Thursday, August 15, 2019

Talking Malts with Special Co-Host Jason Chalifour from Muntons -- Ep. 144

A bit late in sharing this, but I had a lot of fun co-hosting the Homebrew Happy Hour postcast with Josh. We talked a bit about Muntons Brewery-in-a-Bag kits.

I will have to send him my definitive guide to seasonal beer.




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Monday, July 22, 2019

Brew Day: Old North Shore Ale (American Amber Ale)

When I attempted to recreate the classic recipe for Samuel Adams Summer Ale, I may have come off as the old man yelling at a cloud. With this brew you may think I am doubling down on my malcontentment.

Image result for shoals pale ale
Shoals was typical of New England craft beers 25 years ago. Sad to see it go. 

Recently I was disappointed to learn that Smuttynose is discontinuing Shoals Pale Ale. Sadly for me the English-inspired pale ales that helped start the craft beer movement are being hazed out so to speak. Even Goose Island isn't bottling Honkers Ale anymore. Smutty's problems were far more pronounced when they decided to pull the plug on Shoals than Boston Beer's were when it changed the recipe for Sam Summer. I am not going to show up to their previously over-leveraged brewery with a pitchfork, but I am sad to see Shoals go.

When I saw Shoals was going away, I wanted to come up with a recipe that was at least inspired by it, if not an outright clone. Then at a Northshore Brewers meeting, the topic of the club's 25th anniversary party came up and I was asked if I would brew something for the event.

The club's anniversary felt like the perfect time to brew an English-inspired ale. When the club was founded in 1994 these were the type of beers that were being brewed at 'microbreweries' and brewpubs. Malty and darker ales, or at least beers darker in color than urine, were positioned as an answer to big beer.  Having enjoyed beers brewed by some of the long-time members of the club, I am comfortable saying these were the type of beers brewed in the early days of the club.

Like the best early craft beers made in New England, Old North Shore Ale uses a base of the finest British malts; Muntons Planet Pale, Caramalt 30 (15L), Crystal 150 (60L), and a pinch of Chocolate Malt. "Malt backbone" might be one of the most tired flavor descriptors in beer. Well, this beer is going to have one!

For hops I am using Chinook and Cascade hops grown on the North Shore. Ok Amesbury, which is pretty close to the North Shore. I was given these hops when I bought some second-hand glass carboys. What better hops for a North Shore ale?

Using whole cone hops is itself more traditional, but it does present some challenges that modern hop pellets do not. At the end of the boil, the cones clogged the ball valve on my kettle. I had to siphon most of the wort into the fermenter. As I got toward the bottom of the kettle, I poured the wort through a funnel with a screen, which kept getting clogged. Next time I use whole hops I will be sure to use a bag.

For yeast I am using WLP008 East Coast Ale yeast. It is not as dry and has a touch more character than most American Ale strains. It was easy to repitch some slurry from OG Sam Summer right into my fermenter. The re-pitched yeast took off like a rocket. Krausen formed within three hours, and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. I covered my fermenter with a wet t-shirt, and left it outside overnight. By the next morning the temperature was back under control.

Following another traditional method, after two weeks I racked the beer to a secondary fermenter. I have always thought racking improved clarity of my beers. The WLP008 really doesn't like to flocculate. With this batch and OG Sam Summer the beer was quite hazy after primary fermentation with a layer of yeast stubbornly floating at the top.  Here is a pic of OG Sam Summer which went from the primary directly to the keg:

Wheat beer is supposed to be hazy. I think this looks sexy.
Old North Shore Ale had a similar haze after primary fermentation. Here is how the beer looks after 10 days in the secondary:

Noticeably clearer and exactly what I was going for.
As a traditional craft beer evocative of a bygone era I wanted the beer to be reasonably clear. The slight haze gives it a characteristic "unfiltered" look. Not only were copper-colored ales novel 25 years ago, unfiltered beer was too.

That time in the secondary really gave the beer needed time to condition. The samples I tasted when racking were very bitter and green. When I tasted the beer again before packaging it had smoothed out considerably. I imagined the beer as pale ale, but it really straddles the line between a pale and amber ale in terms of balance.  It could almost pass as an ESB if the American hop flavor was less pronounced. If I wanted to make this more of a pale ale I could easily dry hop it, but I enjoyed the samples exactly as it was.

At packaging I added some priming sugar to a keg to naturally carbonate the beer. It seemed like another nod to traditional. My keezer was also full.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Brew Day: Free Shipping Fest (Marzen 6A)

Sometimes events unfold independently of each other that all contribute to a singular result. Years ago, when I was still living in an apartment with no yard and brewing on a stove, I received a free propane burner with a purchase from Northern Brewer.

Years later I was using that propane burner at my new home. I let the gas line get a little too close to the flame and the gas line started to melt. I needed a new gas line, but the only place I could get one was from Northern Brewer.

This occurred after I started working for Muntons. I use at least some of our malt in all of my beers, and most of my brews are 100% Muntons Malt. For base malts I keep a bin of our Pale Ale, Pilsner, Maris Otter Pale, Super Pale, and Wheat Malt. I can brew almost any style with these base malts. Notable exceptions are German styles that require Munich or Vienna malts. Muntons makes outstanding Munich and Vienna malts. I will likely pick up a sack of Munich next time I make it to our warehouse.

One style I have always wanted to brew is an authentic Oktoberfest. Also known as Marzen, German for March, the beer was traditionally brewed in March and then lagered over the summer before being served in the fall. When I brewed my Oktoberfest I wanted to brew it in March and lager it in a similar manner as opposed to trying to brew a mock-Oktoberfest as an ale.

Since I needed to buy a replacement gas line from Northern Brewer, I may as well tack on ingredients for an Oktoberfest so my order would qualify for flat rate shipping.  As I put my order together I thought it would be fun to brew my beer with malt extracts Muntons does not currently make. I ordered Northern Brewer's Munich liquid malt extract and Briess' Pilsen dry malt extract. Competitive intelligence never hurts!

As I put my recipe together I added some Muntons crystal malt to steep. For hops I used two of my favorite American hops with European ancestry: Northern Brewer and Crystal. Other than the bit of British Crystal, this German lager is pretty American.

The brew day was simple enough. While doing other tasks around the brewery I discovered one of my kegs was leaking beer. I ended up emptying my keezer and giving it a good cleaning. I then kegged two batches I brewed for NHC. For an extract brew day I was pretty flipping busy!

Brewed in March, this was the last lager I was able to squeeze in before the weather started to warm up. I did taste test the beer with my colleague Daniel before putting it into a keg and the consensus was that it is pretty good. The keg is tucked into my keezer, waiting to be force-carbonated until the appropriate time.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Brew Day: OG Sam Summer (29B Fruit and Spice Beer)

Image result for sam summer ale
Nice of Boston Beer to so perfectly describe the recipe!

Ten years ago the legendary "Rock of Boston" WBCN went off the air. When it happened it was a bit of a shock to me. Toward the end of its run, I had taken my first cubicle job where I could listen to music at work, and rediscovered the station. 'BCN felt like it would be around forever. That was what my dad listened to in the car when I would tag along with him to jobs. My uncle Mike grew up on 'BCN in the '70s, and stayed with the station all through the '90s as they continued to play new artists as opposed to growing with their original audience. During my formative years the station played the bands I loved to listen to in high school and college.

Essentially the station changed formats and became a sports radio station. The morning DJs Toucher and Rich stayed on after the format change. I remember at that time Rich Shertenlieb of Toucher and Rich comparing WBCN to a restaurant everyone said they loved, but not enough people went to anymore to keep in business.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale was one of my formative craft beers. Not only was it one of the first craft beers I can remember really loving, I have so many fond memories associated with Sam Summer. As I think about those memories, most of them were in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Since that time there has been an explosion in the number of beers and craft breweries. To say nothing of New England IPA.

In recent years I still enjoyed Sam Summer at Fenway Park, and would make it a point to buy it once or twice over the course of the  ̶s̶p̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ summer. That said, Sam Summer wasn't the mainstay in my fridge it once was.

I am hardly alone in that regard. Boston Beer has had to grapple with declining sales of its seasonal beers, Sam Summer included. Like the radio executives that took WBCN off the air, Boston Beer couldn't keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. This year Sam Adams changed the recipe for Summer Ale for the first time in 23 years. The new recipe has a lot more fruit and citrus. The way I read the description, the beer is designed to be more quaffable.

As an avowed capitalist and beer industry professional I completely understand why Boston Beer did what they did. Beer drinkers like me are responsible for Boston Beer feeling the need to do something. That doesn't mean I was ready to see a beer that meant so much to me go the way of WBCN. I wanted to preserve the classic recipe, or at least brew a beer inspired by the classic recipe I loved so much.

The base beer was an American Wheat Beer, with lemon zest and grains of paradise adding the summery taste. Doing some additional research I found the beer was hopped with the same Hallertau Mittelfrueh as Boston Lager, and was a shockingly low 7 IBUs. The lemon and grains of paradise do most of the heavy lifting in terms of balancing the malt.

I was of two minds for the grist. Muntons Pilsner Malt would have been an excellent choice as the base malt. Knowing Boston Beer uses North American base malt almost exclusively, I decided to use Mapleton Pale malt from Maine Malt House. I visited the malthouse in January, a horrible time to  almost drive toto Canada, and was able to tour the malthouse with the Buck family who owns and operates it. This was a perfect time to use their malt.

Very happy with the crush and had a smooth runoff. 

I went with a grist of 2/3 Mapleton Pale and 1/3 Muntons Malted Wheat. I had a beautiful crush and yield with the Maine Malt. I am sure this will be a great base for my beer, and any upcoming brews where I need a North American base malt.

This dehydrated lemon is imported from Spain.
1 oz of hops, one pack of yeast. Those seeds of paradise are also really small and can be tricky to grind 

For the lemon, I used dehydrated lemon flesh sourced from Maltwerks, a company we partner with at Muntons. The dehydrated flesh is more potent than dried peel. I used 2/3 oz of dehydrated lemon along with 2 grams of grains of paradise. For my yeast I used a strain I haven't used in far too long: White Labs 008 East Coast Ale yeast. I have seen this yeast strain referred to as the "Brewer Patriot" yeast. That should work just fine here I think.

I picked a perfect day to brew outside. Even though it would have been faster to brew with my propane burner, I used my electric Mash & Boil for a couple of reasons. There is something to be said for using the same system for each batch to try and gain some consistency. I was also out of propane and am lazy.

As New England IPA becomes almost a monoculture, I find myself wanting to brew the styles and beers that were prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s. Commercial brewers have to brew what sells. As they do that, I feel like the classics are falling by the wayside. Fortunately homebrewers have total freedom to brew the beer we want to drink!

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