Friday, February 27, 2015

Live Long and Porter

Today, Leonard Nimoy (better known as Mr. Spock) passed away after a long and prosperous life. As someone who really enjoyed his work and found his public presence to be a positive one, it only seemed appropriate to name today's brew in his honor. I had a porter recipe that was otherwise untitled...thus, "Live Long and Porter" was born.

Live Long and Porter

  • 7.5 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting)
  • .75 lbs. chocolate malt
  • .75 lbs. Vienna malt
  • .5 lbs. Carapils malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% estimated alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% estimated alpha), 20 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer (in mash)
  • California Ale V yeast (White Labs WLP051), prepared 24 hours in advance in 1.5 L starter
Anticipated Statistics
  • 1.048 s.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.7% abv
  • 29.5 IBU
  • 23.8 SRM
Procedure
  • I mashed in with 3.125 gallons of water at 172°; the mash stabilized at 155°.
  • I let the mash sit for 80 minutes and then added 1.15 gallons of water at 190°. I let the mash rest for 20 minutes, and collected 3 gallons of wort.
  • I added 3.15 gallons of water at 190°; the mash was a little too hot, so I added ~0.25 gallons of ice cubes to bring the temperature down to 168°. I let this sit for 20 minutes.
  • In total, I collected 6.85 gallons of wort, with a gravity of 1.043 at 60°. This works out to roughly 83% efficiency!
  • I brought the wort to a boil and added the first round of hops. These were boiled for 60 minutes total; the second hops addition was boiled for 20 minutes. For the last 15 minutes of the boil, I added 1 tsp. of Irish moss.
  • After 60 minutes of boiling, I removed the kettle from the heat and cooled it down using my wort chiller. Final volume in the kettle was roughly 6.2 gallons.
  • The "official" measured starting gravity was 1.050 at 60°; this is just a hair above my predicted target (1.048), but well within the bounds of acceptability. The wort is a rich, chocolatey brown...very pretty!
  • I ended up with around 5.75 gallons of wort in the fermenter (after adding the starter), with a starting temperature of approximately 72°. I pitched the entire yeast starter and transferred the whole lot into the fermentation chamber. I'll ferment it at 66°.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beer Tasting: Beringea IPA

The Beringea IPA has been on tap for about three weeks now, and has matured and clarified beautifully. Before it's all gone, I figured I should do an official tasting!

A few notes--it was dry-hopped at around 60 degrees for 10 days. I chose to leave the hops in while carbonating and serving, and haven't noted any negative effects on the beer.

  • Basics
    • Starting gravity = 1.060; final gravity = 1.013; abv = 6.2%. Estimated IBU = 56
  • Aroma
    • Pleasantly and moderately floral.
  • Appearance
    • Off-white, creamy head that is pretty persistent, with modest lacing. The beer itself is a clear, moderate copper in color. No chill haze. Really pretty!
  • Flavor
    • Nicely balanced with a hint of maltiness. The beer is modestly bitter but not overly so. The finish is gently bitter but not harsh at all. The hops come through nicely...not just bitter, but flavorful.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Smooth; carbonation is about perfect for the style. 
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! It's a nicely balanced IPA; very drinkable, and not so ridiculously bitter that it blows out your taste buds from the first sip. I'm pleased.
  • Overall rating
    • 9/10

Sunday, February 22, 2015

von Meyer Weizen Bottled

Tonight I bottled my von Meyer Weizen; it had been in the fermenter for 3 weeks. This was a touch longer than originally intended, following various unexpected interruptions. The final gravity was 1.012, down from 1.047. This works out to 4.6% abv. The beer has the prominent banana and clove aroma/flavor that's expected with this style--I shall be curious to see how these mellow and taste after a little aging and at proper serving temperature under carbonation.

I primed the beer with 2.6 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water, targeting 2.7 volumes of CO2. My final yield was 6 12-oz. bottles, 12 18-oz. bottles, and 3 22-oz. bottles.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

von Meyer Weizen

My homebrew club is focusing on German wheat beers for its March meeting, so today I brewed up a batch in preparation. Based on past experiences, I knew that German wheat beers are tasty, but maybe not something I wanted five gallons of (especially given the relatively short shelf life for the style). Given my brewing equipment and available time this afternoon, I decided to go for a 2.5 gallon batch of an all-extract beer. My mash tun holds 10 gallons, so I was worried that a half batch (2.5 gallons) wouldn't hold temperature for a sufficiently long time, and I didn't feel like simultaneously learning BIAB, so extract seemed the way to go. As I read up on the style, I ended up thinking that a simpler brew would be best.

Because I was using all-extract, I elected to use distilled water to keep the mineral concentrations down. In my reading, it became apparent that extracts already have the minerals from the mash. For a lighter beer like this, using my (already heavily mineralized) tap water to rehydrate might ding the flavor a little bit. We'll see how it works out!

The recipe itself is named after Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer, a nineteenth century German paleontologist who studied Plateosaurus, perhaps one of the best known dinosaurs of Germany. I was using a Bavarian malt extract, and Plateosaurus are plentiful in Bavaria, so all of the elements add up!

von Meyer Weizen
  • 3 lbs. Bavarian wheat dry malt (Briess, 8.0 SRM; 65% malted wheat, 35% malted barley)
  • 0.35 oz. Hallertauer hops pellets (4.3% alpha, 5.6% beta)
  • 3.5 gallons distilled water
  • Hefeweizen Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP300)
Anticipated statistics
  • 1.047 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.6% abv
  • 10.3 IBU
  • 6.4 SRM
Procedure
  • I heated 3.25 gallons of distilled water to a boil, turned off the heat, and added the dry malt extract.
  • Once the mixture returned to a boil, I added the hops pellets and boiled for 60 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I cooled the wort down to 70° using my chiller and transferred it into my carboy. The gravity was a little high (1.052), so I diluted the wort slightly by adding another 0.25 gallons of water. This brought my starting gravity exactly where I wanted it to be.
  • I pitched the yeast directly from the vial into the wort (no starter needed for this small of a batch), agitated the mixture, and set it in my fermenting chamber. I plan to ferment at 64°. Based on what I read, this temperature can result in a more balanced clove/banana aroma than fermenting at a higher temperature.
  • Starting gravity was 1.047, with ~2.67 gallons in the fermenter.
  • After 10-14 days, I will bottle the beer.
This project reminded me of one of the great pleasures of extract brews--rapid brewing and short clean-up! I spent maybe 2.5 hours max on this, for everything from pulling out the equipment to washing the brew pot.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Advice for the New Homebrewer

This post is intended as a "sticky note" for friends, acquaintances, and general internet inhabitants who ask how to get into home brewing. It is based on my own personal experience and opinion. If there is anything that home brewers are, it's opinionated. So, you may hear drastically different advice on some points (e.g., extract versus all-grain), but I suspect most would at least partly agree on what I have to say here.

My starting assumption here is that the reader is at least passingly familiar with basic terms such as "extract brewing" or "all-grain brewing" or "sparging." If not, a quick internet search will turn up better definitions than I could provide.

General Advice
  • "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Home Brew." I really like Charlie Papazian's philosophy. Papazian is in many ways a founder of homebrewing culture, and his book "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing" is a legitimate classic. Although I've since learned that the corners of some content in the book are a little outdated or have better alternatives, Papazian's "Relax" mantra is a healthy one to keep in mind. Most minor mistakes in brewing (and even some major ones) won't completely kill a batch of beer! As I tell friends who are just starting out--"The worst thing that usually can happen is that you will get beer."
  • You will not get Bud Light style lager through 99% of all home brewing efforts. If that is your goal, you are far better off just picking up a case of the cheap stuff at the store. The light American lagers--despite their bad reputation among beer snobs--are technically quite difficult to achieve by most homebrew setups. That said, you are not restricted to just stouts and porters. You can fairly easily make a really tasty blonde ale, for instance--light, refreshing, and quite achievable!
  • If your intent is to save money on beer, find another hobby. In terms of raw ingredients for a batch, yes, you might save money in the long run. But once you factor in time and equipment, this is not by any means a money-saving proposition. Quite frankly, there are better ways to save money--like cutting back on your beer drinking.
  • You know what your own tastes are. Trust them. If the beer tastes good to you, it's good beer. That said, do be open to constructive critique from those who have practiced taste buds. As a corollary to that, though, remember that we all pick up on different things in beer. Beware relentlessly negative tasting critiques from beer snobs. There are always those who will find fault no matter what; learn to identify them and (politely) ignore them.
  • The goal is not (or isn't always) high alcohol or maximum hoppage. Those things can be nice in some beers, but get boring after awhile. There is an unfortunate "macho" philosophy prevalent among some home brewers (and even some craft brewers) that the goal is to create the highest alcohol beer that will provide maximum buzz, or the most bitter concoction, or the funkiest Brett brew. This isn't healthy, nor is it fun, in the long run. Good beer comes in all shapes and sizes; I've had great beer with almost no hops character, and lots of hops character. Likewise, I've had great beer with 3.2% abv, or 9% abv. Variety is the spice of life.
  • There is a tremendous amount of BS masquerading as brewing advice on various internet forums and websites. There is also a tremendous amount of good knowledge out there. As a scientist, I am a little frustrated at times by the uncritical eye cast towards brewing techniques. I get the sense that there is a vast world of scientific knowledge out there, but it doesn't often percolate down to home brewers. So, use a bit of common sense when incorporating new techniques into your repertoire. As I said in the intro--home brewers are an opinionated bunch, for better or worse.
  • Start small. You have no idea if you will give up on brewing after two batches, or if you'll still be brewing strong ten years down the road. Thus, it doesn't make a lot of sense to drop $1,000 on equipment right from the start. You should be able to brew your first batch of beer for around or under $100 of equipment and supplies.
  • If possible, brew with a friend before committing. If you have a friend who is a homebrewer, ask if you can "ride along" for one of their brewing sessions. It's a good way to see how the process works. That said, be aware that your friend may have good habits, bad habits, cheap habits, expensive habits, or unnecessary habits built into his or her work flow. Just because they do all-grain with a massively complex sparge setup doesn't mean that you have to also. Or, if they use iodine-based sanitizers without proper dilution or rinsing, you may want to do something a little different.
  • Start with extract brewing. It requires minimal equipment investment as well as requires the easiest technique. It's a good way to get your feet wet (or end up completely immersed in the hobby!).
  • Both extract and all-grain brewing can produce good (or bad) beer. Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages, but with care and experience both can produce excellent beer. If you spend your entire career doing extract, and get excellent results, yay! Don't let all-grain snobs get you down.
  • Take good notes. You will never regret this. What worked in your process? What didn't work? What did you change from before? What were the starting and finishing gravities? It is hard to improve (or maintain high quality) if you don't know what happened.
  • You will not get perfect beer at first--but you will almost certainly get drinkable beer. As you learn and practice your technique, your brews will nearly certainly improve.
  • If the beer tastes funny, wait a week or two or three before tossing it. I've made a few batches that improved drastically after a few weeks of maturing. Time doesn't fix all ills in brewing, but it sure can mitigate most.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beer Tasting: Andy's Pumpkin Ale 1.0

Before this beer got too far along, I wanted to do a critical tasting of my pumpkin ale. I've only got a few bottles left, and have been enjoying these through the winter months. Pumpkin ales (and pumpkin spice anything) are a bit of a trend these days, which has resulted in no shortage of commercial examples that (in my taste opinion) range from mediocre to delicious. Not one to dodge a beer bandwagon, it seemed like a good idea to brew one. As you'll see below, yes, it was a good idea!

  • Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.060; final gravity = 1.012; abv = 6.3%
  • Aroma
    • A hint of nutmeg and pumpkin (the savory vegetable aroma from freshly cooked pumpkin). Very nicely balanced--not a "spice bomb."
  • Appearance
    • Thick off-white head with excellent staying power; a creamy appearance and feel to the head. The beer itself is brilliantly clear, with a rich golden hue (the picture really doesn't do it justice). This is about as beautiful as it gets.
  • Flavor
    • Hard to describe, in a good way. Very lightly malty, with a pleasant but not overwhelming bitterness. I definitely pick up the nutmeg--distinct, but not overpowering--but the cinnamon is much more subtle; basically, just a little zing on the finish. 
  • Mouthfeel
    • Perhaps a touch overcarbonated. That aside, the mouthfeel is pretty smooth, just as I'd hope for something with pumpkin.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! I might dial back the carbonation just a notch, but otherwise this is pretty much the perfect pumpkin ale. The vegetable, malt, and spices are well balanced, and the body is full enough that it's not like a lager with spice added. This recipe is going into the yearly rotation. I'll also note that it has aged very well, and is just as tasty (if not more) after two months.
  • Overall rating
    • 8/10

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Beer Tasting: Experimental Amber Ale

After about 10 days of carbonation, I felt that my Experimental Amber Ale was ready for a serious evaluation. The overly malty flavor at kegging--almost to the point where I was worried that it might be diacetyl or some other flaw--has disappeared, and the beer tastes quite nice. The full story is below.

  • Basics
    • Starting gravity = 1.047; final gravity = 1.013; abv = 4.5%
  • Aroma
    • Clean and lightly malty; nothing to speak of for hop aroma.
  • Appearance
    • A rich amber in color, and clear in appearance. The head is off-white, with good retention, but is not particularly "big" in size.
  • Flavor
    • Malt-forward, with a moderate bitterness that finishes smoothly. Nicely balanced.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderately light (but not thin) body and moderately carbonated.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Probably so, but maybe with a bit of crystal 60 added. I wouldn't place this into the "absolutely outstanding" category, but there is nothing terribly offensive about it, either. It could probably have a little more of a caramel presence to fit the style guidelines for an amber ale (and indeed, I had intended to add this, but forgot when at my homebrew store), as well as to round out the flavor. If I enter this in a competition, I expect it would get dinged a bit for style. On the other hand, I still like this beer!
  • Overall rating:
    • 7/10