Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tasting Notes: Hot Stove Porter

If you have ever been to the Samuel Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain the first thing that becomes evident is how small it actually is. On the tour, the tour guides acknowledge that almost all of the Samuel Adams products sold at the packie are in fact brewed at facilities in Pittsburgh and Ohio. The Boston Beer company only leases a portion of the old Haffenreffer Brewery which acts as their corporate headquarters and the site of their test brewery.

Developing and perfecting a recipe takes lots of trial and error. For the Hot Stove Porter I started with a blank slate and used several ingredients for the first time: malted oats, several of the hop varieties, and the yeast strain. It is one thing to have an idea of how all these different flavors would compliment each other in the final beer, it is another to see it in action.

The Hot Stove Porter pours a very dark brown with mahogany highlights. Lightly carbonated, the beer has a thin off-white head with good persistence. There is a roast coffee aroma complimented nicely with an earthy and unfortunate grassy aroma from the hops.

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The beer is medium-bodied thanks to the malted oats. The malted oats don't seem to contribute the same silkiness or almost sweetness that flaked oats would (like you would find in an oatmeal stout). I probably would want to mash at a slightly higher temperature to increase the body and leave a touch more residual malt flavor. The finish is quite dry. I don't mind it, but it could some might find it to be bitter.

There is sweetness up front, then the hop flavor and a big roasted flavor kicks in. What was missing was any discernible citrus flavor. I actually added the tiniest Centennial hop pellet I had to a bottle, re-capped it, and tried it side-by-side with another bottle. My girlfriend didn't notice much of a difference, but she may well have just been annoyed that I asked her to stop what she was doing to do some blind taste test. I thought the beer with the Centennial was better. For next year I think I will add some Cascade to compliment the Mosiac and British hops.

The beer also had a grassy flavor. This can be a defect caused by dry hopping for too long, hop material making it into the bottle, or hops from the boil making it to the primary fermenter. In this case I think it was just the hop varieties I selected. British hops are notorious for adding a grassy flavor when used in large enough quantities. Subsequent research indicated that Mosaic can do that as well. Hopefully tweaking the hops will reduce the grassiness as well as adding additional complexity of flavor.

I think the beer is good. It doesn't taste exactly like a spiced Christmas beer, but it does have some spiciness to it. The esters from the Burton Ale yeast complemented the beer perfectly. By adjusting the mash temperature and adjusting the recipe just a little I think I can get this beer exactly how I want it to be. More trial and error is in order. Maybe I can try adjusting the recipe early in 2015 so it is how I want it next Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Brew Day: Welkin Ringer ESB

The local homebrew shop (LHBS) can be a dangerous place to hang out. I was at Beer and Wine Hobby over a month ago to pick up some odds and ends. I ended up leaving with their Welkin Ringer ESB kit which is a clone of Mystic Brewing's beer from their Wigglesworth Series.

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Often when I brew kits it is to leave my comfort zone. When I develop my own recipes I tend to drift back to the ingredients and recipes I know well and have used before. That can help master a particular beer or style, but it doesn't help a brewer grow. Developing new recipes for new styles or using a lot of ingredients for the first time is both daunting and risky. Knowing where to begin can be daunting, and the risk is your beer not coming out very good.

An ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter. It is the biggest and best pale ale that is typically offered by a particular brewery in England. Purchasing the kit gives me a chance to brew an entirely different interpretation of a style that I have brewed before and am familiar with. In my mind an English Pale Ale consists of British pale malt, Crystal malt, Fuggles and/or East Kent Goldings hops, and fruity or floral esters from English yeast. I actually have not had the original beer by Mystic, so I didn't know what to expect. Not knowing when I would brew the kit I chose the dry yeast option as opposed to the liquid yeast which loses viability more rapidly than dry yeast..

The dry yeast they gave me was S-33. I was not familiar with it at all; the employee at Beer & Wine Hobby said it was similar to Nottingham, a strain with a much cleaner flavor profile than I would have selected if I developed my own recipe. For over a month that was my only clue as to what the recipe was.

This past weekend a Christmas party I had been invited to was cancelled at the last minute. The dry yeast that came with the kit does not require a yeast starter like a liquid yeast making it perfect for a last-second brew day. I opened the box expecting a simple extract recipe with light malt extract and probably some specialty grains. When I opened the box there was Amber malt extract, English pale malt, Aromatic malt, and most surprisingly flaked maize.

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Corn is sometimes used in English beers. I wonder what it will do to the flavor of this beer.
The recipe was actually a partial mash. Whenever there are unmalted or flaked grains there needs to be some type of mash. Corn is commonly used in American styles. I actually enjoy the flavor corn can contribute to a recipe and even used it in a stout. According to the 2008 BJCP Guodelines, corn is sometimes used in English styles like an ESB. I am very interested to see how it works in this beer.

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The wort is a dark copper and didn't lighten after adding amber malt extract.
The hops were Challenger, an English bittering hop I have never used, and Northern Brewer, a hop I have used many times. The last hop addition is at 15 minutes. The Aromatic malt had an intense toasted flavor, like toasted bread that is dark brown but not quite burnt.

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 Nice cold break starting to form
I think the beer is going to be a malt-forward interpretation. There is only one late hop addition which is at 15 minutes. The yeast strain is clean and should accentuate the malt flavor. The Aromatic malt, along with the specialty malts in the extract should provide most of the complexity. This might not be a hop-head's beer of choice. If you're like me and can appreciate a balanced or malt-forward beer as well as the hoppy pale ales and IPAs that are increasingly popular, this should be an enjoyable brew.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thinking about the spring before winter has truly started

Every chance I have I publicize my guidelines for seasonal beer. Is it over the top? Maybe. Is it something I am passionate about? You betcha! Is my indignation exaggerate as part of an act? Probably, we are just talking about beer after all.

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I have already brewed a new winter seasonal beer, what hopefully will be one of my flagships, and I have a couple other batches I already have ingredients for another couple of batches. Once those are brewed it will be January and it will be time to start on beers for the spring to make sure they are ready for the middle of February.

Last year I took a break from brewing right around when it was time to brew my spring beers. The year before I brewed a couple of Irish beers that I thought were legitimately excellent. I am excited to finally have the chance to brew those again applying all I have learned in the two years since I brewed the original batches.

I also brewed a witbier that was decent but was littered with rookie mistakes. Allagash founder Rob Tod recently shared 5 Tips to Brew a Better Witbier and I ran afoul of two of them. Tip 1 was to use light colored malts. As I learned and a friend who recently brewed a Blue Moon Clone kit experienced, wheat malt extract is almost always dark, especially if it is older and oxidized. It is certainly darker than white wheat malt. That won't effect the flavor, but the finished beer will not have the same beautiful, almost white appearance. I also went way overboard with the spice editions. The finished beer was brownish with a muddled flavor. I may well brew this after I finish the Irish beers.

Last night I revisited the old Irish recipes and already started tinkering. I was trying to remember exactly how it looked and tasted to see what I could do to improve it. I suspect I will continue to come back to these recipes for the next few weeks before I finalize everything and buy ingredients next month.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Brew Day: Peabody Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

The latest installment in my experimentation within the broad category that is the American Pale Ale is a recipe that I threw together in a matter of minutes. While assembling the ingredients for Curly's Milk Stout I realized I had a lot of odds and ends lying around. Half-full bags of specialty grains, zip-locked bags of hops. None of this stuff is getting better with age.

The recipe for Curly's Milk Stout called for one pound of light dry malt extract. However I only had a three pound bag. It made perfect sense to use the rest of that extract for a one gallon batch. I stepped some crystal malt I had lying around for color, flavor, body, and hopefully a bit of freshness.

In this beer the malt is only there to provide balance to the hops. Having less control over the wort from using the extract is not much of a concern. I used a blend of Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo hops with additions at 45 minutes, ten minutes, and flameout. The idea being to have plenty of hop aroma, bitterness, and flavor.

As opposed to the Essex Extra Pale Ale which was envisioned as a lighter, more drinkable interpretation, the Peabody Pale Ale will hopefully have a bit more attitude. While not hoppy like an IPA, the idea is to have a beer where hop flavor is at the forefront. I haven't made the trip to Trillium Brewing yet, but Fort Point Pale Ale is an excellent example of a pale ale where the hop flavor is paramount but does not effect drinkability. That's the goal here.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brew Day: Curly's Milk Stout

About a year ago my home was overwhelmed with beer. Brewing one or two five gallon batches every month, and then buying the latest and greatest commercial beers can certainly add up quickly. That is when I started brewing one and two gallon batches, which also enabled me to brew all-grain BIAB batches on my stove-top.

The main downside to small-batch brewing is that if the beer turns out to be excellent, and you only brew a one gallon batch, you only have eight 12oz bottles of this excellent beer that took the same amount of work as a larger batch. This is exactly what happened with my first small batch brew.

I had wanted to brew a milk stout for awhile. Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro is one of my favorite beers. Zymurgy had a feature on milk stouts including a recipe for one of the original examples: Mackeson Triple XXX Stout. I combined elements of those two beers with elements of an earlier stout I had brewed and ingredients I had lying around when I formulated the original recipe for Curly's Milk Stout.

I could not have been happier with how that first batch came out. It was only a matter of time until I brewed a full five gallon batch. To brew a full batch and brew it at home required a few adjustments to the recipe. I brewed a partial mash, adding 3.15 pounds of liquid malt extract and one pound of dry malt extract at the end of the boil. The hops were Northern Brewer and Fuggles. I added the Northern Brewer at 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes left in the boil to reduce the hop flavor slightly. I also used the Burton Ale WLP023 yeast I used in the Hot Stove Porter instead of London Ale III 1318 because that is what I had on hand. I also added carbonates to the water to bring out more of the roasted character putting what I have learned about brewing water to use. I still have one bottle of the original version to compare with this version when it is done.

People ask what my favorite beer is. It is a question I struggle to answer. There is something to be said for having a flagship beer. After two years I still do not have one. If the five gallon batch comes out at least as good as the original this beer can at least be one of my flagship beers. A beer that I will make year-round and always have on hand. Once my bottles get low I can brew some more. Someday when my kegs are set up I can keep this on draught at all times too.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0644.JPG The beer looks gorgeous already.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0643.JPG Starting gravity is on point. It was a very smooth brew day.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="345"]IMG_0634.JPG I adjusted the rollers in my grain mill. At first the crush was too fine, but after adjusting again it was perfect.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0637.JPG I had to "sparge" the grain bag by soaking it twice in sparge water to have enough pre-boil wort.[/caption]

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