Sunday, March 25, 2012

Update on the double Irish Red batch

I'll have a full post coming within the next week or so, but the split batch of the Irish Red was definitely a success.  I've just yesterday racked the ale version to a keg and put it on draft, need to give it a couple days to carbonate.  The lager version is still lagering in the fridge, it tasted a little green when I tried it last week.

I'll do a full writeup on the ale version shortly, and check in on the lager version while I'm at it.

Mr. T Chocolate Wheat

Ahh, Spring.  The time when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of refreshing beers on a beautiful day.

That's how that goes, right?

Sure.  I'm going with it.

Anyway, in February I found myself craving a nice light wheat beer that would be perfect for springtime.  I knew going in that I wanted to hit some specific notes:
1. 5-6% alcohol, a nice sessionable beer
2. Citrus - lemony in particular
3. Wheat, because I hadn't made a wheat beer in a long time
4. Clean American yeast, because I'm not a fan of the banana/clove flavors that hefeweizen yeasts can provide

With those goals in mind, I started with my base American wheat beer recipe that I've used a few times before:
5 pounds wheat
5 pounds 2-row
Wyeast 1056

I then started tweaking it.  Thanks to the nice folks over at Farmhouse brewing supply, I had half a pound of Briess Midnight Wheat malt on my hands.  According to the spec sheet for this malt, it's designed to provide purely color, without a lot of flavor impact.  Since I was wanting a purely fun spring beer, I thought why not, and threw the whole half-pound in there.  Since this was about 5% of the grist, I knew that it should provide a deep dark color, and hopefully very light flavor notes.

Next, I wanted to add a bit more body to this beer.  I didn't want it to be heavy, but I wanted to balance the darker color and very basic grain bill with a bit of residual sweetness.  Toward this end, I threw in half a pound of Caramel 60 malt.

Finally, I needed to decide what hops to go with.  I had some Citra on hand, and I thought very seriously about using that.  But I realized that Citra can be an overpowering hop, and I really wanted something more delicate but still able to provide that citrusy/lemony flavor.  Checking my supplies, I found that I had 2oz of whole leaf Sorachi Ace hops.  This is a hop from Japan that is known for providing a lemony flavor, and I thought that would be perfect.  To take it up one more notch, I decided to zest a lemon in the hop bag and really emphasize that lemony aroma and flavor.

So, the final recipe:
4.5lb Wheat Malt
4.5lb 2-row Malt
.5lb Midnight Wheat
.5lb Caramel 60
.5oz Sorachi Ace (60 min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (15min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (5min)
Zest of 1 lemon (5min)
Wyeast 1056 yeast cake

I brewed this beer on 2/22, and my friends and I quickly settled on a name for this beer.  We have a habit of tasting the first runnings from the mash as it's the sweetest part of the wort.  It's before we start the boil and add the hops, and it can provide a good clue toward what kind of flavors you're likely to get in the finished beer.  This is something that has helped me adjust the recipe in the past, when I've realized a dominant flavor is present in the wort that I want to either emphasize or balance using the hops.

When we pulled a couple ounces of the first runnings to taste, we realized it had a chocolate tea sort of taste.  Pretty quickly, we started riffing on the idea of tea in the name, and wound up with the name Mr. T's Chocolate Wheat. I pity the fool that doesn't have some of this beer.

Other than that, brew day was pretty uneventful.  I'd never zested a lemon before, but it turned out to be a pretty straightforward process.  I took a small cheese grater and grated the outside of a cleaned lemon until the yellow peel was scraped off, leaving the white under-peel (I feel there's a word for this that I just don't know).  The peel that I grated went directly into the last hop bag.  That certainly made the brew area smell pretty awesomely of lemon.

I collected a about 5.5 gallons of 1.049 wort, which was right in the ballpark I was shooting for.  I pitched it on top of a yeast cake of Wyeast 1056, which turned out to be a very bad idea.

See, one of things I've always read when re-using a yeast cake is to only pitch beers that are stronger than the previous beer.  In other words, if you have a yeast cake from an 80 schilling, pitch a Wee Heavy on it.  Don't pitch a lighter, weaker beer on it.

But I ignored this. Mostly because I was drinking beer with my friends, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  So I threw this 1.049 wort directly onto the yeast cake of the 7.6% IPA that had just finished fermenting in this vessel.  You can see the ring at the top where the previous krausen had dried, as well as the yeast cake at the bottom.

I came to realize my mistake two days later, when I blew the airlock clean off the top of the carboy, making quite a mess.

 But hey, I have aluminum foil, I can fix this!

See, all better.

Or so I thought.  I let it sit like that for a day, then I sanitized the airlock and re-capped it.

Only to have it blow off again the next day.


I've never seen that before in my life.  I've had explosive fermentations previously - that can happen any time you have a large volume of yeast with a large volume of available sugars for them to eat.  But I've never had a ferment that slowed down after a blow-off, but then ramped up and had the same problem again.  That was new to me.  Especially in a temperature controlled environment, like you see above.  It should never have gotten above 65 degrees.

Of course, I immediately got scared - if it blew off a second time, it may have done so because something else was eating available sugars.  Could I have gotten an infection when the airlock was blown off the initial time?

However, I believe my fears were unfounded.  When fermentation was complete a week later, I racked it into a keg - just about completely filling my 5 gallon corny keg. (Perfect!)  I had my first pull of this beer on 3/3/12, and I don't taste any off flavors.

Overall, I'm a fan of this beer, but I definitely have learned my lesson about over-pitching yeast.  I feel like the over-pitching introduced a risk of infection due to the blowoff, but it also has 'scrubbed' the beer a bit too much.  Over-pitching is known to cause thinner beer, and can muddle flavors.  In this case, I think the over-pitch took a lot of the chocolate flavor out of the beer.

Aroma: Faint citrus.  Light malt.

Appearance: Almost like a porter.  Very dark, with a bit of light able to shine through the thinnest part of the glass.  Excellent head retention.

Taste: All citrus and wheat and carbonation bite, but very balanced and mild.  Faintest hint of chocolate initially, but gets a bit more prominent as it warms. Again, a very mild beer, not at all as dominant flavor-wise as the appearance would have you believe.

Body: It has a medium body, so it's not too heavy but fairly well balanced.

Final stats:
Brewed: 2/22/12
Kegged: 3/1/12
Tasting: 3/5/12
ABV: 5.4% (1.049/1.008)
IBU: 27.4
Overall Impressions:  Solid beer, but overpitched yeast.  If I did it again, I'd add a bit more lemon, a bit less midnight wheat malt, and definitely less yeast.  I'd also hit a lower mash temp. Very appropriate spring beer, right in the sessionable range, but just a bit too heavy.  Pleasant mouth-feel, mild yet distinct flavors, well balanced. Great for pairing with a meal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Impudent Whelp 2: The Whelpening

After my first attempt at an IPA was extremely successful, I've focused my efforts on dialing in a recipe that will truly be a 'great' beer.  In addition, minor tweaks to the recipe will help me continue to learn the effects that various recipe changes have on the beer.  As you can see from the original post, my first attempt at the recipe consisted of primarily Pilsner malt,a pound of Caramel 60, and a mixture of CTZ, Cascade, and Centennial hops.

While I LOVED that beer, I wanted to make a few changes and see how things turned out.

First and foremost, I changed the pilsner malt to standard 2-row.  I did this because 2-row is cheaper, and because I was curious how much impact the base malt would have.  As it turns out, this was a minor, yet significant, change.  More on that later.

Next, I wanted to emphasize the citrus notes even more, so I swapped out the Centennial hops for an Amarillo variety.  Amarillo is known for its grapefruit notes, which I thought would pair very will with the Cascade.

I settled on this recipe:
12lb 2-row
.5lb Caramel 60
.5lb Carapils - I swapped out half a pound of the caramel 60 for this so that I could still get the body and residual sweetness, but without the darkened color.

1oz CTZ (60 min)
1oz CTZ (15 min)
1oz Amarillo (15 min)
1oz Cascade (15 min)
1oz CTZ (5 min)
1oz Amarillo (5 min)
1oz Cascade (5 min)
1oz Amarillo (dry hop)
1oz Cascade (dry hop)

I mashed at 151 degrees, as I wanted it to be somewhat dry, but with a hint of residual sweetness to balance out the bitterness of 113 IBUs worth of hops.

Brew day was a success - I brewed this on 1/22/12 - and only had one minor hiccup. I boiled down a bit too far and wound up with an OG of 1.064 when I was shooting for 1.059 or less.  As you can see from this picture, I collected just under 5 gallons of wort and trub.  
That's not a yeast cake at the bottom, that's purely hops that carried over from the kettle.  I'm thinking I need a better filtration system :)

After 2 weeks of fermentation using Wyeast 1056 (same yeast as last time) I wound up with a pretty - if cloudy - IPA:

Having recently put this beer on draft, I can say that there are few pleasures in the world quite like a fresh IPA on draft.  I love this beer.  It's extremely close to my first pass at it, but I've learned a few more things.

1. If I'm going to use Wyeast 1056, I need to mash warmer.  This fermented all the way down to a FG of 1.008, giving me a 7.6% beer.  Normally I don't mind that, but I was specifically trying to make it weaker than my first attempt, and I actually wound up with a beer that was stronger.  Oops.

2. 2-row just doesn't have the same complexity as pilsner malt.  The balance is off on this beer, and the hops are largely the same.  It's not something that's easily noticed unless you try the beers side by side, but this attempt at it is just a shade too bitter and is missing that complementary sweetness on the finish.

3. Amarillo and Cascade is an excellent mix.  The citrusy and grapefruit aroma is amazing, and there's just a hint of 'dank' hop aroma from the CTZ hops.

So, I think I'm close to happy with my hop bill, but the malt bill needs work.  I'm thinking about 10 pounds of pilsner malt, along with .5lb each of Caramel 60 and Carapils is where I want to go, and maybe scale back the 15 minute addition of the hops to compensate for the 2 pounds of grain I'm removing.

Either way, I'm happy with this beer.  I served it recently at a friend's baby shower, and I think it convinced one person to take up homebrewing.  That's a pretty good feeling, to know that I was able to share my passion with someone else and have it make an impact on them.  I'm going to be very happy to have this on draft for the next month or two.

I just can't resist the temptation that I know, deep down, I can make it even better!

Aroma: Grapefruit, citrus, hops and more hops.  Over the top hops.  No malt smell at all while it's this young.  But, my first attempt at this IPA has developed a very malty nose as it aged past 3 months.

Appearance: Golden, not as hazy as it appears in the picture above.  A pretty beer, with good head retention.

Taste: Smacks you in the mouth with bitterness, but quickly fades into a bouquet of hops.  Very hoppy, very IPA-ish.  Out of balance, as referenced above.  It's tough to pick out individual flavors, as it's just so... much.  I like that in an IPA, personally, but it's not for everyone.

Body: Dry, which is appropriate for an IPA.  You want to be thirsty almost immediately after you finish drinking it, which this does perfectly.  Still, it needs just a BIT more malt backbone.

Final stats:
Brewed: 1/22/12
Kegged: 2/7/12
Tasting: 3/1/12
ABV: 7.5% (1.064 / 1.008)
IBU: 113.3
Overall impressions:  Solid beer, slightly out of balance on the hoppy side, needs to be a bit weaker ABV-wise and have a bit stronger malt presence.  With that said - extremely drinkable, and won't last long on draft.  I just have to be careful drinking more than one of these on a work night.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Irish Red Experiment - Ale and Lager

I'm wanting to try an experiment.

It being March, I feel it's time to brew up a nice bock/Oktoberfest for the fall.  I'm a big fan of letting a lager condition for many months before drinking it.

The trick with lagers is that I need to propagate my yeast.  In other words, I need more yeast than a standard smack pack will give me at pitching time in order to brew the best possible beer.

Toward that end, I'm wanting to create something small that I can use to grow my yeast.

Something I've never had the chance to do is split a batch of beer and ferment it with two different yeasts.  I'm wondering if I can't take this opportunity to do just that - ferment 4-5 gallons of a batch with an ale yeast, while splitting off a gallon to step up my lager yeast.

First thing I need to is find a lager yeast and an ale yeast that can ferment at the same temperature, ideally somewhere in the 50's.  This is because I only have a single mini-fridge that can be devoted to fermentation, so both vessels will need to sit side-by-side at the same temperature.

I'm leaning toward Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) as my lager yeast, as it's safe up to 58 degrees, but I could easily use Wyeast Oktoberfest 2633 again - it worked very well for an Oktoberfest last year.

On the ale yeast side I have a bit of flexibility, but I'm leaning toward Wyeast 1728 Scottish ale yeast.  I've used this strain before with great success, and it ferments as low as 55 degrees cleanly.

Now that I've got that sorted out, I need to pick a recipe that will work well both as a lager and an ale.  To be honest, I don't really care if the lager portion turns out as well, since it'll be less than a gallon and primarily just as a yeast starter.  Still - if I'm going to make the effort, I might as well give it my best shot.  No point in wasting good potential beer!

My initial thoughts are to brew something that is European, with English hops and clean, crisp flavors.  I think that is a nice safe range that would really help accentuate the differences between the yeasts.  This will be hard on me, since my favorite beers usually have big, bold flavors, but I'm willing to sacrifice in the name of science.  Science!

I'm thinking an Irish style red is probably my best bet here.  Malty, lightly roasty, very little hop bitterness - a very clean beer.

A base malt of Maris Otter will give me a little malt backbone.  Some roasted barley for color and roastiness, and I'm thinking a little melanoidin malt to really emphasize the maltiness would work well.  I'm thoroughly tempted to throw in a bit of the Belgian Kiln Coffee malt I have on hand, but I'm going to save that for a darker beer.

So, the recipe I'm going with (for a 6 gallon batch):
10lb Maris Otter
1lb German Melanoidin Malt
.25lb Roasted Barley
.5oz Challenger Hops (60 min) - 10 IBU
1oz Glacier Hops (15 min) - 9.2IBU
mash temp around 155 to keep some malt backbone and sweetness

The goal is to wind up with a beer around 5% alcohol and about 20IBU with a light roasty taste, red color, moderate to low bitterness and, with luck, a very light minty/English note from the Glacier hops at the end.  I haven't had the chance to brew with Glacier hops before, but they're described as a nice middle ground between Fuggle and Willamette.  Those are both traditional English hops that would be appropriate for this style, so I'm feeling pretty safe with my choice.  Challenger is a standard English bittering hop that should provide pure bitterness and not much else.

Having spent the past hour typing this up and finalizing the recipe in my head, I have to say, I'm pretty excited about this.  I could have this turned around and drinkable by April, and this sure sounds like a nice springtime beer.  I'll update once I've had a chance to brew it.