those who aren't used to bitter beers. As mentioned, I’ll be doing a comparison to the real Finestkind when I can get some, but I think that my version is definitely milder on the aroma and taste. Therefore, while tasty, not an American IPA recipe I will likely be making again.

UPDATE: Feb 5th/13 - I've had a few more of these now, and after a bit of time in the bottle I find the beer is actually tasting better than when I wrote this review... the hop presence is now more prevalent, for sure. I think it may have to do with the slow time-to-carbonation, but I'd have to say this recipe is actually much more accurate to the real Finestkind than I had originally thought!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tasting : Old Brown Shoe 2.0 (Southern English Brown)

I always have problems when it comes to judging my own beer, once it's finally ready to drink. It's obviously impossible to be completely impartial, knowing the recipe, procedure, problems that may have occurred while brewing, etc. But I also find it difficult to not be TOO harsh; I'm always looking for any little indication on infection, fermentation problems, and a lot of other things that may arise when brewing.

On top of all that, forming an opinion on a beer style that is not available commercially to me is even harder. Southern English Brown is a style that has all but faded away outside of England. It's probably more available now than it has been in awhile, thanks to homebrewers giving the style a go, but commercially-speaking, there are very few brands out there (according to the BJCP). Sure, you can read lots about what a good SEB should taste/smell like, but I really wish I had a tried-and-true version to compare my own attempts to.

With this beer, I had made some changes to the first recipe I brewed in 2010. With an OG at the lower end of the style range, and a FG at the HIGH end (at 1.014, it came in several points above target), the beer ended up with a scant 2.6% ABV. You don't get much more sessionable than that! Unfortunately, despite the high FG, large percentage of specialty malts (35%) and high mash temp (155 F), the beer tastes slightly thin to me. However, maybe a low-carbonated, 2.6%-beer isn't SUPPOSED to be THAT full-bodied. Either way, this beer is pretty flavorful, and does make a nice alternative to high-alcohol beers... when needed. I still have one of my first SEB attempts around... I'll try to do a comparison sometime soon, to see just how different they are.

Appearance: Poured with a small, light-tan head that fades to a thin film on the beer. Body is dark brown, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Malty-sweet aroma, lots of caramel, toffee, and chocolate. No hop aroma.

Taste: Very sweet and caremelly, but there’s a roast presence there that does not belong in this style of beer. I suspect that my LHBS's idea of Amber malt does not match mine, based on the color of the grain. Low bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Quite light-bodied, with low carbonation. Definitely too thin for this style of beer.

Overall: Very sessionable, and I enjoy the character from all of the specialty malts. BUT, the bit of roastiness isn’t appropriate, and the mouthfeel needs to be heavier. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what went wrong in that department. Also difficult to tell what the no-sparge method added to all this, if anything.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Tasting : Salivator (Doppelbock)

When I originally brewed this Doppelbock way back in February of 2012, I had intended on lagering it for a good 2-3 months, then bottling and going right to drinking the beer. However, I managed to get in quite a few brew days that winter; combine that with the fact that my wife was pregnant and not drinking, and I ended up having quite a surplus of homebrew on hand. Therefore, I decided not to rush into bottling the Doppelbock; the more lagering time you can give a big beer like this, the better.

I finally ended up bottling the beer in late September. I'm not sure why I held off posting tasting notes for another three months, but I wasn't drinking the beer that often and wanted to give myself time to form an opinion. Doppelbock is a great winter-drinking beer, anyway, what with its high maltiness and high ABV, so now's the time to really get into them! Also, Pump House brewery in Moncton, NB has recently released their Doppelbock seasonal in bottles, so it was nice to actually be able to compare a local, commercial version of the style to my attempt.

Appearance: Poured with a fairly large, off-white head that has excellent retention and appears very creamy. Body is a dark ruby red, with great clarity.

Aroma: Deep, dark fruit aroma, with cherries/plums being prominent to me. Fairly strong maltiness, but maybe the fruit is overtaking that aspect. No hop aroma.

Taste: Strong malt flavor, maybe a bit of toastiness in there as well, along with just a hint of light chocolate. The dark fruit/plum character is there, but not near as much as the aroma would indicate. No hop flavor. Low-medium hop bitterness in the finish. Clean; no diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body, with moderate carbonation bordering on too-high. A hint of alcohol warmth on the way down.

Overall: The fruit character in the aroma could be toned down a bit; I'm not sure if this is a recipe issue, or a fermentation one, but the beer is otherwise very clean and smooth. The carbonation is a touch high as well, but otherwise I really like the beer, and think it's generally a pretty good representation of the style. Smooth for a high-ABV beer, and I love how it looks. Nice malty flavor. If I brewed it again, I'd probably cut out the Crystal 80 L or at least scale it back... other than that, I think it's a good recipe.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Brewing an Oxbow Freestyle #5 clone (No.1 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

If I had to pick just one reason to be jealous of the state of Maine, it would be over its number of quality breweries. Sure, they're one of the highest brewery-per-capita states in the U.S., but really, a lot of these breweries make some extremely tasty and original beers. Allagash is, of course, probably the first Maine craft brewery that comes to mind, but if you even look at some of the newer ones that have opened up in just the past few years (e.g. Maine Beer Company, Baxter Brewing, and Rising Tide), you can tell that Mainers definitely have more than their share of great breweries.

Oxbow Brewing
Another fantastic new brewery in Maine is Oxbow Brewing. Located in Newcastle, they're considered a Farmhouse brewery, and while their output is, of course, low compared to a lot of larger breweries, the beers they're making are delicious, and already extremely popular. While Oxbow just opened in 2011, they already have quite a repertoire of beers that they've made available to the public, most of which are in their Freestyle series. Several of the beers in this series are Stouts and IPAs, but the majority of them are different types of Saisons. I've been lucky enough to try a few of the Freestyle beers, my favorite of which is their #5, a "Black Wheat Saison". Dark, spicy, and creamy, it's a delicious beer that, at 5% ABV, won't knock you on your butt like a lot of the higher-alcohol Saisons that you see now.

Back in the summer, I contacted Oxbow and asked them if they would be able to help me with a clone recipe of the Freestyle #5. It took a bit of time, but I eventually got a reply from Tim Adams, co-founder and head brewer at Oxbow, with some quite-detailed notes on brewing their beer:

"It was basically 50% wheat (red & white), 50% french/belgian pale malt. Some aromatic for character and Briess Midnight wheat for color. hold at 148 for 40 min, recirc for 20 mins. Hopped with Saaz and Styrian Goldings to somewhere in the 20 ibu range. 90 minute boil. bittered at 75, some at 10, more at 5, loads in the whirlpool. Pick your favorite saison yeast strain or blend. Ferment in the mid 80s. Cheers! Tim"

This was more information than I was expecting, and much thanks to Tim for the help. When putting the recipe together, I had to make some substitutions due to what was available to me. For the grist, I went with White Wheat malt only (I've never seen Red Wheat at my LHBS), and then a 50/50 mixture of Maris Otter and Pilsner in place of the French/Belgian pale malt. Hopefully it'll get me close. I actually WAS able to order some Midnight Wheat on a group buy... it took a few months to get, hence the reason that I'm just brewing this beer now. This wheat malt is extremely dark (~550 SRM), and, like Carafa Special, doesn't give a lot of bitter, harsh roastiness, due to the lack of a husk. When figuring out how much to add, I eventually decided on a little over 10% of the grist, enough to get the color of the beer to about 36 SRM on BeerSmith... I remember the #5 as being very dark, so I based it on that.

Unfortunately for the hop schedule, I didn't have any Styrian Goldings on hand or even available to order. I subbed in some UK Fuggles based on various online recommendations, as they seem to have relatively-comparable flavor and aroma characteristics to Styrian Goldings. A good proportion of the hops were added at flameout for a 10-minute whirlpool, to try to bump up the aroma of the beer. In fact, looking at the recipe now (after I've brewed the beer), I think I may have overdone it a bit with the 10- and 5-minute additions... we'll see.

For my last Saison, I used the Wyeast 3711 French Saison, which I liked. However, I decided to change for this beer and try the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison, a very popular yeast, despite it's notoriety for being slightly difficult. Apparently, the yeast has been known to seemingly "stick" in the mid 1.030s during fermentation; however, supposedly patience and warm temperatures will eventually aid the yeast in finishing with very good attenuation. This is going to be a bit difficult for me to accomplish this time of year, with temperatures already as low as -15 Celsius or even lower, so I purchased a Brew Belt to try to help bring the temperature up to at least the high-70s F.

I'm hoping that on my next trip to Portland (or even better, maybe a first trip to Newcastle?), I'll be able to track down the Freestyle #5 again. May not be too likely outside of the brewery tasting room, since they continue to release new Freestyle beers, but I'd love to be able to actually compare the real thing to my effort! I'd also really like for this to be the first in a series of Maine brewery clones; I may try putting out some feelers to some other brewers, to see if they're as generous with recipe info as Tim has been!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.045, FG 1.007, IBU 22, SRM 36.5, ABV 5%

1.64 kg (41.4%) White Wheat malt
817 g (20.7%) Maris Otter
817 g (20.7%) Pilsner malt
454 g (11.5%) Midnight Wheat
227 g (5.7%) Aromatic malt

Saaz - 21 g (2.4% AA) @ 75 min
Fuggles - 9 g (5% AA) @ 75 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 5 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 5 min
Saaz - 49 g @ 0 min
Fuggles - 49 g @ 0 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison (PD Dec. 14/2012, with a 1 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed December 31st, 2012, by myself. 50-minute mash with 12.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 148 F. Mashed out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water, resulting temp 163 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.3 gallons in the kettle.

- SG 1.034 (target). 90-minute boil. 10-minute whirlpool at flame-out. Chilled to 62 F in about 20 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.048. Pitched yeast starter at 65 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after pitching. Placed BB in room with ambient temp set to 70 F, with a small space-heater on as well.

1/1/13 - In AM, the airlock is bubbling almost every second, but the temp is only at 72 F. I attached the Brew Belt and bumped up the space heater temp as well. By the evening, the temp on the fermometer was past its max (78 F), and the ambient temp was 82 F, so I assume fermentation temp is around the low to mid-80s.

2/1/13 - Temp still above 78 F, but airlock activity has already slowed to every 2 seconds.

6/1/13 - Gravity at 1.015. Trying to keep the temperature up...

14/1/13 - Gravity still only down to 1.013. Leaving the space heater and Brew Belt on.

9/2/13 - Turned off the space heater a couple of weeks ago, temp stayed consistently around 76-78 F. Even after 6 weeks, FG only at 1.011. That actually proves to be an apparent attenuation of 77%, which is in the range listed on the Wyeast website. Bottled with 157 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 4.75 gallons with max temp of 85 F (?) reached.

15/4/13 - Tasting notes here. Spicy and easy-drinking.