Friday, May 20, 2016

Tasting Notes: Trans Atlantic Ale (Strong Bitter)

Changes in temperature and carbonation can radically change the flavor and a drinker's perceptions of a beer. When I packaged the Trans Atlantic Ale I bottled four gallons, and packaged on gallon in a plastic polypin like I did with BeerSmith's Dry Irish Stout.
Out of the bottle the beer pours dark copper, with a thin and mousy white head. Clarity was disappointing. This is probably the result of too much hot break material making it's way from the boil kettle and into the fermenter. Meh. I am not trying to win a gold medal at the National Homebrew Competition with an improvised extract kit.
The aroma is a mix of earthy hops and an expressive, floral character from the yeast. The beer starts suggary sweet, but that sweetness becomes thicker the further it goes back in your mouth. It's like the sugar is caramelizing in your mouth. There is sufficient hop flavor and bitterness to ensure the beer isn't too cloying. The finish was quite dry at first. When I drank my first bottle, I double checked the recipe to see what specialty malts had I added. Two ounces of chocolate malt may have been a bit much. This dryness has mellowed in subsequent bottles I have had.
Out of the polypin, with it's lower cask-like carbonation the finish was much more balanced. The relatively higher carbonation out of the bottles enhanced the roasted character more than the "cask" version. Out of my improvised cask the beer was a veritable fruit bomb. I shared the cask at the North Shore Brewers beer camp. The other members there got lots of cherry and gooseberry notes. The beer served in that format served as a canvas for the Windsor Ale yeast to shine. I would certainly use it again without hesitation for any English style.

As an improvised beer I am happy with the results. While not a perfect English bitter, I do think I can apply some of what I learned to future batches in terms of hopping, yeast selection, grain selection, and carbonation. English Bitters and English styles are some of my favorite styles to brew. Fullers ESB would probably be in my dream six-pack. By the time I finish all of the Trans Atlantic Ale I have at home, it will probably be cool enough up on the third floor to ferment with an English yeast at the appropriate temperature. I think it will be time to brew up a bitter of my own.
Follow me on Twitter @JChalifour
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Brew Day: Summer Somewhere 2016 (British Golden Ale)

In 2015 I planned out my brews. I made a brewing schedule like a commercial brewer. Sure there were some tweaks along the way, but I basically decided what I wanted to brew for when months in advance. I got away from it later in the year when I got into more small-batch brewing.
This year after brewing BeerSmith's Dry Irish Stout, Pyrite PistolBanshee Breakfast Stout, and Dawson's Kriek, I've been winging it. I brewed Camp Randall Red for Barrell House Z's competition, Broken Fist IPA and Wisconsin Belgian Red for Memorial Day, but I have another event coming up I need to brew beer for.
Beans N Brews is a similar event to the New England Homebrewer's Jamboree. It is an opportunity for the public to sample homebrew and to support the All Are Welcome community kitchen. As the name suggests the event has an informal homebrewing competition and chili cook-off.  Assuming the weather ever warms up, a refreshing summer ale is a perfect beer to bring to an outdoor festival in June.
The North Shore Brewers had a beer camp on May 9 on National Homebrewing Day. This is where members of the club get together and actually brew together. Jennie is on board with any brew day that does not monopolize and mess up the kitchen. This also enabled me to brew a five gallon all-grain batch outside.
IMG_0116
 IMG_0121
I already had a propane burner to brew outside that I received for free with a previous ingredient purchase. I picked up a propane tank at Dawson's in Beverly. I took advantage of a sale Beer and Wine Hobby in Woburn was having on National Homebrew Day to buy a brand new mash tun for 15% off. The mash tun is a round Igloo cooler with a false bottom. I have read this type of mash tun has better efficiency, meaning better extraction of fermentable sugars, than a cooler with just a screen like when I brew with Andy. I can bring this with me to his house for our next collaboration.
Loading and unloading the mash tun, burner, kettle, propane tank, ingredients, and beers I brought to share was a bit of a chore. It made me wish that when I bought a new car last year that I bought a hatchback or small SUV. Going to beer camps and other homebrew festivals makes me wish I had a bit more cargo space.
Last year I brewed Summer Somewhere with Galaxy hops. I always envisioned using a different hop every year. A British Golden Ale is a very interesting style. The malt bill is most similar to an International Pale Lager, it is hop forward like an American Pale Ale, all while traditionally using an English yeast. A few weeks back I was at the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge and noticed they had a bin of hops that were new to the shop. One variety that caught my eye was Bobek.
IMG_0119
The description on the package said Bobek works in a variety of styles including ESB and lagers. That sounds ideal for a pale lager-like ale! Grown in Slovenia, they sound similar to Styrian Goldings, which is commonly used in Belgian Pale Ales and other Belgian styles. Styrian Goldings are actually English Fuggle hops grown in Slovenia.
After using 1318 London Ale III in the latest batch of Fort Dummer, it was easy to build up a starter for this batch. The malt is basically the same, except I switched up the base malt with the lightest English base malt I could find locally.
I expect the 2016 version to have a more floral and earthy hop flavor, than the assertive passion fruit flavor the 2015 version hopped with Galaxy. London Ale III is decidedly fruitier than Irish Ale, which will add some complexity.
With a five gallon batch I can keg three gallons for Beans 'N Brews, and bottle the rest for the summer.
Click here for the recipe.
Follow me on Twitter @JChalifour
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Friday, May 6, 2016

Discoverering a German legend, Das Kölsch!

In my role with Newburyport Brewing, I post occasional blogs on their website. I wrote this post about the brewery's latest year round beer, Das Kölsch. We tried it for the first time at the release party at the Port Tavern in Newburyport, and I loved it! Light, crisp with a low floral flavor balanced by a light bready malt flavor, it is a beer anyone can enjoy.

discoverering a german legend, das kölsch!

Kölsch is a style I really enjoy. It's a style I've brewed a couple of times before I started the blog. The flavor is so delicate any off flavors become evident. The challenges I've always run into brewing kölsch is fermenting in the low 60s and then lagering.
The cold fermentation temperatures ensure the clean and crisp flavor. Even though kölsch is an ale, traditional examples are lagered at cold temperatures. This helps reduce sulfury flavors that can be produced when a beer is fermented at cold temperatures.
Kölsch is supposed to have brilliant clarity. The traditional German Ale strains don't floccuate well either. Without cold crashing the beer before packaging, there is no chance that the finished beer will have the clarity it should.
Until I have the ability to brew a kölsch and get it right, Das Kölsch will be here for me!
Follow me on Twitter @JChalifour
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Bottling Day: Fort Dummer (American Pale Ale)

One of my favorite local beer blogs is Hoppy Boston. For the most part it is a very simple blog. It’s just a guy, Ryan Brawn, who lives in the Boston area reviewing a beer. Why mess with a winning formula?
Recently Ryan wrote a post about a house beer. A house beer is a beer that you usually have on hand at home. I am working through a backlog of beer at my house. I love this concept. As a beer drinker it is too easy to be caught up in the latest and greatest, while taking the classics for granted. After going to three Red Sox games last month, and a vacation planned for June, my plan is to spend as little money in May as possible. When I have space and more disposable income, I am going to make sure to have a couple of commercial house beers. Right now I am thinking it’ll be a six pack of Newburyport Pale AleNotch Session Pils, and one seasonal beer.
For my homebrew, Curly’s Milk Stout has been my house beer for a while. I am still tweaking and trying to perfect the recipe. Recently I did a vertical of every batch of Curly’s that I have brewed. Jennie and I split the last 22 ounce bomber from the original, one gallon batch. That was the version she liked the best. So much for continued improvement. The beer keeps extraordinarily well. It is slightly hop-forward for its style with a late addition of Fuggles hops. This character fades over time, but there is enough malt complexity to compensate.
When I just want to have a beer, I don’t find myself going for Curly’s Milk Stout. I realized I needed a sessionable pale ale to have as a second house beer. After visiting the new Trillium Brewery in Canton, I spent a small fortune. It would certainly be cheaper and easier to have a juicy pale ale of my own at the house.
I originally brewed such a beer for the Ales for ALS Homebrew Competition in Essex, Fort Dummer. I loved that beer when I brewed it. I even hoarded the last couple of bottles, and the flavor kept quite nicely even after a few months. Since I am primarily brewing this beer for the house I brewed a three gallon batch. This would also give me plenty to bring to homebrew club meetings, enter into competitions, or just share with others. This is also a beer I want to drink when it’s fresh.

My original plan was to use the 1084 Irish Ale yeast I harvested from BeerSmith’s Dry Irish Stout, and subsequently used with Pyrite Pistol and Banshee Breakfast Stout. I ended up putting off this brew day for quite awhile and decided to buy a fresh package of yeast. I went with 1318 London Ale III. I love this yeast. I originally used it in the first batch of Curly’s Milk Stout and several English beers. Many craft brewers in the northeast use 1318 in hoppy pale ales. The yeast gives the beer a softer mouthfeel, and its fruity esters compliment fruity American hop varieties.
I scaled up my starting gravity of the beer to try and get the alcohol by volume over 5%. When the homebrew shop did not have any whole leaf Ahtanum hops, I substituted Citra just because. I flipped the dry hops to a degree; I added the whole leaf Citra during active fermentation to see if the expanded contact surface for the yeast would give the beer a juicier flavor. I racked the beer off the Citra after five days into a new vessel. I had planned to add a huge second dry hop five days before packaging. One day before I planned to bottle, I saw two packages of hops in my freezer that I forgot to add. I really need to label my hop additions. I think I will use these hops to brew another batch of Alan’s Stepchild.
I had been meaning to brew this up for weeks. I finally got around to it the same weekend as the Westbrook Gose debacle. That is probably why I never got around to posting a brew day post. I didn’t notice the oversight until after I bottled the beer!
Even though my second dry hop was less than an ounce, the beer still had a beautiful hop aroma as I bottled it. If this is going to be one of my house beers, I can always do a bigger dry hop next time. I can’t wait to crack one open in a couple of weeks.
See the full recipe here.
Follow me on Twitter  @JChalifour
Share what beers you are drinking with me on  Untappd

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A beer drinker’s guide to Fenway Park

The Toucher & Rich show on 98.5 The Sports Hub ran their March Badness bracket, a bracket of the worst of Boston sports. This year’s winner was $10 beers at Fenway Park. I’ve been to three games at Fenway this year. The beers aren’t quite $10. At most stands it’s $9.25, or $9.75 for “craft”. Craft is in quotes because several of the beers that are marketed and sold for “craft” prices do not meet the Brewers Association’s definition of craft.
What I am not going to do is whine about beer prices. Yes, beer prices are obscene, but as a capitalist it is up to me to choose whether or not to voluntarily exchange my $9.75 for a beer.  If the club decides that they would make more money by selling more beer for a lower price, they will lower prices. If they think that high beer prices are hurting attendance, they will lower the price of beer. I know my bank account didn’t take such a beating after going to three games in April, I would be more inclined to go to more games the rest of the season. That is a business decision for the Red Sox to make.
Two years ago the Washington Post conducted a thorough ranking of the best and worst beer selections at all 30 MLB ballparks. At that time the Red Sox ranked 22nd. In the past two years my hunch is that draught offerings have gotten worse.
I know when I walk around the concourse looking for a beer stand, I also am looking at tap handles to determine what beer is at what stand. This season I’ve sat in the right field roof box, right field grandstand, and third base grandstand. From walking around almost every corner of the park this month, it appears Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB) taps are everywhere. I would expect to see a lot of Budweiser and Bud LIght, but I have also seen a lot of Blue Point Toasted Lager. It is like AB is trying to compete with Samuel Adams on Sam’s home turf with a Vienna Lager of its own.
I enjoy Blue Point, Goose IPA, and even Budweiser, but there are local offerings if you search them out. There are a few Samuel Adams taps. Fenway Park usually has Summer Ale on tap on Opening Day. Beyond that, local beers like Wachusett, Harpoon, and Narragansett are available in cans. This season, even though I haven’t seen it yet, Jack’s Abby House Lager is available at Fenway. The cans are kept in coolers behind the counter, or on the ground. You can’t just look for tap handles. You have to look and ask what is available. If the draught beer selection is limited, the can selection is better.
I understand that most fans will want Bud Light and the like, but I do wish the Red Sox would expand their craft beer offerings. Even if they just set up a couple “local craft” beer stands for some of the newer and more sought-after beers and breweries like Trillium or Night Shift. One stand in the Big Concourse in right field and another in left field would be a massive improvement. I would probably pay $10.75 for 12 ounces of Fort Point Pale Ale at the ballpark if I could.
Around the park, Tasty Burger is one of my favorite spots. The burgers, fries, and onion rings are all among my favorites. They have a solid selection of local craft beers include Notch Session Pils and Left of the Dial. Boston Beer Works is also around the corner. After the game they have tubs filled with cans of Bunker Hill Blueberry you can grab quickly on the way in, or you can venture to their huge bar if you want to check out their draught offerings. The Lower Depths in Kenmore Square is one of Boston’s best craft beer bars, and is also within walking distance of the park. I haven’t been there before or after a game because I usually park on Jersey Street. With Yawkey Way closed it is a pain to get to.
If I had to boil down the beer drinker’s experience to a few bullet points it would be: imbibe before the game if you want to save money, look for the cans behind the counter, and check out some of the spots around the park before or after the game.
Follow me on Twitter @JChalifour
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd