Category Archives: Amber

St. Patty’s Day Irish Red

This batch is for my in-laws to put on tap for St. Patrick’s Day! I based this on a previous Irish Red batch, and went with English yeast because I prefer the malt profile that it yields. I’m going to try adjusting the pH of my sparge water this time – normally i just use it as is, and technically its pH is up near 8.6, not ideal considering the mash’s pH is near 5.4. This should help the final beer pH be closer to where it should be. I also wound up throwing in a little coffee to the primary for an different twist on the style!

  • 12.5 lb UK Pale 2-row
  • 0.28 lb Victory malt
  • 0.28 lb Extra Dark Crystal malt (170L)
  • 0.1 lb Roasted Barley (300L)
  • 1.5 oz Kent Goldings hops (60 min) 4.8% a.a.
  • 0.5 oz Kent Goldings hops (10 min) 4.8% a.a.
  • WYeast 1968 London ESB (1L starter)

// Mash-in w/ 5.1 gal 156F water to setting at 152F for 50 minutes. 2 tsp CaCl2 to mash. Raise to 158F briefly, then to 168F for 5 minutes. Sparge w/ 2.6 gallons (adjusted pH to 5.6 w/ lactic acid) and collect around 6.75 gallons of 1056 wort. Boil 60 minutes. Collect 5 gallons 1060 wort. //

Wort looked a little too dark going into the primary, this may end up browner than red.

5/3/17  Airlock slowed, gravity at 1016. Very fruity aroma, approachable flavor but not as nutty/malty as I’d hoped. We’ll see how it turns out cold and carbonated. Put in the fridge to crash cool.

5/5/17  Pleasant malt flavor but moderately fruity. Somewhat regretting not going with Irish yeast, but it’s a decent beer. Added 0.75 oz of ground coffee (Wegman’s breakfast blend) in a hop sack.

5/6/17  Kegged. Coffee flavor definitely works and helps to round out the flavors. Could actually afford to go a little bigger with it too. Never had a chance to do a full tasting review, but overall I was pleased with the end result. Using a cleaner yeast would be best here, and, while the coffee addition wasn’t totally necessary, it helped to mask some of the overt esters from the yeast. I fermented this on the warmer side (~72F) so going a little cooler would help, too. Clarity and color were on point!

 

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Hoppy English Red Tasting Notes

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Initially wasn’t too impressed with this beer, likely a result of my poor recipe calculation. I stupidly forgot to update the alpha acid content of the First Gold hops in the recipe software (it was assumed to 7%, mine were really 3%), so my IBUs were probably about cut in half. It wound up being a fairly malty beer, but the toasted malt flavors were actually quite pleasant. Happy accident considering I was hoping this would be a hop forward beer. That being said, I always seem to under do the hops when using English Yeast. The yeast tends to mute the hops and I always forget to compensate.

The clarity on this batch was phenomenal, and the shade of red was perfect in my opinion (the photo appears more brown). It’s been tough to hit the color red (too dark and it’s brown, too light and it’s copper/orange) but this SRM level (10, I believe) was just right.

Looking back at the recipe again, the hop additions didn’t really make sense for what I was going for; the whole thing would have probably been better just without the 30 minute Cascade addition. Mid-boil additions haven’t sat well with me recently. They seem to work well in IPAs that have a lot of hops surrounding the mid-boil addition, but not so much in isolation. Although my favorite saison recipe just has 60 and 30 minute additions and that’s it – it seems to give it a nice zippy dry finish. As with everything in brewing, it’s all about how you use it to make it appropriate.

 

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Hoppy English Red Ale

Next up is a red ale, trying to emulate what I remember from Cooperstown Brewing Company’s Old Slugger. It had a delicious malt and hop balance that leaned a little into the toasted malt dimension. I dreamed up this recipe that has a toasty malt component but with moderate hopping. I wanted something that has a touch of a hop bite (not aggressive), with some soft herbal hop flavor and a bit of a floral nose.

  • 10.75 lb English Pale
  • 1.25 lb Victory malt
  • 0.1 lb Carafa II
  • 1 oz First Gold, 60 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.25 oz Cascade, 30 min (7% a.a.)
  • 0.8 oz First Gold, 10 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.5 oz Cascade, 3 min (7% a.a.)
  • WYeast British Ale II (1L starter)

// Mash-in w/ 4.8 gal at 152F for 50 minutes, raise to 168F. 2 tsp gypsum to mash. Sparge w/ 3 gal 168F water. Collect around 6.5 gal 1054 wort. Boil 75 minutes, collect 5 gallons 1062. Chill to 60F. Pitch half decanted starter. Left to ferment at 66F. Brewed 12/27/16. //

12/28/16: Good airlock activity.

1/2/17:  Gravity down to 1020. Still slightly sweet but malt/hop flavors are getting there. Will let sit for a few more days then crash.

1/4/17:  Moved to fridge to crash cool.

1/5/17:  Added gelatin.

1/8/17:  Kegged. Super clear. Flavor doesn’t impress me – harsh hop edge with malt flavors that don’t really jive. We’ll see how it turns out once conditioned. Tasting notes.

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Filed under Amber, Balanced, English, Uncategorized

Best Bitter Tasting Notes

img_1268This beer led me to discovering that my nitrogen gas line has a leak; needless to say this did not make it to the nitro tap. I hadn’t used my handpump in a while so I decided, what the hell, let’s use this as an experiment to see how long a beer would last uncooled and uncarbonated on cask. Usually I reserve casks for parties since it needs to be completely drank within a few days after tapping. After a few days the warmer temperature and oxygen in the headspace spoils the beer.

My procedure for this experiment is as follows:

  1. Decide that I’d like to have a pint of cask ale (or two). Rarely a difficult decision.
  2. Vent any excess CO2 from the keg.
  3. Connect handpump to keg, pull beers until finished, usually leaving the keg “tapped” for 2 to 3 hours.
  4. After this “session”, disconnect the handpump and put CO2 on to pressurize the keg to 10 psi. Disconnect gas.
  5. Repeat for each session.

I tapped the keg on 9/6/16 and am pleased to report that it lasted a full 2-1/2 weeks (9/23) before starting to show some noticeable effects of aging. From my experience with previous casks I was expecting it to become “funky”; small amounts of bacteria/wild yeast would eventually become active and create off flavors. However, the effect was more of a general oxidation – the caramel flavors become over-pronounced, slightly harsh and cloying, reminding me of a lot ill homebrew I’ve tasted in the past. Still drinkable, but having tasted it every other day it’s definitely noticeable. By 9/30 there was a noticeable Brett funk that had developed. It actually didn’t taste that bad if you took it as intentionally being funky, but it definitely had deviated too far from the original beer to be passable. Original recipe can be found here.

How it look: Crystal clear, amber, chestnut brown (lighter than the picture shows) with a frothy, airy, sudsy head. Excellent cascading bubbles when pulled from the hand pump. Just like something you’d see in a London pub!

How it smell: Clean English yeast esters with caramel, toffee, and flowers.

How it feel: Flat, but very expressive. Moderate earthy bitterness in the finish.

How it taste: Like a cozy English pub. Toasted malts and hints of caramel initially fading to earthy, floral hops. In the first pour I thought the bittering hops were a little too assertive, but it’s just enough to poke out in the finish and leave you wanting another sip. The aeration provided by the handpump amplifies all of the flavors wonderfully.

How it do:  I have an absurd bias towards English cask ales, so naturally this was one my favorites to drink. I can say as objectively as possible that this is on par with bitters I’ve had in the UK. After all, when you use all English ingredients, you’re going to hit the mark on getting all of those characteristic flavors into your beer.  I actually thought the beer peaked after about a week in the cask – the malt flavors seemed to develop and become more expressive.

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Festbier – review of the new Grainfather system!

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My brewing setup consists of converted kegs/keggles, two propane burners, and a chugger pump — a pretty standard RIMS setup which has done me well for the past four years. It definitely comes with its challenges, though. Brewing outdoors exposes you to the elements, so any extreme hot or cold makes things difficult, i.e. hoses freezing up, ground water not cold enough to chill the wort, etc. Any slight breeze or gust of wind diminishes the flame heating the kettle (which is already an inefficient heat source) so keeping a constant mash temp without a temp controller is spotty, and maintaining a steady rolling boil is tricky although manageable. My efficiency is naturally low (usually 65%-68%) because I batch sparge, and my total wort loss from mash/lauter tun and boil kettle combined is around a gallon and a half due to dead spaces, so I lose a good bit of perfectly good wort on every batch.

Sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s a solid system that has produced really good beer (which placed several times in comps). It’s a piecemeal system that wasn’t expensive to put together, but all of its drawbacks have led me to look into overhauling my setup and switching to an all-electric system. I’m not so much worried about the consistency of the beer as much as maintenance and making the brew day easier. Start to finish, a 5-gallon batch on my propane system takes around 6 hours – it’s a long time, and although I’ve accepted that it will take up a good portion of my Saturday, that is a FULL 6 hours of work – constantly checking the strike temp, mash temp, boil level, assembling and disassembling parts for storage… you get the point. Having some automation in the system will allow me to get other stuff done during the day while brewing. The idea of brewing indoors all year round is attractive, and to do so would require ditching the gas burners. There are a lot of electric options for retro-fitting kettles with heating elements, but I came across the Grainfather system and was immediately attracted to its design and compactness. I did some research on what it would cost to build something similar from scratch. It would cost well over $2000, and the Grainfather is competitively priced at $890. So I made easily the biggest brewing purchase I’ve ever made and gave the Grainfather a shot.

The first recipe is a Festbier for Oktoberfest. It’s a simple recipe, and I’ve made this with good results the past few years.

  • 6 lb Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb Dark munich
  • 0.3 lb Caramunich I
  • 1.5 oz Hallertauer (2.5 % a.a.) at 60 and 30 minutes
  • White Labs Munich Lager (2L starter)

// Mash-in 1.5 qt/lb at 152 for 60 minutes, mash out at 168 for 5 minutes. Collect around 7.5 gallons pre-boil wort, boil 90 minutes. Collected around 6.75 gallons of 1037 wort. Chilled down to 82 with ground water, put in the fridge overnight to chill. Pitched decanted starter the next morning with wort at 62F and put in fridge at 48F. Brewed 8/30/16. //

Before I get into my notes of first impressions of the Grainfather, let me say that it’s not surprising to have some hiccups and unexpected issues when completely overhauling your existing brewing setup with an entirely different system. That being said, here are my main notes from first use of the Grainfather. Overall I enjoyed using the Grainfather. The components are extremely well designed and thought-out. You can tell someone who brews a lot made this. The size is awesome and really appealing for someone who doesn’t have a lot of space. Looking forward to continuing to brew on it and make some good beer!

Mashing

The mashing method for the Grainfather is like a metal brew-in-a-bag. They wisely have the metal basket raised off the bottom of the kettle where the heating element is (to prevent scorching), but there’s probably around a gallon of water that sits below the basket. I used my standard mash-in ratio of 1.5 qt/lb. Before you start the recirculation pump, the mash is THICK. I mean really thick. Once the pump has some time to move the liquid around it’s OK. I later learned that the brewing calculator on their website helps you choose the right ratio for their system based on your grainbill. Highly recommend this.

Boiling

If you’re like me and switching from a propane system, be forewarned that the boil on the Grainfather is not strong. It’s puny. Barely even what I would call “rolling”.  After doing some research online, several people in forums have noted the same issue. Some say that using an extension cord can drop the power slightly and weaken the boil. I tried both ways – not much difference. After talking with my LHBS expert (who has used the Grainfather extensively), he said that this “weak” boil is both typical for the Grainfather and most commercial breweries. He said that the crazy boils that homebrewers get aren’t common in a commercial brewery simply because its not necessary. I still have qualms about whether you’ll getting a good hot break, though. Regardless, using the Grainfather calculator will help you get your volumes right to account for the true boil-off rates.

Chilling

This was probably the most seamless part that worked especially well the first time. The inline chiller was able to get the wort down to the temperature of my ground water (85F) and go directly into the fermentor. The hop filter did a good job of keeping back nearly all of the hops from going through the pump. Beats having to stand over the kettle with a copper immersion chiller, stirring constantly for about 20 minutes. The hoses and adaptors for the cold-in hot-out feel a little cheap, but they work.

Losses

I should have done more research beforehand, but I totally over estimated the losses. First, the boil-off rate is low (i would guess 6%) compared to the propane setup. Second, there’s much less dead space in the vessel so I only lose about 1/2 gallon to trub/hops. So I wound up with way too much wort (probably 7 gallons or so instead of 5) after the boil so this first batch is a little thin. At the time I didn’t realize that their online calculator accounts for all those parameters to figure out what volumes you need.

Controls

The electric controls are easy to use – one switch to activate the pump, the other to toggle between mash mode (temp regulated) and boil mode (full heat). There’s another switch on the bottom of the unit away from the control panel, however, which can be set to “Normal” or “Mash”.  Apparently this switches between using the full electric power or a lower power unit, respectively. Not sure why this type of switching logic wasn’t built into the temperature control electronics, but they provide instructions on when you should use the different modes. It’s not super inconvenient, but it just provides a thing you can potentially forget to set before you use it.

 

8/31/16:  Lots of activity, no yeast on top yet. Fridge at 48F. Rotten egg smell in the morning, but by night smells clean.

9/7/16: Gravity at 1020. Fridge at 50F.

9/14/16: Turned the fridge off to let it rise up to about 60F.

9/16/16: Gravity down to 1014. Still fruity and cloudy, but with a pleasant bread flavor. Lots of airlock activity still.

9/22/16: Gravity at 1012. Slightly off aroma (sulfur) but flavor is wonderful. Set temp to 36F, will let this sit for a week and then keg!

 

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Filed under All-grain, Amber, Equipment, German, Lager, Malty

Best Bitter

My nitro tap has be vacant for a while, partly due to a leak in my gas line that depleted the tank on my last batch and my unwillingness to go get the damn thing refilled. This should be a nice pick-me-up for the tap; a fairly standard English Bitter with a full bill of English ingredients.

  • 9 lb Muntons Maris Otter
  • 0.8 lb Muntons Medium Crystal 60L
  • 0.1 lb Muntons Extra Dark Crystal malt
  • 3 oz UK First Gold (60 min) (3.5%aa)
  • 1 oz UK First Gold (10 min) (3.5%aa)
  • 1 oz UK First Gold (0 min) (3.5%aa)
  • Wyeast London ESB

// Mash-in 2 qt/lb at 154 for 40 minutes. Sparge w/ 3.7 gal 170F water. Collect 7 gallons 1040 wort. Boil 40 minutes. Collect around 4.5 gallons 1.048 wort. Pitch 1L starter. Could only get the temp down to 85F with the hot weather and water temp. Moved to basement to ferment at 65F. Brewed 8/26/16. //

The yeast was dated April, so I made a 1L starter to get it going again. It had no problem fermenting out the starter, and tasted fine before pitching.

Water: 2 tsp gypsum, 1/2 tsp CaCl2 to mash. Nothing to sparge.

8/27/16:  Lots of activity, slight blow-off into the airlock.

8/29/16: gravity at 1020. Nice esters and malt flavor, but the hops are sharp and, well, bitter. Hoping this mellows.

9/1/16:  Gravity still at 1020, but much better flavor. Hops are less sharp and just tastes like a great English ale. Slightly sweet. Much clearer, too. Kegged and put on the nitro tap at 30 psi. Tasting notes!

 

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Belgian Amber Tasting

DSC_1032When it comes to brewing Belgian beer, saisons are usually my go-to. In my experience saison yeast can usually work in a wide range of temperatures (low 70s to low 90s) and still generally produce pleasant, peppery esters that make for a really enjoyable beer. Other Belgian styles I’ve had more difficulty with – dubbles, blondes, etc., because I just can’t get the yeast do what I want. The final product usually come out overly ester-y, bubble-gum, banana, things that I wouldn’t mind in smaller quantities, but the “real-thing” from Belgium is much cleaner with a excellent biscuity malt component that shines through. This beer was one step closer to what I would call a “passable” homebrewed Belgian beer.

Appearance: Light brown to golden/amber. Excellent slight off-white head. Fairly hazy all the way to the end of the keg.

Aroma:  Floral and banana esters with mild malt component, slight corn/off aroma occasionally.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a somewhat dry finish.

Flavor: Estery Belgian yeast is very evident followed by a fairly big malt body – crusty bread, slightly grainy. Hops provide bitterness to balance.

Overall: This recipe is a keeper – prominent biscuity malts are the front with moderate hopping to provide balance and bitterness. It’s getting closer, but I may have let the temperature raise up for too long. The first tasting of it before I raised the temp was much cleaner, and after I let it finish up at around 72F it had gotten overly ester-y. So next time I’ll just let it finish out at the lower temperature, however long that takes, with maybe only a day at the higher end. The corn-ish flavors/aroma may have been DMS from the pils malt and not having boiled long enough, although it was a very strong boil. Having it ferment out a little more would also be good, but I was in a hurry to get this carbed and ready for a party. It was well received, many people calling it a great summer beer.

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Filed under All-grain, Amber, Balanced, Belgian, Tasting