Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Brew Day: Endicott Red (International Amber Lager)

After another successful batch of Pa's Lager, I started to brainstorm about what other styles I could brew with San Francisco Lager WLP810 yeast. This is a yeast that can product lagers while fermenting at ale temperatures as high as 65F. In the throws of winter, now is the time to take advantage of cool temperatures in our apartment.

As I thought about lager styles I could brew, I also started to think that St. Patrick's Day is only a couple of months away. I started to think of taking another crack at brewing an Irish Red.

Back when I was fresh out of college most of my friends and I still didn't have our own place. If we wanted to have some beers and watch a game we had to go to a bar. We spent a lot of time at bars. In particular, the since closed Uno's on Endicott St. in Danvers, Mass. The draught special at that Uno's for what must have been two years, was a tall Killian's Irish Red for $2. We drank a lot of tall Killian's Irish Reds. While not a clone of Killian's, I do want to make a beer inspired by it.

The Killian's Irish Red name was actually acquired by Coors in the 1980s, and the beer brewed as a lager. Per the 2008 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Guidelines and Irish Red can be brewed as an ale or a lager. The newer 2015 BJCP Guidelines specify "Finally, there are some commercial examples that sound Irish but are essentially International Amber Lagers, with sweetish palates and little bitterness".

In a technical sense this beer falls into the International Amber Lager category, which is a bit of a catch-all category like the International Dark Lager category. Other than the yeast, this is an Irish Red recipe by any standard. It would actually be interesting to split this recipe, brewing half as a lager and fermenting the other half with a British or Irish ale yeast.

An Irish Red is a simple, easy-drinking pint.When designing the recipe I really tried to dumb it down: Irish Pale Ale base malt, a small amount of caramel malt for the characteristic red color, and an even smaller amount of roasted barley to help dry out the finish. I brewed this as a 3-gallon BIAB batch.

San Francisco Lager's Achilles heel is it's low attenuation. To compensate for the yeast's shortcomings with its attenuation I used some flaked maize and corn sugar in the recipe to help lighten the body. I also mashed it longer and at a lower temperature.

As soon as I find time to bottle my latest batch of Pugnacious Pete's, I'll rack Endicott Red into a 3 gallon keg for secondary conditioning. I want to see how much that helps the beer clear.

Click here for the recipe.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brew Day: Invisible Hand (Scotch Heavy)

After my club, the North Shore Brewers filled one of its two Samuel Adams Utopias barrels with a SMaSH Barleywine, the second barrel is ready to be filled with a new beer. We conducted a poll on the club's message board where members chose between brewing a Wee Heavy or a Belgian Quad. Not requiring expensive candi sugar, the Wee Heavy won the vote going away.

To make brewing the beer as easy as possible we bought all of the ingredients together to distribute to all of the members participating in the brew. The one ingredient that would be tricky to purchase for 11 people is yeast. Most shops won't have 11 packages of Scottish Ale yeast in stock. The planned Wee Heavy will also need a lot of yeast cells which would require everyone making large yeast starters.

My solution to both of these problems is to brew a starter beer. A starter beer is a term I came up with.  A starter beer is a lower gravity and ideally lightly hopped beer. The starter beer is low enough in gravity that it doesn't need a yeast starter. When the starter beer is done fermenting there is ample yeast to harvest for future batches. By the way, you also have an extra batch of beer!

A Scotch Heavy is lightly hopped and contrary to its name isn't heavy at all at under 4% ABV. On the BeerSmith Podcast, Ron Pattinson said most lower gravity Scotch Ales are essentially milds. The similarities are quite striking. Both are typically under 4.0% ABV and very lightly hopped.

Wanting to brew as easy of a batch as possible I threw together a basic extract recipe. I used Munton's amber extracts and steeped a little chocolate malt for color and to dry out the finish. The landing in my apartment was the perfect temperature for the WLP028 Edinburgh Ale yeast.

I told everyone in the club brewing the next barrel beer that I would have the yeast ready to go for the club's meeting on Janurary 26th at Notch. My plan is to rack the beer to a secondary fermenter and fill sanitized mason jars with the harvested slurry. 

Around two weeks after I get around to bottling the batch I will have two cases of sessionable ale. Sounds good to me! I think I will fill my one gallon polypin to share with the rest of the club. 

Click here for the recipe.
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Rediscovering the mixed 12-pack

A friend of mine who works at a bottle shop recalled a conversation she had with a local brewery rep. The rep was quite excited that his brewery's new double IPA was moving from 22 ounce bombers, to six-packs of 12 ounce bottles. My friend told the rep that his brewery really needs to package their double IPA in four-packs of 16 ounce "tall boy" cans. He slumped and sighed to my friend "I know."

Cans have numerous advantages over glass bottles. More and more craft brewers are moving to cans, while newer brewers are launching exclusively in cans. For New England-style IPAs, the four-pack of tall boys is becoming ubiquitous. A four-pack of Night Shift cans usually retails for around $14, while four-packs of Trillium range anywhere from $15-$20.

To put this in perspective, 23 year-old me was accustomed to paying $20 for a "30 bomb" of Budweiser cans, while 28 year-old me would pay $15 for a 12-pack of a Samuel Adams seasonal brew. Now 34 year old me is paying $15 for a 4-pack of tall boys. As much as I love a four pack of a local IPA, there is something to be said for spending the same amount of money on a 12-pack every once in awhile. Especially when it feels like you're dropping $40-$50 every time you go to your local bottle shop or taproom. 

Over the last couple of months I've picked up mixed 12-packs from New England stalwarts Samuel Adams, Harpoon, and Smuttynose. In addition to the greater bang for the buck a 12-pack provides, a mixed twelve pack includes three to six different beers. 

The Samuel Adams and Harpoon packs included some new beers I tried for the first time. Harpoon in particular had some very strong releases in 2016. I really enjoyed Camp Wannamango, Flannel Friday, and UFO Winterland. The Vanilla Porter in their winter pack is another winner. All three gave me a chance to revisit old favorites like Finestkind IPA, Old Fezzewig, and Boston Lager.

As a homebrewer who mostly bottles his beer, an advantage to buying a 12-pack of bottles that can't be overlooked are the bottles and boxes. We used to have more bottles than we knew what to do with, but with so many beers we buy now coming in cans that leaves me less bottles to peel and wash before using to bottle my own beer. The boxes the bottles came can be reused to box up my beer. 

My recent run of 12-pack purchases allowed me to work in some fresh bottles. No matter how carefully I rinse my bottles after use, sometimes there is too much gunky buildup inside a bottle. Like anything else if a bottle isn't clean it isn't sanitary. A bottle that isn't clean can lead to infected beer. It is important to rotate in fresh bottles to replace the grimy old ones. 

Since I've been working Saturdays at Modern Homebrew Emporium and contemplating the next steps in my brewing, I've been brewing a lot more. These new bottles will be needed! As brewers transition from winter to spring beers, I might need to pick up another 12-pack or two. 

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Back of fridge find: Subway Series Stout (American Stout)

Every beer geek reaches a level where their home has beer of some kind at all times. If a beer lover is like me and doesn't quite have a beer cellar, chances are there is a portion of their kitchen refrigerator that is dedicated to beer. The bottom shelf of our fridge is mostly full of sponge-worthy beers

After awhile when looking for a beer on a Wednesday night I don't look at most of the beer in my "cellar". I might not know exactly what is there, but I know what's there is for "special occasions". Beer can get lost in this trap and be forgotten about. When such a beer is rediscovered we have what is known as the "back of the fridge find". 

One of the first batches I blogged about was an unconventional beer called Subway Series Stout. This was a one gallon batch that would now be called a Mixed-Style Beer (BJCP Style 34B) combining an American Stout (20B) and International Dark Lager (2C). Looking back those were two odd styles to mix. The base malt was 6-row barley with a heaping percentage of flaked corn like a dark adjunct lager, but there was an equal amount of flaked oats and modern American hops like one would find in an American stout. For good measure I used the estery and highly attenuating Vermont Ale yeast from The Yeast Bay. 

I remember really enjoying the beer when it was young. When I sat down to compose this I could have sworn I wrote a detailed Tasting Notes post. As usual my memory failed me. When I stumbled upon a bottle as a "back of the fridge find", it provided an opportunity to revisit the beer.

The beer poured an opaque black. The head was tan, somewhere between foamy and frothy, with fair to good retention. Any hop aroma the beer might have had was gone, but it still had a nice grainy cereal aroma, with some esters from the yeast. Like the aroma suggested, the hop flavor was low. The body and carbonation were both medium making the beer quite drinkable. There was some chocolate in the malt flavor. Hop bitterness was perfect and the finish was clean and encouraged further sips. 

The beer has aged quite well. At least this bottle which had been stored at cold temperatures for who knows how long has aged well. At this point the beer looks and drinks like an English Porter. If I was a commercial brewer with a silo full of 6-row malt, I'd feel comfortable using a similar recipe to make a porter of stout that people would enjoy.

This was a great back of the fridge find!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tasting Notes - Pa's Lager (International Pale Lager)

My cousin and occasional brew collaborator Andy has actually been brewing for much longer than I have. He used to share a two-family home with his sister Jill and brother-in-law Greg; Andy and Greg were brewing together well before I got into the hobby. When I started brewing there were several batches I brewed with Andy and Greg. Now that Greg and Jill have three boys all under the age of six, Greg isn't able to make it to every brew day anymore.

The first brew day that Greg missed was the first batch of Pa's Lager. After he tasted the beer Greg lamented, "The best beer to come out of (our homebrewery), I had nothing to do with!"

I received a similar response from my boss who has tried several of my beers. He said Pa's Lager was probably the best one of my brews that he has tasted. After I gave him a couple of bottles of my latest batch he said it was a tossup between Pa's Lager and Summer Somewhere (2015). I'm not sure what it says that he enjoyed the most two of the simplest recipes I have brewed to date.

The beer pours a very nice straw color. There is a foamy white head with fair retention.

Adding back that small dry hop addition really made a difference. It gives the beer a noticeable low to medium-low hop aroma. The overall flavor is evenly balanced between malt and hop flavor. The finish is dry without being harsh or puckering. It cleanses the palate nicely before the drinker goes for the next sip.

I shared some with Paul Gentile from Gentile Brewing. He enjoyed it for what it was. Pa's Lager will never be a beer that blows the drinker away with flavor.

I also shared some with my colleagues at Modern Homebrew Emporium. They all gave the beer ratings of 4 on Untappd.

Unfortunately I had to work at the shop and miss my family's holiday gathering. I had Jennie bring a 12-pack and the reviews there were positive.

After messing around with the recipe I think I basically have it locked in. If I can't get my hands on any more free Liberty hops, I may go back to using Perle for bittering. That I don't think would have much of an impact on the flavor.

One adjustment I may make to my process when I brew the beer again would be to rack the beer to a secondary vessel and use a fining agent to reduce some of the haze. The last batch I brewed with Andy had almost brilliant clarity. I'm not sure if that is due to less trub making it into the fermenter, or that the batch was kegged.

Part of me would love to brew this again before next Christmas. At the same time I have so many other brews I want to get to. We'll play it by ear.
In the meantime I did enter the beer into a competiton. I'm very interested to see how it does. The lager categories tend to not be as competitive in terms of the number of entries. 
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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Brew Day: Thomas Brady's Ale (English Barleywine)

Jim Koch likes to talk about how Samuel Adams with first its Triple Bock, and later Utopias pioneered barrel-aging of beer. Goose Island makes similar boasts as it has been brewing Bourbon County since the 1990s. Going back to the beginning of the craft beer boom Bourbon County Brand Stout is probably the most influential barrel-aged beer from the craft beer movement.

Alas before these beers hit the market, before the craft beer boom, the first and most legendary barrel-aged beer was Thomas Hardy's Ale. This English Barleywine was first brewed in 1967 by the Eldridge Pope Brewery on the 40th anniversary of author Thomas Hardy's passing. This big and boozy brew was aged in sherry casks. The bottle told the drinker that the beer would improve with age.

Several years later the beer was brought back. Quite difficult to brew, the recipe was tweaked over time and the brand was passed around by various brewers. Production eventually stopped in 2008 until recently a new group has sought to resurrect the beer. From the beginning the beer was designed to be aged, and over the years vintages of Thomas Hardy's Ale have been commodities on the secondary market.

Beer historian Ron Pattinson has published the original recipe on his blog. This would actually be a great beer for our club's barrel project. Since the club has just brewed a barleywine, I used it as the basis for my own recipe.

Brewing an all-grain batch larger than three gallons with a full boil on my stove-top is a struggle. The only way I could brew a 12% beer in my apartment would be to use malt extract, lots and lots of malt extract. I used a mix of English Maris Otter, Extra Light, and Plain Wheat extracts from Munton's. To boost the alcohol and lighten the final gravity I also added one pound of corn sugar. To put it in perspective this is roughly triple the amount of extract I used in my first-ever batch.

Two pounds DME, one pound corn sugar
My plan was to brew the beer on a snowy night while I bottled Dundalk Irish Heavy. A beer this big will need a lot of yeast. After bottling the Dundalk, I had plenty of yeast I could harvest from the bottom of the fermenter for my barleywine.

While the Ringwood Ale 1187 from the Dundalk will give the beer the English character I am going for, alone it isn't the best choice for a barleywine. It's attenuation is low, and it is only alcohol tolerant up to 10% ABV. Ringwood alone would likely leave an overly malty and heavy finished beer. My manager at the Modern Homebrew Emporium where I have been working on Saturdays Eamon, brews a barleywine every year on New Years Day. With his barleywine, Eamon pitches a second yeast, WLP099 Super High Gravity Ale Yeast when he racks his beer to a secondary vessel. Rumored to be the actual Hardy yeast, it is alcohol tolerant up to 25% with exceedingly high attenuation. This should make sure my beer finishes with the way I want it to.

The other modifications I made to the recipe were driven by frugality and ineptitude. For hops I used Nugget for bittering and Liberty for flavor because I had both in my inventory. A 90-minute boil should drive off most of the American hop flavor from the Nugget. The Hallertau-derived Liberty has more of a continental flavor which shouldn't be too out of place. Pattinson's blog suggests Eldrige Pope used Hallertau and Styrian Goldings.

After tella brewers cleaned the shop out of Crystal 80 and 90 before Orthodox Christmas, I adjusted my specialty malts to be a mix 0.375 pounds each of Caramel 60 and Caramel 120. As I started my brew several hours after carrying my ingredients inside, I couldn't find my bag of crushed specialty malt. I went back out into the snow to check my car, the bag wasn't there. If I dropped it on the ground between my house and my car, the bag was long since burried in snow. I was irate that a small bag missing malt could ruin my brew day.
This bag of Caramel Rye Malt came up huge after I misplaced the specialty malts I planned to use. 

After my meltdown I looked through my stock of ingredients to try and find a specialty malt that would work. I found a one pound bag of Briess Caramel Rye malt that was swag from Homebrew Con. The color contribution should be similar, but I expect the flavor to be different. Anyone who has eaten a rye seed off a slice of rye bread or a bagel has an idea of the flavor rye can impart in a beer. Compared to all the extract, it is a small percentage of the grist. If it gives the beer a unique character then I am all for it. What's the point of homebrewing if you're not willing to try stuff?

After steeping and adding most of my malt extract, the beer has a beautiful amber color. 

36 hours after pitching, krausen is starting to back up through my airlock. I had to use a blow-off tube.
In addition to pitching the new yeast, I plan to add some oak cubes to the beer just as I did with Pyrite Pistol. Based on feedback I received from a competition, I'll add more oak cubes and give the beer more time to age on the oak. Since there is caramel rye malt in the beer, maybe I will soak the cubes in rye whiskey!

See the full recipe here.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Brew Day: Pulpwood Stacker Dark Lager (International Dark Lager) RIP

In my neck of the woods, the coastline of Massachusetts north of Boston, an area locally referred to as the North Shore, our maritime heritage is still a large part of our local identity. When Jennie and I visited her family in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, the area's logging history played a similar role.

Jennie was born in Chippewa Falls less than a mile from the Leinenkugel's Brewery, but her hometown is Cornell, Wisc. The largest and most prominent landmark in Cornell is a massive pulpwood stacker that still stands along the banks of the Chippewa River. The stacker was used to stack logs that would be used in the production of paper. Once common, the stacker in Cornell is the only one of its kind still standing in the United States.

While the stacker may be the symbol of Cornell, the brewery is the most prominent landmark in the region. "Crafty" or not I enjoy many Lienenkugel beers, but my favorite might be the Creamy Dark which helped inspire one of my early batches on the blog. In Massachusetts Creamy Dark is usually only available in the winter sample pack, and this winter it isn't even featured in there. With availability that limited locally I have wanted to brew a beer in the style of Creamy Dark for awhile.

The International Dark Lager is a catch-all style that consits of dark lagers that aren't as malty as most traditional dark German lagers. The style is actually quite similar to the Pre-Prohibition Porter style. Both traditionally employ 6-row barley and adjuncts like corn or rice, both styles are light to medium-bodied, not overly roasty or sweet, and Pre-Prohibition Porters were frequently brewed as lagers. The more modern International Dark Lager style is always brewed as a lager. It is also lower in alcohol and bitterness

The reason I haven't brewed a dark lager to this point is that I haven't been able to brew true lagers for awhile. A lager requires that the beer ferment at around 50F, and traditionally it is stored (lager in German means "to store") at even colder temperatures for an extended lagering period. The various vintages and permutations of Pa's Lager have used a California/San Francisco Lager yeast that ferments at ale temperatures, but none of the batches were lagered in the traditional way.

My plan to ferment the beer at the proper temperature and to use a more traditional lager yeast is to place my fermenter in Andy's shed to take advantage or cold ambient temperatures. To make sure the fermenters don't get too cold I planned to use a heat wrap attached to a temperature controller. As long as temperatures don't drop below 20F for an extended period this setup should work perfectly.

I put together a recipe for a 5-gallon partial mash. My mash consisted of 6-row barley, flaked maize, and a touch of de-bittered black malt for color. The extract was Pilsen dry malt extract which will give the beer a blend of 6-row and 2-row which I could compare to my recent batch of Courageous Kevin's Cream Ale.

Everything went great on brew day at first. My mash temperature was on point. I had a nice rolling partial boil with a very nice cold break. I made 3-stage yeast starter to build up enough cells. Everything was sailing along until I was topping up with water to get up to five gallons until I saw the bag of dry extract still sitting on my kitchen table when it should have been in my beer!

It was late in the day and I needed to stop brewing and start cleaning. All I could do is seal my fermenter until I had time to boil the extract, cool the extract, and add it to the fermenter. 

While the fermenter was sealed, there was still air in the head space. By the time I boiled the extract and opened my fermenter there was a light aroma of sulfur and the beginnings of a krausen forming. A taste confirmed that the beer had spoiled. 

All that work literally down the drain. 

See the full recipe here
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