Sunday, February 27, 2022

Revisiting seasonal beer

One of my favorite posts was my definitive guide to seasonal beer. Going by that schedule, I would be stocking up on spring seasonals if there was an actual spring training this year. It is hard to believe that I wrote that post eight years ago. At that time seasonal beers were a big deal and seasonal creep really annoyed me.  Seasonal beers were coming out so early that they were gone while being still "in season". I remember one year when I couldn't find Celebration in early December.

Many of the seasonal beers I used to look for were distributed by regional and national breweries. Yard Sale by Uinta was a sessionable dark lager released in the winter, a perfect antidote to full-bodied and boozy winter seasonals. Uinta is no longer distributed in Massachusetts. Even brewers like Sierra Nevada struggled to maintain traction with their seasonal lineup. I couldn't find Summerfest the last couple of summers. This year the beer will be retired and replaced with an IPA. As more local options emerged in the late 2010s, it became harder and harder for out-of-state brewers to keep shelf space at retail, and consciousness among consumers. 


In 2022 the notion of a brewery having a set lineup of four seasonal beers is as quaint. Sure, Sam Adams is still doing it, but that feels more like inertia than anything else. Breweries will release certain beers or styles seasonally, but you don't see as much of a set seasonal lineup. 

The main reason for the decline in seasonal beer is that instead of looking for a familiar seasonal with the change of ever season, drinkers want to try new beers and visit new breweries all of the time. The risk for brands is alienating people who love the old brands, and new beers not finding an audience. Samuel Adams has tried to keep a few of their venerable brands fresh by changing recipes for Summer Ale and Winter Lager.

As much as drinkers were trained to drink seasonally in the 1990s and 2000s, too many seasonal beers were similar. How many American Wheat ales with or without citrus do people want to drink? Fall was a deluge of cloying oktoberfests with too much caramel malt, and then it was pumpkin ales loaded with cinnamon. Winter was the domain of boozy stouts and overly-spiced winter warmers. Spring never quite had the same homogeneity, but people generally drink less from January to March anyway. 

This sameness over most of the beer year was probably always going to dampen enthusiasm for seasonal beer. Ironically, you could argue that the sameness of seasonal beer has been replaced by the sameness of New England IPA.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Homebrew Happy Hour ep. 268 Storing grains, American vs Continental malt, Expired LME

I realize it has been quiet in these parts. Sadly I haven't brewed in six months; the longest I have gone without brewing since I started. I am going to fire up my kettle again soon. I need Irish ales on tap for St. Patrick's Day. 

Anyway, It is always fun to be a guest on the Homebrew Happy Hour podcast. We talked about what I have been working on with Muntons as of late, and what Josh and Todd have been up to. I certainly appreciated answering some malt-related questions. 

Check out the episode here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Brew Day - Angel's Wing's (Helles Bock)

I'm a loner Dottie... a rebel
As an only child who is a bit of an introvert, I tend to pursue most of my hobbies and interests alone. Being an independent learner means that most of what I have learned about brewing when it comes to my own beer and to my work in the industry was the result of self-study. I passed my first BJCP Exam after a month of cramming. For my role with Muntons, I passed the Institute of Brewing and Distilling's Malting Certificate Exam the same way. 

Homebrewing evolved from something Jennie and I did together to a solitary activity. Once in awhile there will be something Jennie wants to brew and she will want to brew it with me, but that is more the exception than the rule. I haven't brewed with my cousin Andy since he and his wife Juli had their second child. Since then they moved out of state. 

This batch was the first one in awhile I brewed with someone else. I first met Nate at a beer tasting; Nate was friends with Kert, who is the buyer at my local bottle shop. When Nate started working at my local homebrew shop he actually recognized me with my mask on. Eventually he pinged me on social media wanting to brew. 

Nate suggested brewing a lager of some sort. I suggested a Helles Bock as it's one of the few styles I've never brewed. It is also a style I have had very few examples of. The recipe in Brewing Classic Styles was simple enough: a blend of Pilsner and Munich Malt, a 60 minute hop addition, and lager yeast.

I almost always keep Muntons Pilsner Malt in my brewery, and I started keeping Muntons Munich Malt after having to make too many changes to recipes that called for stewed malts like Vienna, Munich, or Melanoidin-type darker Munich malts.

Perfect crush after first pass thru the mill.

I told Nate to pick out the hops and yeast while I had the malt taken care of. When the Alpha Acid percentage on the Magnum hops Nate picked out were a little high at 14.7%, I made a last minute change to the recipe by adding 0.75 ounces at 60 minutes and the remaining 0.25 at 15 minutes.

Nate really likes Imperial Yeast and chose their Harvest strain. A fine choice for a malty style like a Helles Bock, it's attenuation is moderate in the 70-74% range. To make sure the beer didn't finish too heavy, I lowered the mash temperature from the recipe in the book. 

Nate and I mashing in
.
Beautiful wort, looks like apple juice.

Although not as big as Field of Immortals, we were shooting for this beer to be over 7%. I replicated my process from the Field of Immortals brew day fairly closely. Again the mash efficiency was high, and the starting gravity of the finished batch was high. So high in fact it falls out of the parameters of the style. Once I entered our hop additions into BeerSmith, our calculated hop bitterness was also high.

How I am going to do every batch.

Nate and I ended up with almost exactly 5.25 gallons going into the fermenter, which should lead to five gallons of finished beer. It might make sense to dilute the residual sugar, alcohol, and hop bitterness with one gallon of water. That would make the beer more to style and would give us more beer. From now on I am going to assume higher yields in all of my batches and plan accordingly. 

Pitching yeast in well-aerated wort.

It was fun to brew with another person and share knowledge. I'm sure we will collaborate again. Hopefully next time with Kert. 

Wort getting down to lager temps.

Recipe: Angels Wings
Brewer: Jason 
Asst Brewer: Nate 
Style: Helles Bock
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (0.0) 

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Boil Size: 7.49 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.99 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.067 SG
Estimated Color: 7.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 41.7 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 76.7 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Ingredients:
------------
Amt              Name                                             Type          #          %/IBU         Volume        
8.86 gal         Yellow Full (Under 6 SRM)                        Water         1          -             -             
2.37 g           Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash)                  Water Agent   2          -             -             
1.58 g           Calcium Chloride (Mash)                          Water Agent   3          -             -             
0.79 g           Epsom Salt (MgSO4) (Mash)                        Water Agent   4          -             -             
0.50 tsp         Lactic Acid (Mash)                               Water Agent   5          -             -             
9 lbs            Pilsner Malt (Muntons) (1.9 SRM)                 Grain         6          65.5 %        0.70 gal      
4 lbs 12.0 oz    Munich Malt (Muntons) (8.1 SRM)                  Grain         7          34.5 %        0.37 gal      
0.50 tsp         Lactic Acid (Sparge)                             Water Agent   8          -             -             
0.75 oz          Magnum [14.70 %] - Boil 60.0 min                 Hop           9          35.8 IBUs     -             
0.25 oz          Magnum [14.70 %] - Boil 15.0 min                 Hop           10         5.9 IBUs      -             
0.00 tsp         Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins)                      Fining        11         -             -             
1.0 pkg          Harvest (Imperial Yeast #L17)                    Yeast         12         -             -             


Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, No Mash Out
Total Grain Weight: 13 lbs 12.0 oz
----------------------------
Name              Description                             Step Temperat Step Time     
Mash In           Add 17.99 qt of water at 163.9 F        150.0 F       60 min        

Sparge: Fly sparge with 4.74 gal water at 168.0 F
Notes:
------
Original recipe needed 12 oz Acidulated Malt. Used Lactic Acid in Mash and Sparge instead. AA% on Magnum was high, so used 0.75 at 60 and 0.25 at 15 instead of 1.0 at 60 min.

Awesome mash, sparge and boil. Crush was perfect first time through mill. System is dialed in and will adjust profile accordingly. 
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Monday, March 1, 2021

Brew Day: Field of Immortals 2021 (Imperial Stout)

After brewing imperial stouts in November of 2018 and 2019, my intention was to brew another vintage in November of 2020. For whatever reason I never got around to it. Then, at the end of January I brewed a batch of Rundown Irish Red as part of another project I'll be talking more about shortly. Low in alcohol and hops, the Irish Red was a perfect starter beer to build up plenty of yeast for an imperial stout.

That was the thought anyway. Fermentation on the Irish Red stalled, so I pitched a packet of US-05 dry yeast to help the beer finish fermenting out. The yeast I harvested from the Irish Red was some combination of Hugh Hill, my house Irish culture and US-05. For a one-off or vintage beer, I am not concerned about slight variations from batch-to-batch.

The night before brew day, I used a carbonation cap and a soda bottle to help dissolve the water additions. Chalk in particular isn't the most soluble, and carbonic acid helps it dissolve in water. This is something I have wanted to try for awhile, but I never seemed to have a soda bottle lying around. We typically don't have soda in the house. This was pretty easy to do and worked well. 

This worked really well to get water salts to dissolve

What I did take away from this brew day was the desire to cut down on variations in process from batch-to-batch. Over the past couple of years I have experimented with batch sparging, fly sparging, no sparging, mashing in the Mash & Boil grain pipe, mashing in a cooler, boiling inside on the Mash & Boil, boiling outside on propane, checking pH on every batch, assuming pH calculations are good enough because I'm too lazy to calibrate a pH meter, acidifying sparge water, forgetting to acidify sparge water. On top of that I keep having issues with my mill jamming, adjusting the gap, and getting poor crushes through the mill. 

The result has been that my yields have been all over the place. I brewed a barleywine that the yield was so poor I added two pounds of dry malt extract to compensate. Last summer my batch of Summer Somewhere came out close to 6% because my yield was really high. With this batch I think I have settled on a process that I can repeat.

I purchased two wire shelves for my Mash & Boil and cooler mash tun. The shelving also gives me storage space for my other kettles where they can drip dry after cleaning. From there I have a pump I can use when fly sparging. With this batch I focused on the flow of sparge water into the mash tun. I made sure there wasn't too much water on top of the grain bed, and that level was steady. The key was for the wort to drain at the same rate the sparge water was being sprinkled.

As full as my 8gal cooler can get

While milling, my mill was jamming and my crush was initially poor, I tightened the gap, and milled the grain again. The second pass made a huge difference. The endosperm of the grains were fully crushed, while the grain husks were still intact. If anything the crush may have been too fine, but the vourlauf and runoff on this batch was as easy as any batch I can remember.

Easiest vaurlauf ever

For the recipe I made a couple of changes from my last imperial stout. At the moment I was completely out of Maris Otter Pale Malt. Instead I used a malt we initially developed for distilling at Muntons called Northern Spring. In my experience Northern Spring is the highest yielding and best attenuating malt that we have. This was the malt I used in my 6% Summer Ale that was supposed to be 4.9%.

After sparging, I ran off 10.5 gallons of wort. I wish I timed exactly how long I sparged for; it might have been an hour. When I took a refractometer reading, I was floored:

This is before I boiled off half of my wort

Pre-boil gravity was supposed to be 1.058, and I ended up at 1.068, I managed to overshoot my gravity by ten points! This beer is going to make my 2019 batch of imperial stout look like a dark mild. One option would have been to boil off less and make a bigger batch. If I had a large enough fermenter I may very well have done that. Instead I stuck with the 120 minute boil outside on my propane burner. 

Half of the liquid was sacrificed in the name of high gravity brewing

One other change I made to make this vintage unique was to use my homegrown Willamette and Brewers Gold hops as the flavor and aroma hop additions. Those should give the beer a bit more of a unique touch. 

After 120 minutes of boiling, here is my Starting Gravity:

Literally off the charts

Converting from Brix to gravity, the SG is 1.135. I aerated the wort as much as possible while transferring to a carboy. Then I aerated further with an aquarium pump until the carboy foamed over. From there I dumped the entire yeast cake from the Irish Red. I don't think it is possible to over-pitch an 1.135 wort.


I hit the wort with the aquarium pump again around 12 hours later. Fermentation was fairly active for about a week. The inside of the carboy was covered in caked-on krausen it was hard to tell what was going on. On day 13 after brew day, the gravity was down to 1.064. That's a high starting gravity for most of my batches. The beer had only had 50% attenuation, but was 9.8% ABV already. 

The next day, I racked the beer to a secondary and pitched a vial of WLP099 Super High Gravity yeast that I used in Thomas Brady Ale (2017). Alcohol tolerant over 15%, this stuff will get the beer over the finish line. As I racked the beer, I could see there was still a fairly thick krausen on top. Maybe the original yeast needed a little more time, but at that point I was already committed to racking the beer. 

As I siphoned, I didn't worry too much about racking yeast from the primary to the secondary. Any yeast in suspension should help the beer ferment out in theory. I checked the beer a few hours later, and there was already a krausen ring forming despite the temperature being a little below White Labs specification. 

See you in three months buddy.

This is going to be the booziest beer I have ever brewed. At minimum this is going to be a 14% ABV beer. If the WLP099 attenuates here like it did in the Thomas Brady Ale, we are looking at a 17% beer. I'll believe I made a 17% all-malt beer when I see it, but either way this beer is going to be a sipper. 

I never liked the name of my imperial stouts. The first batch, Employee Orientation was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact I brewed the beer as part of a colleague's training. 4PM Darkness was a reference to finishing the beer in the dark in November when it was dark at 4PM. That was the best I could come up with and always felt kind of meh. The name needed to be more epic.

As a baseball fan the last half of 2020, and first weeks of 2021 was very difficult as too many Hall of Fame inductees and legends of the sport have passed away in too short of a period of time. As these greats have left us, I would always see on social media a photo-shopped image of the recently deceased entering a cornfield, just as the deceased legends in the film Field of Dreams had done. This is a beer to honor them.