Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tasting : Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone vs. Zoe

Ok, here we are about 7 weeks after brewing this Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone, and the beer has been bottled about 4 weeks. I was lucky enough to snag a couple of bottles on a recent trip to Portland, ME (straight from the source, at Maine Beer Co.'s new brewery in Freeport), so that I could do a direct comparison. This was done last week, when both the clone and the commercial beer were about 3 weeks bottled. I didn't hit my target FG (which doesn't surprise me; MBC has some crazy attenuation going on, according to their numbers!), so my beer is about 0.4% lower in alcohol than the commercial one.

I started drinking the clone about one week after bottling, and carbonation was already in the right zone. I have to say, I was really impressed with how it came out. I've had Zoe probably 8-10 times now, and without comparing directly, I felt that not only was the clone an excellent hoppy Amber, but it was quite close to the real thing. However, I had one main caveat, based on a couple of Zoes I had drank a few months ago...

At that time, I had two bottles of Zoe. One was only 7 days old, and the other was a month old. The 7-day-old Zoe was very tasty, but it had a fairly-prominent chocolate/rich malt character in both the aroma and flavor that I didn't remember from other Zoes. When I cracked the 1-month-old bottle, oddly enough it struck me as HOPPIER. It's not that it was FRESHER; it was just that the hops were more prominent in the aroma and flavor compared to the younger Zoe. Not sure if this was due to batch variation? Maybe once Zoe ages for a little bit, the hops take over? Not what I would expect in a hoppy beer, but Ambers ARE different from IPAs in that they have a more complicated malt profile, generally.

So, getting on to the actual comparison. I didn't take any official notes, but jotted down the important things. Basically, it was damned close. The two beers looked EXACTLY alike. Held to the light, whatever, there's no way you could tell them apart. Deep red color, very good clarity, moderate-sized white head that held at about 1/2-finger, leaving some nice lacing on the glass. As for the aroma and flavor, they were really close, but the commercial version again had a stronger chocolate presence, which kind of hid the hops a bit. My beer was still slightly sweet and malty, but more in a bready way. The hops come through great - fruity, slightly dank and piney. Very delicious. Mouthfeel for both beers was about very similar: medium-bodied, medium carbonation.

I'd say the beer I brewed is ~95% cloned (I know you can't really measure that in a number!), at least when compared to the Zoe I'm more used to. I wish I had had some on tap at the tasting room at MBC in Freeport, but I stuck with their two Pilot beers (which were amazing, by the way). If you wanted to get this beer closer to the more-malt-forward Zoe, I guess you could increase the Chocolate malt slightly, but I'd be worried the beer would get darker, and maybe more roasty as well.

Regardless, I'm extremely happy with the beer as-is. Attempting to clone a beer is a lot of fun, but in the end, if you get a really delicious beer in the style, it's a good thing, right? I've now found an American Amber recipe that I'll be sure to re-visit in the future!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Tasting : Going to California (California Common)

It's always encouraging when you re-brew a beer style that you weren't happy with the first time, and it actually DOES turn out better the second time around. My main issue with my first California Common wasn't the recipe; it was due to the stuck fermentation that resulted in a final gravity that was 10 points above the target. I'm happy to say that this second attempt turned out much better.

The recipe for this beer was virtually the same as my first Common, except I added more Northern Brewer as a dry-hop addition, and kept the beer at cooler temps for a couple of weeks. Since I got much closer to my target FG this time, the taste is more bang-on... toasty with a bit of toffee, but not overly sweet. I really like what the 1.5 oz of dry-hop did for the beer, too. The first couple bottles I had DID smell and taste a bit odd - I think the Northern Brewer came through a little strong. It soon mellowed, however, and even several months after bottling still has a nice woody aroma to it.

Not much I would change about this beer if I were to brew it again. It didn't come out very clear considering the yeast I used and time it had at cooler temps... maybe a bit of chill-haze issues? Also, the ABV is ultimately lower than what I was aiming for, since my OG was also a bit low. Still, I'd highly recommend the recipe to anyone who felt like trying the California Common style... definitely an easy-drinking beer that offers more, flavor-wise, then your typical Blonde or American Lager.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white head that begins to recede quickly to a thin film. Body is copper-colored, and fairly hazy.

Aroma: Even several months after being bottled, the beer still has a very pleasant hop aroma that showcases the Northern Brewer: woody and earthy. There’s a definite malt character in the background that is moderately sweet, with also some toffee.

Taste: Definitely a hoppy beer, but unlike an IPA, it isn’t citrus... it’s that same earthy quality in the aroma. Some caramel malt flavors as well, but the balance is towards the hops. Finishes with a moderate bitterness, and fairly dry.

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

Overall: Yes, this is hoppier than your standard CC (I’m looking at you, Anchor Steam), but to me it doesn’t seem too hoppy when you compare it to the BJCP guidelines for the style. I really like it and would brew it the same way again.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Brewing a Witbier, with Belma hops

Last July I brewed one of my favorite summer beer styles, a Belgian Witbier (recipe here). It was my second attempt at this style, and it turned out a lot better than my first try, which was, unfortunately, overly phenolic. I was happy with the recipe, which was taken (and altered slightly) from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. The beer was refreshing, creamy, and had a good amount of coriander presence without being TOO spicy, which is my main complaint about a lot of Witbiers available commercially.

So, with summer fast-approaching, I wanted to do a re-brew of this recipe to have in time for the warmer weather. From my tasting notes from last summer, the main issue I wanted to fix with this beer was to boost the amount of citrus (namely, orange) character. After a bit of research and thinking, I decided to make the following changes as well:
  • Use real, grated orange peel - I had used dried sweet orange peel for the last batch; this source is easier, in that you just have to weigh it out, as opposed to grating several oranges. However, I felt using the real thing would give a better-quality orange character, so I grated about 1 oz of navel orange zest, twice the amount of orange peel from the previous recipe.
  • Skip the protein rest - While some sources recommend a protein rest (at about 122 F) when using high amounts of unmalted grain, a lot of other brewers say that a single saccharification rest is sufficient. Since time was an issue, I decided to go with a single rest at 154 F and see how it worked out for me.
  • Increase the amount of acid malt - Just a slight bump to bring the mash pH down a bit more.
  • Change the water chemistry - Only slightly... 2 grams each of calcium chloride and Gypsum to the mash, mainly to bring the calcium into a better range for yeast health.
  • Add the orange zest and coriander later - You don't want to boil either for very long, as you don't want the aromatics boiled off. I added them with 5 minutes remaining in the boil for the last recipe; this time, I went even later, at 2 minutes.
  • Change the hop variety and schedule - Probably the biggest variation from the previous recipe. Bitterness and hop flavor/aroma are a very minor part of your classic Witbier, but I wanted to try a hop that I've never used before - Belma. I made three small additions, one at 60 minutes, and then again at 10 minutes and flameout.
Belma is a hop grown and offered exclusively by Hops Direct last fall. They describe it as being very clean, and having a "very orange, slight grapefruit, tropical pineapple, strawberry, and melon aroma". It was sold for a pretty cheap price, and those lucky enough to have snagged some are encouraged to send feedback. I've read reviews, blog posts, etc. since it has become available, and even got to try an American IPA single-hopped with it by a friend of mine, and it's definitely the strawberry that seems to stick out the most. I got to thinking that maybe this type of hop would work in a Witbier... maybe the strawberry will go nicely with the orange and coriander? Maybe not; maybe it'll ruin the beer. Well, only one way to find out! The additions I made were nothing large... just a small bittering addition, and then 1/2 ounce each for the other two.

On a side note, it's nice mixing up brew days between clones (which I seem to be brewing a lot lately), and beers whose recipes you've formulated/tweaked yourself. After this crowd-friendly Witbier, however, it's time to move back to something hoppy!

Note: While I've been getting slacker about taking pictures of my brew day, please excuse the more severe lack this time... my camera messed up early, so I only got in one!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 70% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.012, IBU 15, SRM 3.5, ABV ~4.7%

2.18 kg (46.2%) Pilsner malt
2 kg (42.3%) Flaked wheat
341 g (7.2%) Flaked oats
204 g (4.3%) Acid malt
227 g Rice hulls to help prevent a stuck sparge

Belma- 7 g (9.8% AA) @ 60 min
Belma - 14 g @ 10 min
Belma - 14 g @ flameout

Sweet Orange Peel - 30 g @ 2 min
Coriander seed, ground - 14 g @ 2 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3463 Forbidden Fruit (PD Apr 20/13, with a 1.7 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 2 g Gypsum and 2 g calcium chloride, in the mash

- Brewed on June 2nd, 2013, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16.35 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 154 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp 168 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.4 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at target of 1.035. 90-minute boil. Chilled to 65 F in about 30 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured ~5 gallons into Better Bottle. OG low at 1.045, for some reason. Aerated wort with 60 seconds of pure O2. Pitched yeast and set BB in laundry room sink with cold water and a bit of ice.

2/6/13 - Already some activity in the airlock by the evening, temp at 66 F.

3/6/13 - Vigorous airlock activity in the morning, bubbling about twice per second, temp holding at 66 F. By evening, temp had risen slightly to 68 F, but activity already slowing to every 2 seconds or so.

4/6/13 - Airlock activity seems to be about complete already. Temp 68 F. Moved out of laundry sink.

23/6/13 - Just took a gravity reading... this bastard is stuck at 1.019! Let this be a lesson never to wait too long to check on your beer's progress. I roused the yeast a bit, but I think I'm way too late to save this one.

3/7/13 - FG 1.019, couldn't get it to drop. Temp 70 F. Bottled with 120 g of table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 (would normally go to at least 3 vol, but want to minimize bottle bomb risk) with max temp of 70 F reached.

25/9/13 - Finally posted the tasting notes from July. A tasty, refreshing beer, but the Belma hops didn't add as much character as I'd like, and the beer is definitely overcarbed from the high FG.