Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Azacca Session IPA Update

Today (July 15), I kegged five gallons of my Azacca Session IPA, which was brewed 12 days prior. I added 2 oz. of Azacca hops pellets for dry-hopping, and will let it condition at 68° for five days before carbonating at serving temperature.

Gravity was 1.015, down from 1.045. This works out to 3.9% abv, nearly exactly as calculated. The beer is incredibly clear (as expected from the WLP005 yeast strain) and light gold in color. At least on initial tasting, the beer was only moderately bitter (hopefully to be accentuated as the beer conditions and carbonates), with a clean and definitely malty backbone, although not overly malty.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

West Coast Wheat Beer On Tap

Because I didn't have any "summer beers" on tap, I opted to speed-carbonate my West Coast Wheat Beer. This entailed two days at 40 psi and 42°, which did indeed carbonate things quite nicely. If anything, it might have overcarbonated a touch (based on the foaminess when I tapped the keg and poured the initial glasses). My hope is that this will get reduced as the beer sits at the standard serving / carbonating pressure for my system.

In any case, the beer has a positively thick and massive head, almost meringue-like. I guess this is what happens when you do an all-grain wheat beer! I'm quite pleased. The beer itself is quite delicious too, and I'll do a full tasting once it has had a chance to mature a bit more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

West Coast Wheat Beer Update

Today I kegged up the West Coast Wheat Beer, after 10 days in the primary fermenter. During the course of fermentation, I agitated the beer a few times to keep the yeast in suspension and ensure a full fermentation. At the time of kegging, the beer is at a gravity of 1.012 (down from 1.048), which works out to around 4.7% abv. The flavor is delicious, with a nice balance between tartness, citrus aromas, and a touch of fruitiness. This all bodes quite well! I'm "speed carbonating" at the moment (high pressure for two days, then down to serving pressure), with a hope to sample over the weekend.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Beer Tasting: Red Oak Ale

After about a month of conditioning, it's time to review the red oak ale I brewed in mid-May. As previously described, I oaked it with oak chips for a week, and have been dry-hopping it ever since.

Red Oak Ale
  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.070; final gravity = 1.015; abv = 7.3%; estimated IBU = 45.
  • Appearance
    • The modest head is tan, finely bubbled, and moderately persistent. The beer is a burnt umber shade and quite hazy.
  • Aroma
    • Light and crisp oakiness when freshly poured; as the beer warms up there is a background of alcoholic aroma and raisin/currant notes. Very subtle spicy aroma (presumably from the Willamette dry hops?).
  • Flavor
    • A modest, but not overwhelming, oakiness at the forefront of the beer, backed by a subdued but not insubstantial malt backbone. Very slight toasty notes and a hint of rye crispness. The finish has a smooth hoppiness and oakiness that fade slowly.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Delightfully fine carbonation and quite smooth to the feel. There is a very mild tannic finish from the oak. I could perhaps expand the body just a small touch, but that is a minor issue.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! As a type of recipe outside my usual styles, this one was a pleasing success. The level of oakiness is just about perfect for my taste, and truth be told it is nice to have oakiness alone, rather than the bourbon-soaked oak chips that most people use. The only minor tweak might be to fill out the body just a shade; a slightly higher mash temperature could do the trick. If I did that, I also might oak it for an extra day or two, to compensate for the greater body.
  • Overall rating
    • 8/10

Azacca Session IPA

A few weeks back, I attended the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego. One of the highlights (among many) was a lecture on "Brewing Session Beer" by New Belgium Brewing's Andy Mitchell, focused on brewing low-alcohol but high-flavor beers. My overall tastes (particularly for stuff I am going to put on tap in 5 gallon quantities) tend towards beers in this domain. I like to be able to enjoy a beer or two without ending up completely buzzed (and I want my liver to hold up for a few more decades of enjoying homebrew). One of the really interesting parts of Mitchell's lecture focused on brewing session IPA's, with a particular eye towards getting a beer with some nice body and flavor while avoiding watery mouthfeel.

Tips for brewing a session IPA (taken from my notes) included:
  • Malt
    • Less malt means less flavor! Instead of reducing the amounts of all malts in the beer (relative to a higher gravity grain bill), just scale back the base malt and leave the specialty malt as usual. If you scale back everything, it may result in a watery beer. 
    • As another alternative, use a more flavorful base malt, with as Vienna or Maris Otter.
    • Use a higher temperature mash rest, up to 158°. This will result in a greater proportion of unfermentable sugars, which will result in a bigger body for the finished beer.
    • Consider a shorter mash time. [my question is if the mash is cut too short, is there a risk of an over-starchy beer?]
  • Hops
    • Balance is key; due to the lower starting gravity of session beers, you don't want to overhop. A smaller addition of hops in a session IPA can result in perceived bitterness equivalent to that of a higher gravity IPA with more hops.
    • The bitterness ratio (IBU/SG) can be a useful tool to guide you. For an IPA, you might want to aim for a ratio of around 0.8 (e.g., 35 IBUs / 1.044 s.g.).
    • Use a "hop burst" technique instead of a bittering addition. This gives increased aroma and avoids over-bittering the beer. In practice, this means adding hops only for the last 10 to 15 minutes of the boil.
  • Water
    • Avoid adding sulfate to the water; adding chloride can be OK. (oops, I forgot to follow this guideline in my recipe)
  • Yeast
    • A strain with relatively low attenuation is worth using. For this, consider stepping outside the box of what you normally brew. For instance, if you normally are aiming for American yeasts, look into the British yeast toolbox, because many of these finish less dry.
      • Thames Valley strains are good for fermenting at lower temperatures with good character and relatively low attenuation.
Using these guidelines, I set out to design my own session IPA. Thanks to the AHA and BSG Craftbrewing, I had recently acquired 5 oz. of (free!) Azacca hops. It is a very North American strain, with lots of tropical and citrus (according the descriptions I've read). Additionally, the American Dwarf Hop Association suggests that it fares well in a single-hop beer. That's all the excuse I need to center my beer around this variety!

While designing this recipe, I used a few basic principles: 1) a simple malt bill utilizing a strong supplement to my usual 2-row base malt; 2) a high temperature mash to maintain a robust body for the beer; 3) hop bursting to maximize aroma and achieve a balanced bitterness; and 4) a British ale strain selected for comparatively low attenuation. In short, maximum body with balanced hoppiness. Thanks in part to all of the free hops, this batch was also pretty inexpensive: only $15 in raw materials. I'll find out how successful I was in a few weeks!

Azacca Session IPA
  • 6.5 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 3 lbs. 10° Munich malt 
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 15 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), added at flame-out, steep for 5 minutes before cooling
  • 2 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 2 week dry-hopping
  • British Ale yeast (White Labs, WLP005), prepared in 0.75 L starter
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer (added to mash)
  • 1 tbs. gypsum (added at first hops addition)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (10 minute boil)
Procedure
  • I mashed in with 15 quarts of water at 169.8° and stirred for two minutes. The mash stabilized at 159°. After 50 minutes, the mash temperature was down to 157°.
  • I added 1.1 gallons of water at 180°, to bring the mash temperature up to 160°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.25 gallons of wort.
  • Then, I added 3.75 gallons of water at 180°, to bring the mash up to 165°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
  • All told, I collected 7 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.038. This works out to 77% efficiency.
  • I brought the mixture to a boil, adding the hops per the hopping schedule in the recipe (at 45 minutes, 50 minutes, and flame-out). This is essentially the "hop-burst" method, to gain all of the bittering units (with extra aroma) at the end of the boil.
  • At flame-out, I let the beer sit for 5 minutes before starting cooling. This was with the intent of maximizing the hops aroma from the final addition.
  • I cooled the wort and transferred it into the fermenter, aerating per usual with the Venturi pump. I pitched the yeast, sealed up the fermenter, and placed it in my fermentation chamber. The initial setting was for 68°. I had visible fermentation when I checked it seven hours later, and vigorous fermentation within 12 hours. At this point, I dropped the fermentation temperature to 66°.
  • I brewed this beer on July 3, 2015. Starting gravity was 1.045, with an estimated 6 gallons of wort into the fermenter.
Azacca IPA reaching high krausen

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beer Tasting: Old Speckled Hen Clone

After a month of keg conditioning, it's time to do a taste test of my Old Speckled Hen clone attempt!

Old Speckled Hen Clone
  • Basics
    • Starting gravity = 1.055; final gravity = 1.011; abv = 5.8%; estimated IBU = 37
  • Appearance
    • The beer is a rich amber color with orangish hints; a modest bit of chill haze. Head is low, creamy and ivory-colored; fairly persistent. 
  • Aroma
    • Light caramel notes, with a bit of maltiness at the core. 
  • Flavor
    • Lightly malty, with a lingering bitterness on the finish. Very hop-centered. Unfortunately, I think the bitterness overrides the maltiness more than I like. This becomes a better beer as it warms up a bit, though. 
  • Mouthfeel
    • In the mouth, the carbonation has an almost creamy effect that is quite nice. The overall body, though, is moderately thin and a bit thinner than I prefer in this type of beer.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • In it current incarnation, probably not. The aroma is delightful, but the bitterness:body ratio is just a too high for my preference. I attribute this primarily to the fairly low mash temperature called for in the recipe, as well as use of the highly attenuative Nottingham yeast strain. If I were to do this again, I would mash higher (maybe 156°), use a different yeast strain (perhaps WLP002), and cut back the bittering addition just a touch. As it is, the current iteration just doesn't hit the round, malty notes that the original OSH does.
  • Overall rating
    • 4/10
Note (19 July 2015): After a few more weeks in the keg, this is a much better beer. The bitterness has rounded out quite a bit, and more balanced relative to the maltiness. So, I would up it to 6/10; brew again, with modifications to the mash temperature and a longer conditioning time (probably 6 or 7 weeks).

Sunday, June 28, 2015

West Coast Wheat Beer

We're getting low on the summer blonde ale, our easy-drinking summer beer, so before we get in a bad spot I figured it was time to brew up another light-and-tasty ale for the California summers. This recipe is based loosely on the American Wheat Beer recipe provided by Gordon Strong in Modern Homebrew Recipes. I modified it slightly to match my preferred yeast brand (White Labs) and to end up with a smaller quantity into the fermenter. Additionally, I wanted to use up some ingredients I had on-hand, so I used a different hops selection (the American blend of Falconer's Flight, instead of primarily European hops). Additionally, I'm using a straight-up batch sparge technique rather than the step and decoction stated in the recipe.

Of course, this overall departure from "beer scripture" might freak out some...but it's all in the tradition of "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew." I had the good fortune to catch Strong's talk at the 2015 AHA meeting, and he emphasized that his recipes are guidelines, not proscriptions for or against certain techniques. He noted that everyone has different equipment and different preferences, all of which can generate excellent beer. I like this philosophy!

West Coast Wheat Beer
  • 5 lbs. white wheat malt
  • 3.5 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 0.75 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.75 lbs. rice hulls
  • 1 oz. Falconer's Flight hops pellets (9.6% alpha, 4.4% beta; alpha acid adjusted for age), 20 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Falconer's Flight hops pellets (9.6% alpha, 4.4% beta; alpha acid adjusted for age), 1 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. California Ale V (White Labs WLP051), prepared 24 hours in advance in 0.75 L starter
Procedure
  • I mashed in with 13.4 quarts of water at 160.4°. This precisely hit my mash target of 150°. The mash was at 149° after 30 minutes and 146° after 60 minutes.
  • I added 1.25 gallons of water at 175°, which raised the temperature of the mash bed to 152°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3 gallons of wort.
  • Next, I added 3 gallons of water at 182°, which raised the temperature of the mash bed to 166°. Once again, I let it rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
  • I had a total of 6 gallons of wort at 1.045 gravity, which works out to ~73% efficiency. The gravity was a little higher than I wanted, so I added a half gallon of water to bring the total boil volume up to 6.5 gallons.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and let it boil for 40 minutes before I added the first charge of hops. One minute before flame-out, I added the last charge of hops.
  • After flame-out, I chilled the wort down to 80° using my wort chiller (couldn't manage much cooler with the warm weather!) and transferred the wort into my fermenter. I pitched the yeast starter and sealed it all up. I placed the yeastified wort into my fermentation chamber, and set the temperature for 68°. I will lower it a touch once fermentation has started, down to 66°.
  • All total, I ended up with 5 gallons of wort in the fermenter, with a starting gravity of 1.048.