Sunday, 30 April 2017

Kegs and Hops

Since there are so many excellent IPAs and pale ales available on the shelves in Chicago, I don't find myself brewing those styles very often.  I will say, though, that the batches I've made after purchasing a basic kegging system are considerably better than anything I made before.  Its not just that the kegs allow me to avoid introducing oxygen during bottling.  I can also ferment in a keg, transfer using CO2, and dry-hop under pressure, so that the beers never really sees any oxygen exposure after brew day.

I can't take any credit for the process, which is a variant on the one described at Bear-Flavored and Ales of the Riverwards.  The only difference is that my small batch size (3 gallons) means that I can also do the initial fermentation in a keg with an open spunding valve (I haven't tried fermenting under pressure yet), and then transfer to a new keg for dry-hopping and serving.  So far I've been suspending the dry-hops in a couple of weighted mesh bags, but if I brewed these beers more frequently, I'd probably give Scott Janish's loose dry-hop method a try.

The beers below were all brewed at least seven or eight months ago, so the tasting notes are based partly on things I noted at the time, and partly on memory.  I haven't re-brewed any of these beers since these initial batches, but I'll probably make a variant on the IPA recipe for guests once the American football season starts again in Autumn.


Grist: US 2-row (45.2%), Pilsner (45.2%), Munich (6.8%), Torrified Wheat (2.3%), Black Patent (0.5%)
Hops: Magnum, Simcoe, Ahtanum, Citra, Centennial
Yeast: Safale US-05
O.G.: 1.060
IBUs: 79.5
ABV: 6.3%

This was brewed for a small competition at my homebrew club.  I wanted to make something fairly pale, with no crystal malt, so I added some Munich for character and a touch of black patent to give it a bit of a hue.  I added a small bittering addition at 60 minutes, late additions at 20 and 10 minutes, a whirlpool addition steeped for 20 minutes after flameout, and dry-hopped after fermentation for four days before transferring to another keg. The calculated IBUs in BeerSmith seemed way off to me, so I suspect it miscalculated the big whirlpool additions I made in this beer, which wasn't as bitter as I'd hoped. But other than that, it was pretty close to what I wanted: aromatic and easy to drink.  The notes below are from Zigmas, the competition organiser:

So much juice! Sweet orange, lime, touch of lemon and a little mango. This is super fun to indulge in, I want to wrap the glass around my nose and smell it all day. A super faint hint of grassiness, but this is more herbal than anything.

Bottle is clean but has a deep cap impression. Extra clear and blond, little cloudiness but still some gas character to make it interesting. Moderate lacing, excellent head retention throughout. 
Those citrus and tropical aromatics carry through, helped by a lively carbonation. A sweeter, dry finish accentuates but dominates the body. There is a faint berry here, but little to none malt presence. Neutral yeast character that carries well, or is masked by the hop profiles. 
Let's just say this is a delightfully alcoholic citrus fruit smoothie. Love the aromatic complexity. Wish there were more maltiness, or rather a drier, less sugary smack. I think it could use a touch more bitterness; I could see mellow bitterness working well here. Reminds me a lot of late hopped beers. 
If I had to put an industry slogan to this one,
"Drink early and drink often."

APA / Hopwards

Grist: US 2-row (77.8%), Wheat Malt (16.7%), Oats (2.8%), Victory Malt (2.8%)
Hops: Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe
Yeast: Wyeast 1318
O.G.: 1.053
IBUs: 49.6
ABV: 5.6%

This beer was a variant on Ed Coffey's HopsHands recipe.  Back when I made this beer, there weren't many versions of this new kind of pale ale available in Chicago, so I thought I'd make one myself to see what all the fuss was about.

The first batch didn't turn out so great.  I forgot to restock flaked oats (which make up a large portion of Ed's recipe), and ended up subbing wheat malt for most of them.  I also added a fairly large dose of calcium chloride to the brewing liquor, pushing it up to around 140 ppm.  I don't know if either of those things were the cause, but the first batch had an astringent bitterness that I found pretty unpleasant, and that didn't seem to fit at all well with the way people described the style.

Since I felt like I hadn't done justice to Ed's recipe, I decided to make another batch with the proper grist, and slightly lower chloride additions.  This one turned out much better: dry, juicy, murky, and aromatic, as these beers are described.  It was a fun recipe to try out---I've been using Wyeast 1318 for a few years, and it always drops bright, so I couldn't believe people were using it to make such murky beers until I saw it with my own eyes.  However, based on this batch and some other local interpretations I've tried since, I'd say these beers aren't really my thing.  A single glass made a strong impression, but I just don't find them very drinkable in the long run (I would never drink three pints of juice in a sitting!).  I guess I just want some moreish bitterness in my beers.

Bitter Pale Ale

Grist: Pilsner (90.9%), Torrified Wheat (9.1%)
Hops: Mt. Hood, Saphir
Yeast: Wyeast 2565
O.G.: 1.045
IBUs: 33.8
ABV: 4.4%

This was a fun little experiment with some Kolsch yeast.  I basically just wanted to make a dry, bitter Kolsch, and in hindsight I think I should have pushed the bitterness up higher to around 40 IBUs.  Fermenting in the low 60s gave it a fairly subtle ester profile, and as I recall, the keg was finished quickly by me and some guests.  If I had cause to use a Kolsch yeast regularly, I'd certainly make this again.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tasting Notes: Bitters and Dry Stouts

This will be the first of a series of posts catching up on notes from some batches from the past twelve months or so.  The beers in this post are all ones I've brewed multiple times.  For the past couple of years I've been using Wyeast 1318 in every English-style beer I've made, but being a bit of a contrarian, the recent popularity of that strain in 'juicy' pale ales sent me back to another of my old favourites, Wyeast 1469, which I've used in every English-style beer I've made this year.  Sometimes this strain can get a bit too estery for me, especially if you use brewing sugars and don't keep an eye on the fermentation temperatures, but when it ferments well I think it gives an elegant and balanced flavour profile that is quite distinctive.  In fact, though I haven't tested this out, I suspect that that flavour profile, along with some of the stone fruit esters it spits out, would make it work quite well in a hazy and hoppy pale ale.

Ordinary Bitter

Grist: Golden Promise (93%), Torrified Wheat (7%)
Hops: EKG
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.040
IBUs: 42
ABV: 3.9%

This was another beer loosely inspired by descriptions of the beer Boddingtons Bitter used to be.  That meant focusing more on bitterness than hop aroma, with two additions of EKG at 60 and 30 minutes left in the boil.  The grist was very simple. I think Golden Promise works really well in pale bitters, and its been a long time since I've used anything else as a base malt for them.  The torrified wheat is mainly there to help with head retention and give a little extra body.

Nothing 'juicy' about this beer.  It was dry, bitter, and incredibly drinkable.  You still get some hop character even with no additions late in the boil, but obviously the main point is the moreish bitterness.  I was fairly conservative with my sulfate addition for this batch, keeping it at around 120 ppm (I forget why), and I think that detracted slightly from the quality of bitterness I was looking for.  When I make this again I'll probably go to at least 200 ppm, perhaps higher, and keep the chloride at around 60-80 ppm.

The Wyeast 1469 worked nicely here.  I think it brings out the malt a little more than 1318, and the slight apricot-like esters sat well with the base beer.  I'd certainly use it again.

Pale Ale

Grist: Golden Promise (90%), Invert Sugar #2 (10%)
Hops: EKG, Fuggles, Styrian Goldings
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.042
IBUs: 45
ABV: 4.4%

I don't know why I'm calling this beer a pale ale, except that its a pretty direct copy of Timothy Taylor's Landlord and that's what they call their beer.  Landlord is one of the beers I always seek out when I'm back in the UK (to me the bottled version is a sorry substitute, and I never buy it over here).

My recipe is based on the Northern Brewer 'Innkeeper' kit, which I found in the Northern Brewer recipe collection on BeerSmith.  They use pale sugar and a bit of crystal for colour, but I made some invert sugar using the dilution method described here.  Its super easy (I just make up enough for the recipe during the mash) and a great way to get colour and character without using too much crystal malt.  The EKG and Fuggle additions are at 60 and 45 minutes respectively, with a final dose of Styrian Goldings at the end of the boil.

I've made this beer quite a few times now.  Due to a loose temperature probe the batch pictured above fermented a little warmer than I would have liked, which meant it had a very prominent ester profile for the first few weeks in the keg.  Its settled down now though, and is drinking nicely.  I think the hop character is a bit lacking compared to the original beer, perhaps due to the quality of the Styrian Goldings I have available.  I'll also mention that the head retention isn't particularly good---usually I use some torrified wheat or a bit of crystal malt to help with that.

There's another batch conditioning in a keg, which will probably go on in a few weeks time, ready for the warmer weather.

Dry Stout

Grist: Golden Promise (66%), Torrified Wheat (18%), Chocolate (7%), Roasted Barley (7%), Dark Crystal (2%)
Hops: EKG
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.035
IBUs: 35
ABV: 3.2%

Looking over my brew log for the past 12 months, I've made more versions of this dry stout than any other recipe (besides my spelt saisons).  Dry, bitter, and low in alcohol, dry stouts are my kind of beer, and I'm always a little disappointed that the style isn't more popular with craft breweries in the US (especially given the historical popularity of a beer like Guinness).  I can usually find a few on the shelves around St. Patrick's day, and there was occasionally one on at the Clybourn Goose Island pub (once my favourite place to get cask beer in Chicago), but the few I find here are usually too sweet or full-bodied for my tastes.

When I came up with this recipe I was trying to make a stout with a bit of fruitiness reminiscent of a bitter dark chocolate, rather than the more acrid bitterness of a dark-roasted coffee.  I've stuck to this recipe with minor variations for quite a while now, but going forward a bit I'll probably vary some of the character grains.  I used some amber malt in a more recent batch that's currently conditioning in a keg, and I'd also like to try something along the lines of some historical stout recipe, with a large proportion of brown malt.