First Tasting: Breakfast Stout (Beer #16)

March 26, 2011

Today I had a glass of the Breakfast Stout I brewed on January 22nd, 2011. It isn’t really a “first tasting,” because I have already drank several of these. But today was the first time I bothered to take reviewer’s notes.

Appearance: Darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night. This beer is pitch black. Held up to the light, it still looks black; no red comes through at the edges. A thin, less-than-one-finger head forms with a somewhat vigorous pour. The head is a good looking tan color made up of small, tight bubbles. The head looks like crema atop a freshly-pulled shot of espresso. Little head retention. Good lacing for the retention level, though.

Smell: Sweet and smokey. Chocolate comes through well. Coffee is strong but does not dominate. Hints of bacon and anise.

Taste: Much dryer than it smells. Smells sweet, tastes dry. A bit acidic. The chocolate is there in the finish, but it doesn’t come through as strongly as it does in the smell. The coffee dominates the taste, but it is not overwhelming. I think I’m getting some fusel alcohols, but they’re not over the top. The alcohol is not burning or hot; you wouldn’t guess this was an 8+% beer. As the beer warms up, the fusel flavors dissipate and the coffee flavor becomes more distinguished – meaning the coffee starts to taste like a cup of good Sumatra and not just “general coffee flavor.”

Mouthfeel: A full bodied, creamy mouthfeel. More carbonation than the lack of head would lead you to expect.

Drinkability: This beer is good. It pairs fantastically with chocolate cake or brownies. After I drink one, I’d gladly have another… if I don’t have to go to work the next day. Two of these and you’re pretty happy. This beer, however, is not perfect. The fusel alcohols, while not overwhelming, are a bit of a spoiler. The beer doesn’t exactly taste solventy, but I feel that I can notice the fusels and the beer would be better without them.

I am happy with the recipe I used for this beer. The next time I brew it, I might up the cacoa nibs by 20% or maybe let the beer sit on them for an additional week to kick the chocolate flavor up a bit. I might also lower the amount of coffee used, but not by much – maybe 15 or 20%. The lack of head and head retention is typical for an oatmeal stout. The high fat content of oatmeal causes bubbles to not want to form, and not last when they do form. The science behind it is the same as why a baker must ensure that not one spec of yolk makes it into the egg whites she’ll be whipping to make a meringue.

The only problem this beer really has, in my opinion, is that it was fermented with a lack of temperature control. The temps neared 80°F during the fermentation, and the fermentation completed in under two days. It went too hot and too fast. I will brew this again in the fall to have it ready for the holiday season, and now that I have the fermentation chamber, I imagine it will be tip-top next time ’round.


American Amber Clarity Update

March 26, 2011

After a few weeks in the fridge, the American Amber Ale is clearing up nicely, compared to when I first tasted it:

That’s a Tripel Karmeliet on the left. It serves no pupose in this picture other than to make you drool.

No tasting notes this time around, as I was a couple beers deep when I took this picture. I’ll be re-tasting it with notes sometime soon…


Beer #18: Belgian Dubbel

March 21, 2011

Brewed on March 20th, 2011 by Jess, this is her second brew and first time all-grain brewing. I was there to offer guidance, but this is her beer. She made it.

The recipe comes from Brewing Classic Styles.

The picture above is how it looks now. It’s in the fermentation chamber, currently set to 65°F. A blow-off tube was needed because the White Labs Abbey Ale yeast is, well, let’s call it over-active. We made a starter in a 1 gallon growler, and the krausen flowed over on it. That was enough to tell us to use a blow-off tube on the fermenter. It’s a good thing we did, because it would have blown the airlock and made a nasty mess of our new fermentation chamber. There’s krausen in the blow-off tube already.

She came in about 9 points low on initial gravity. I haven’t yet figured out why the mash efficiency suffered for this brew. It came in post-boil at 1.063 when the estimated target was 1.071. Aside from that, the brew-day went very smoothly.

EDIT: I realized my new hydrometer was reading 5 points low. It showed water to be .995. I measured the OG of my next batch both with the hydrometer and my refractometer, and this showed the same 5 point flaw with the hydrometer. From this, we know that the Dubbel actually came in at 1.068, not 1.063.

Here’s Jess measuring out her grains:

Working the vorlauf:

Here we’ve reached a nice rolling boil:

This brew called for a 90 minute boil because it used continental (Belgian) Pilsner malt as its base. Pilsner malt requires a longer boil to ensure you drive off DMS. Another fun fact about this malt is you get a ton of hot break, big chunks of it that look like egg-drop soup. That’s what’s going on in the picture above. The beautiful garnet red color comes somewhat from Belgian Special B malt, but mostly from Belgian candi sugar.

Time to chuck in some hops:

And that’s it. The beer has been fermenting for about a day now. This one will need some time before it’s ready for drinking. Two or three weeks in the fermenter, two-to-three weeks in the bottle to carbonate, then the carbonated bottles need to cold-age at about 47°F for a month, then it will be ready to drink. It’s going to be a long wait, because i’m looking forward to this one. Belgian dubbel is one of my favorite styles. Cheers!


My AHA Membership Card Came Today

March 14, 2011

Be it known to all and sundry that I am hereby appointed a member of the American Homebrewers Association and am entitled to all the honors and benefits accruing thereto.

Signed: Gary Glass, AHA Director.

Counter-signed: Pierre Andre, in ink!

Wow, honors and benefits already at the age of nine.

If you’re not a member of the AHA and you’re serious about brewing, you should join:

You can purchase a membership straight from the AHA’s site, or if you like to listen to The Brewing Network, you can support both entities by purchasing an AHA membership through the BN.


Gear: Fermentation Chamber Build

March 12, 2011

If you want to make good beer, you need to have precise control over fermentation temperature. Hell, if you want to make lager at all, you need a way to maintain low fermentation temperatures in the 50s. Enter the fermentation chamber:

I based this device on what many homebrewers call a keezer – a kegerator built from a chest freezer. Jess has taken to calling it the FrankenFreezer. The freezer is modified thusly: a wooden collar is installed between the freezer body and the lid to make the collar deeper and provide a place for mounting the electronics, and a temperature controller is added to override the freezer’s thermostat.

With this lightly modified chest freezer, I will be able to:

  1. Precisely control fermentation temperature
  2. Brew lager
  3. Cold-condition beer at temperatures above standard refrigerator temperature, but below cellar temperature
  4. Cold-stabilize wine, causing the potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) crystals to fall out of solution in the carboy instead of in the bottle

To build this device, first I needed a chest freezer. I was looking for a 7 cubit foot one – the perfect size for holding two carboys. I watched Craigslist for a while, but they were all either too old, too far away, or the sellers were asking too much. I eventually decided just to buy a new one, since a new one isn’t that expensive. I picked up the GE FCM7SUWW from the big box store. This model has good reviews online, and many people on homebrewtalk have used this model to build their keezers.

The other major piece of equipment needed was a temperature controller that would allow me to precisely dial in the temperature inside the freezer. Freezers like to operate in the 0°F range, but I want it to run in the 40-75°F range. The Love TSS2-2100 two-stage controller allows me to do just this. Using a two-stage controller means I can control both the freezer and a heat source. In the winter, my basement is colder than Ale fermentation temperature, so the heat is needed. In the summer, it will use the freezer compressor more. During spring and fall, it will likely vary between which it uses. For heat, I just grabbed a cheap ceramic space heater from Amazon.

Wiring the system was simple and straightforward. I used a diagram from one of the good members on homebrewtalk. Basically, power comes into the controller from a wall plug, and from there it goes out to two receptacles. I replaced the wall outlet the entire thing is plugged into with a GFCI, just to be safe.

I chose to go with a single receptacle, split-wired with one outlet for heat, one for cold. The heater plugs into the top, the freezer plugs into the bottom. Both are set to their maximum setting. The Love controller switches power on and off to whichever device needs it based on the temperature.

In the picture above, you can see that I chose to keep the freezer’s hinges in their factory location and attach them to the wooden collar. Some choose to build keezers such that the collar is fixed and only the lid opens. I chose to have the collar open thinking I’d rather not have to lift a full, 65 pound carboy over the collar.

Lid up:

That’s it. It’s test-running now with a carboy full of water. It will get put to use soon – we have a couple of brews lined up for the next few weeks, then it’s time to cold stabilize the 2010 wine prior to bottling it.

If you have any questions about how I built this, feel free to leave a comment here.


First Tasting: Amber Ale (Beer #15)

March 5, 2011

Today I had my first taste of the American Amber Ale I brewed on January 16th.

It wasn’t actually my first tasting; Jess and I each had one a couple weeks ago before it was fully carbonated. This was the proper first tasting.

Appearance: The color is spot on. 14 SRM. A nice off-white-to-straw-colored head with ample retention. It’s a bit cloudy. Not as cloudy as the IPA I tasted yesterday, but not clear. This beer should be clear. Now, it only spent 48 hours in the fridge before pouring. Maybe more time will clear it up.

Smell: A nice caramel maltiness. Faint citrus. Mellow on all fronts, as this beer should be.

Taste: The taste follows the smell. Caramel maltiness, a bit of citrus hoppiness. Hop flavor is stronger than the hop aroma, but does not dominate. The maltiness is a bit underwhelming. Overall, the beer tastes a little murky or unclean. Not as crisp as it should be. Maybe a tad oxidized, but I’m not convinced that’s it. It could be a water chemistry issue. I made no adjustment on my tap water for brewing, other than using potassium metabisulfite to remove chlorination.

Mouthfeel: Proper levels of carbonation. The mouthfeel may be a little thin. Maybe I dried the beer out too much. Or maybe not. Target final SG was 1.014, this came in at 1.016.

Drinkability: The beer is drinkable. It’s more pleasant than many commercial amber ales I’ve had. That said, the lack of crispness keeps it from being top notch. I’m looking forward to getting competition feedback on this one to help me improve future batches.

I’ll post another tasting review of this beer after it has matured.


First Tasting: IPA (Beer #17)

March 4, 2011

Today I had my first taste of the IPA I brewed on January 29th.

Appearance: The color is right where I wanted it – a nice 10 SRM copper. It looks maybe more like 12 or 13 in the picture, but that’s just the picture. As you can see from the image, it’s still quite cloudy. It was bottled 13 days ago. It only spent 24 hours in the fridge before opening it. I feel that the rest of the beer will clarify with more time in the bottle, and a proper amount of time in the fridge before opening, say a week. 4% of the grain bill was wheat malt, so it will likely never become fully clear, but it shouldn’t remain this cloudy.

Smell: A good bit of Cascade & Centennial aroma comes through, quite grapefruity. Not as strong as I wanted, though. I was going for something kind of like Two Hearted, but I just didn’t hit it on the hop aroma levels. I think one can’t get that level or aroma without dryhopping. I’ll likely brew this exact same recipe again, only adding some dry-hopping. As the beer warmed up in the glass (I poured it at fridge temp – 36°F), the aroma became more pronounced.

Taste: There it is. That’s what I was looking for. The maltiness is great on this one. Bready, light crust. The hop flavor is fantastic. It pops. The flavor is so abundant, it makes you wonder what happened to the hop aroma. The flavor and aroma are kind of out of balance. I have a feeling the hop tea I made from the bittering hops really pushed the hop flavor skyward.

I think I ended up with a higher IBU level than I was going for. I was shooting for 55. My totally scientific tongue tells me this might be more like 80. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That said, IBU levels are still sane. It’s not even close to the realm of , say, Stone Ruination or Bell’s Hopslam.

Edit: I just realized I had BeerSmith set to use the (default) Tinseth formula for IBU calculation. I usually work with Rager. Tinseth tells me this beer should be 57 IBUs. Rager says 68. 68 makes sense.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation isn’t fully developed yet. I do believe the priming sugar has all been consumed, but the carbonation isn’t fully incorporated into the beer yet. However, the overall mouthfeel of this beer is fantastic. It has a full, creamy body.

Drinkability: This beer is very drinkable. I could have many. At 7.2% abv, that could be fun. It pairs amazingly with Dubliner cheese.

Overall, I’m pleased with this beer. I want to re-brew it and get the hop aroma higher and maybe lower the IBUs a bit, but this is one that friends will enjoy. I’ll post another tasting review some time down the line once the beer has matured a bit in the bottle.


Beer #17: IPA

March 2, 2011

Brewed on January 29th, 2011, my first attempt at an IPA came kind of late in my brewing career.

Many beginner homebrewers jump right into IPAs, mainly because it’s a preferred style among craft beer drinkers. I love IPAs, but I wouldn’t call myself a hop-head. I tend to enjoy all styles of beer. When It comes to IPAs, I prefer ones that present the hop flavor and aroma atop a high-but-not-overwhelming level of bitterness. I love Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, for example. For that reason, I planned this beer to be very similar in style to two-hearted, though I wasn’t exactly going for a clone. I threw in a couple of new-to-me techniques that I discuss later in this post. First, here’s the recipe:

  • 10 lb US 2-row pale malt
  • 2 lb Vienna malt
  • 1 lb 8 oz Crystal 40°L
  • 8 oz white wheat malt
  • 0.75 oz centennial (first wort hopping*)
  • 0.66 oz centennial @ 60 min.
  • 0.5 oz centennial @ 20 min.
  • 0.75 oz centennial @ 10 min.
  • 0.75 oz cascade @ 10 min.
  • 1 pint hop tea+ @ 5 min.
  • 0.75 oz cascade @ 0 min.

* This was my first go at first wort hopping. I’d read about the benefits of it, so I figured why not give it a go. Obviously I can’t objectively say what it brings to this beer without brewing the same beer again, changing only one thing – move the FWH addition to the start of boil. Only if I do that and compare the two beers side-by-side will I be able to tell what it actually brings. Still, I thought it would be fun to do it.

+This was also the first time I messed around with a hop tea. I wanted to get as much hop flavor and aroma as I could into this beer. I knew that nearly all flavor and aroma would be lost from the 60-minute hops, so I figured I could lock the flavor and aroma from those hops up in a tea that I could hold onto until late in the boil. Making a hop tea extracts the flavor & aroma without extracting the bitterness. Bitterness requires boiling, but boiling destroys flavor & aroma. To this end, my plan was to collect one pint of the 168°F wort, post-sparge, into a sanitized french press that contained the 60-minute hop addition. I would allow the hops to steep in this wort during the time it took the wort to come to a boil (about 30-40 minutes on my stove top). Once a boil was reached, I’d press the tea off the hops, pour the tea into a jar, then add the pressed hop goop to the kettle and start the one-hour timer. After 55 minutes, I’d add the tea.

Surprisingly (to me, at least) was that the hop tea didn’t have much hop aroma. It was there, but it was faint. What it did pack, though, was wallops of hop flavor. Again without a control to compare against, I can’t say what this brings to the beer, but I can subjectively say that it’s going to bring *something*.

The beer was bottled on February 19th, 2011. It’s pretty much carbonated by now and it will be ready for its first tasting this weekend.


Beer #16: Breakfast Stout

March 2, 2011

This beer was brewed on January 22nd, 2011. The recipe was based on a Founder’s Breakfast Stout clone recipe I found online. I tweaked the base stout recipe a bit, then went my own way with the coffee and chocolate additions.

The base recipe was a pretty straight-forward high-gravity oatmeal stout:

  • 14 lb US 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb, 6 oz flaked oats
  • 1 lb chocolate malt
  • 12 oz roasted barley
  • 9 oz black patent malt
  • 7 oz crystal 120°L
  • 1 oz Nugget @ 60 min.
  • 0.5 oz Mt. Hood @ 30 min.
  • 0.5 oz Mt. Hood @ 0 min.

OG: 1.080
FG: 1.020
ABV after fermentation: 7.6%

It is in the secondary fermentation that this beer becomes really interesting. I knew I would be adding coffee and chocolate, but there’s a lot of options on how to add those. For coffee, you can drip-brew it, French press it, cold-brew it, use instant, or “dry-hop” with ground coffee beans. I chose to cold brew some good quality Sumatra coffee from my local roaster. We buy all of our coffee from there and it hasn’t let us down. I went with Sumatra, but any earthy, low-acidity coffee would work well in my opinion, such as Celebes Kalossi, Mexican Marogogype, Indian Monsoon Malabar, Guatemalan Antigua, or any others like that. I’d avoid fruity, spicy, acidic coffee such as Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, or Kenya AA. I boiled a quart of water for ten minutes, cooled it to room temperature, then stirred in about 10 tablespoons of ground coffee. I allowed this to sit for about six hours before adding it to the secondary then racking the beer on to it.

For the chocolate, you could add cacao nibs, melted chocolate, cocoa powder, chocolate extract or flavoring, or chocolate liqueur. I chose to use cacao nibs because I’d heard good things about using them in beer, and also because of the bad experience I had with cocoa powder in batch #11. I figured it was a good idea to sanitize the cacao nibs. I didn’t want to boil or roast them to achieve this, figuring that would drive off some of the chocolate flavor. Instead, I decided that soaking them in some booze would be a good way to go. Vodka would work, but why not use bourbon? The oaky spiciness should lend a nice compliment to this style of beer, right? So I soaked eight ounces of cracked cacao nibs in one cup of Maker’s Mark for about six hours (while the coffee was cold-brewing), then added it all – nibs and bourbon – to the bottom of the secondary fermenter along with the coffee before racking the beer onto it.

The cold-brewed coffee after pressing, and the cacoa nibs soaked in bourbon.

The beer sat in the secondary for two weeks and picked up fantastic coffee and chocolate flavor. The chocolate is not in your face like Young’s Double-Chocolate. It’s a more natural, subdued effect that works wonderfully with this beer.

Oh yeah, I fermented this one in plastic. My 6.5 gallon carboys were tied up.

The beer was bottled on February 19th, 2011. It’s pretty much carbonated by now and it will be ready for its first tasting this weekend. Can’t wait! The tastes I took of the warm, flat beer when racking and when bottling were promising. Interestingly, there was a hint of bacon in the aroma and flavor right from the get-go. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

After bottle conditioning and the addition of a cup of 90 proof bourbon, the beer comes in at 8.3% abv.


Beer #15: American Amber Ale

March 2, 2011

This beer was brewed on January 16th, 2011 from a recipe found in Brewing Classic Styles.

At this point, nearly a year has passed since my last batch of beer. During that time I wasn’t away from the hobby, though. No, I was doing my homework. This batch is the first to come from “Serious Homebrewer Jack.” Before brewing this batch I read books and began following blogs intently. I’ve begun participating in the Q&A site, But the one thing that has really improved my brew knowledge, though, has been The Brewing Network. I discovered it sometime in early 2010 and have been listening to the backlog of podcasts non-stop since then. At first I was mostly interested in the clone recipes and attempts offered on Can You Brew It?, but it wasn’t long before I realized that what interested me the most, more than copying commercial recipes, was the technique behind brewing. To that end, Brew Strong has become my favorite show.

In the time between batch #14 and this one, I feel that I have become a much better brewer without having actually brewed any beer, just because of the knowledge I have acquired.

About This Beer

As I mentioned earlier, the recipe for this beer comes from Brewing Classic Styles. There are two American Amber Ale recipes in the book. “American Amber” and “West Coast Blaster.” The latter is a highly-hopped version popular among west coast craft-brewers. Given that I live on the east coast and that this was my first all-grain recipe, I opted to go with “American Amber.” I wanted my first all-grain brew to be more balanced towards maltiness.

The brew day went very well. I was aiming for a mash temperature of 154°F. It came in at 152°F after doughing in. I mixed in a quart of boiling water and this brought the temp to 154°, where it stayed for the entire hour of the mash. My target OG was 1.058. It came in at 1.058. My target FG was 1.014. It came in at 1.016. Target color was 13.8 SRM. It looks to be right in that range.

This beer is technically still bottle conditioning. I bottled it three weeks ago and it’s done carbonating, but I’m not drinking it yet because I had some issues with my sinuses that prevented me tasting anything for the past few weeks. I had sinus surgery yesterday and things are already much, much better, so I’m really looking forward to this weekend when I can sample this batch as well as the two others I have brewed since brewing this one.

Because this was my first all-grain batch, I have a whole gallery of pictures of the process to share.