First Tasting: Dunkelweizen (Beer #24)

November 28, 2011

The Dunkelweizen Jess and I brewed four weeks ago has been tapped for about a week, so it’s time for a first tasting. This isn’t really the first time I’m tasting it – I took some really young beer to the T.R.A.S.H. meeting last weekend at North Country Brewing – but close enough. Here we go:

Appearance
Soft hazy brown. Cloudiness from suspended yeast – not just wheat haze. It’s a good looking beer, and should look better when the yeast fully drops. Three finger beige head that falls over the course of several minutes to a ring around the glass. The head is loosely-packed, not very foamy or fluffy.

Aroma
Very nice German Weizen phenols – banana and clove. Well balanced phenols, not the punch you in the face kind. Wheat and yeast aroma are well pronounced, too. A hint of toastiness, but not like you’d expect from a Dunkelweizen. Breathe deep and you’ll get some milk chocolate, but have to work too hard to experience it. Phenols, yeast, and wheat dominate and don’t get much support from the malt.

Flavor
Muted. Some wheat and toasted bread. A bit of chestnut. Clove, but not overwhelming. Not as much banana as you get in the aroma. It tastes fine – no flaws, and has great fermentation phenolic characteristics – but it is underwhelming.

Mouthfeel
Thin and watery. The carbonation brings a creaminess but it can’t hide that the beer, itself, has no body. There’s a piquant acidic sharpness that doesn’t feel right. It kind of reminds me of some of my earlier attempts at brewing from extract kits years ago in this way.

Overall Impression
At first whiff, you think you have a great beer in your hand. The German phenols are at just the right level – a testament to the 62°F fermentation temperature suggested by Jamil in Brewing Classic Styles. But then you take another smell, looking to see what lies beyond the banana and clove, and you find that there’s not much more. There’s some malt character, but not like you’d expect. And it doesn’t stand up to compliment the yeast characteristics. Then you taste it and your suspicion of underwhelming malt character is confirmed. You find yourself drinking a thin, low flavor beer, the kind that’s not bad enough to want to dump, but where you want to hurry up and finish it to move on to something better. I’ve had commercial beers that left me feeling the same way.

Overall I feel that the beer is balanced and well-fermented, it’s just lacking anything to excite the drinker. I think it all comes down to one problem in the brewing process – mash efficiency. I was targeting a 1.056 OG but came in at 1.047. Those 9 points are significant in a smallish beer and accound for the lack of malt character that this beer suffers from. The sharpness I described in the Mouthfeel section might be attributable to the youth of the beer. I think it might age out after a year or two. Will the beer morph into something great? Unlikely. But it’s already plenty drinkable and should get a little better before it gets worse.

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Brew Day: Strong Scotch Ale (Beer #26)

November 28, 2011

Last Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – I brewed a batch of Strong Scotch Ale (or Scottish Wee Heavy if that’s what you like to call it). The recipe was a tweaked version of the one in Brewing Classic Styles. The book builds a beer with an OG of 1.099 which yields an abv of 9.7%. I didn’t want my beer to be that big, so I rolled back the base malt to 16 lbs, shooting for about 1.080 SG or about 7.9% abv. To account for the beer having less malt, I scaled back the hop additions a bit, too. I maintained the same IBU-to-OG ratio from the original recipe. That is, the book calls for 28 IBUs in a 1.099 beer. 28 divided by 1.099 gives 25.477, which I multiplied by my target OG of 1.083 to tell me I needed about 27.5 IBUs. Not a huge adjustment – especially given the inherent uncertainty in IBU calculations – but I felt it was good to take it into account.

Now my last few beers have all suffered in mash efficiency. After racking my brain to try to come up with a solution, I settled on the crush of the grain as being the most likely suspect. For the past few batches the pre-crushed grain I ordered has come in very poorly crushed with nearly half the kernels being un-cracked. For this beer I paid closer attention to it. The grain arrived and sure enough it was barely crushed. Barely crushed barley. Get it? Meh. I don’t have to entertain you. Anyway, I knew I needed to crush this grain better before mashing it. I was dreading the thought of doing a pound at a time in a zip-top bag with a rolling pin when it dawned on me – I have a grape crusher. Maybe I could get the rollers close enough to crush this grain just a little better. I looked online; the Internet in all its wisdom told me it wouldn’t work. So I tried it with a pound of grain. It worked reasonably well. I dumped in the full 18 pounds of grain and cranked the handle. It was hard work and made a lot of dust, but at the end I had grain that looked more like it used to in past orders. And when the mash was completed I hit my target OG. I wouldn’t recommend crushing grain in a grape crusher, but it worked for me in a pinch.

With the grain crushed, I adjusted my water with salts to mimic the water in Edinburgh (according to Bru’n Water) and mashed away.

First runnings. Check out that awesome Scottish color:

The rest of the brew day went smoothly and the beer was happily fermenting a few hours later.

That’s not a bandage on the carboy; it’s how I’m insulating the HVAC controller’s temperature probe to get it to measure the beer’s temperature and not ambient temperature. It’s not perfect, but it’s working OK.

It turns out that WYeast 1728 isn’t much of a foamer. The blow-off tube wasn’t necessary for this one. Not even close. The krausen only grew to about 2″ and now it’s falling as fermentation finishes up. I’m kind of surprised that fermentation is slowing after just three days at 65F. Maybe it’s actually going hotter than the probe is reading. Or maybe the yeast just went fast. Or maybe it’s stuck. I’ll check the gravity after it really looks to be done. For now I’ll just leave it alone for a while.

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First Tasting: American Rye Ale (Beer #23)

November 10, 2011

The American Rye that I brewed three and a half weeks ago has been in the keg for about a week and a half. It’s time for a first tasting.

Appearance
Light golden yellow. Hazy, clears towards the bottom of the glass. One-finger white head that fades quickly to a ring of bubbles around the glass.

Aroma
Wheat and yeast. Floral. Lemon and honey. Not much hop aroma. Aromas reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc or Seyval Blanc wine, though muddied by the wheat and yeast. DMS (corn). Fruity alcohol, again reminiscent of crisp white wine.

Flavor
Wheat malt, lemon, yeast. Green herbs – tarragon, dandelion. Low-to-moderate hop bitterness. Moderate rye and hop spiciness. The white wine notes from the aroma are present in the flavor, too. DMS on the finish.

Mouthfeel
Creamy body. Good carbonation. Warming alcohol on the finish. Very slight astringency on the sides of the tongue

Overall Impression
A pleasant, easy drinking beer that as simple or complex as you want it to be. It’s a beer that will please the BMC drinkers; those with no exposure to craft beer won’t be overwhelmed by it. At the same time, there are plenty of subtle nuances to keep the trained palate interested.

It does have DMS in the aroma and flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. The beer is not a creamed corn bomb by any means. It does detract from the overall enjoyment, though.

It’s a beer that I find to be kind of boring at the start of the glass, but the more I drink it the more I like it. I think it would benefit from more hop character to liven it up. I am thinking about dry-hopping in the keg with an ounce of Cascade hops. I will let it age for another week or two before I do that, though. I’ll also take a liter of it to the next TRASH meeting to get some feedback from other brewers to help me decide if it should be dry-hopped.

EDIT: I didn’t mention the rye much when I originally posted this. The beer is supposed to be “American Rye” and the grain bill included 30% Weyermann rye malt. Yet there is very little rye flavor or aroma in the beer. There’s subtle spiciness in the flavor that I’m pretty sure comes from the rye, but that’s as far as it goes. I tasted the rye malt grain on brew day prior to doughing in and was amazed at how little rye flavor it had. This lack of flavor carried through to the finished product. Next time I brew a rye beer I will try Briess rye malt instead hoping that it offers more rye flavor.

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Brew Day: Belgian Dubbel (Beer #25)

November 7, 2011

Today I brewed our 25th batch of homebrew, and the 11th this year. I think it’s safe to say we’re brewing more beer lately. Today’s beer was a re-brew of the Belgian Dubbel recipe from Brewing Classic Styles that Jess brewed in March.

Much like last week’s Dunkelweizen, we missed our target gravity on this beer. Target was 1.058, I got 1.052. It’s not off by much, but I’d like to figure out what happened. I think for the next beer I’ll try the few things I mentioned in the Dunkelweizen post.

Other than the low OG, the brew day went smoothly. I was able to chill the wort to about 67°F using my immersion chiller with tap water. The carboy went into the chamber, set to 64°F, for a couple of hours until it stabilized at the set temperature. I aerated & pitched the yeast, and this time I stuck a blow-off tube on there straight away. Even if I hadn’t instituted the new all-ales-get-a-blow-off-tube policy, this one would get one because WLP530 is a big foamer. The starter foamed over a little bit, though not as much as it did when Jess brewed this beer.

This beer should be ready to be tapped in time for Christmas. Hopefully it doesn’t suck…

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Brew Day: Dunkelweizen (Beer #24)

November 7, 2011

Last Sunday, October 30th, Jess and I co-brewed a batch of Dunkelweizen. The recipe – as is usual in our house – came from Brewing Classic Styles. This is a great fall beer, so maybe we should have brewed it about six weeks ago, but we think it will be a nice beer to have on tap for Thanksgiving and on into the holidays.

Nice color!

The first runnings are always darker than the beer after sparging. This picture of the beer after having just added the hops shows the actual color a little better:

The brew day went smoothly, but we missed our target gravity. Target was 1.056 but we hit 1.047. I had BeerSmith set to expect an on-the-low-side efficiency of 67%, but we didn’t even come close to that. 1.047 is acceptable for the style, though. Getting a low OG seems to be happening more lately and I’m not sure why, not sure what part of our process changed. Maybe I lauter faster than I used to. Or maybe I should let the batch sparge water rest longer before lautering it off. I let the sparge water sit for 15 minutes on my first few all-grain batches. Lately it’s been more like 3 or 5 minutes because I read you don’t need that rest.

We finished brewing early afternoon and 67°F the wort went into the fermentation chamber while we went out for a few hours. When we got back, it was down to the 62°F that we needed it to be, so I aerated and pitched the yeast. By morning there was 1/2″ of krausen and it was well underway. When we got home from work Monday evening it looked like this:

The krausen filled the airlocked, clogged it up, and eventually the pressure built up enough to fire the airlock & bung at the lid of the freezer like a bullet.

That makes two blowouts in a row, so now I’m going to play it safe and use a blow-off tube for every ale I brew. I might also look into using Fermcap-S.

Today I pulled the almost-done Dunkelweizen out of the fermentation chamber to make room for the Dubbel we brewed and while I was at it I grabbed a wine thief to sneak a taste of the Dunkelweizen. It was pleasant. The clove and banana phenols are there, but not overwhelming. They were kept well in check by the 62°F fermentation temperature that Jamil called for. Here’s to hoping the beer comes out as well as it’s currently promising to.

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Follow-Up Tasting: APA (Beer #21)

November 2, 2011
It has been about two months since I brewed the American Pale Ale recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, swapping the recipe’s flavor and aroma hops out for those I grew in my garden. It’s been about five weeks since I first tasted it. It’s a good beer, so the keg went fast; it’s nearly kicked.

On Monday night I pulled a pint from the faucet and took some tasting notes. It was time for a follow-up tasting post and I just wanted a glass. But, mostly, I was upset by the judges’ notes I got back from the competition. It’s not so much that I don’t agree with the judges’ impressions of my beer, but I actually think there’s a good chance the notes are not describing my beer. My notes from Monday night are below. I’ll post the judges notes from the competition in a later entry. You’ll be able to see how disparate they are. Usually my impression of my beers jibe with the judges’ notes.

Appearance
Dark honey to light copper color. Brilliant clarity. Big off-white head that lasts. Tons of lacing. Head retains to the last sip.

Aroma
Complex. Sweet malt, citrus hop, washed-rind cheese, biscuity. A strong dose of butterscotch (diacetyl). Balanced sweetness and hop aroma.

Flavor
A perfect balance of sweet malty to bitter hoppiness. Malty, biscuity, light caramel. Grapefruit hop flavor. Some butterscotch, but much lighter in flavor than int he aroma. Washed-rind cheese.

Mouthfeel
Creamy, medium body. Moderate bitterness. Long, drying finish. Smooth.

Overall Impression
A very good APA with a proper balance of sweet malt to bitter hoppiness. Hoppy, but not approaching IPA territory. Good mouthfeel. A delicious beer whose main flaw is diacetyl (butterscotch), moreso in the aroma than in the flavor. The keg went quickly, and with reason.

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Crush Day: 2011 Suisun Valley CA Old Vine Zinfandel

November 1, 2011

We picked up 144 lbs of Old Vine Zinfandel grapes from the produce wholesaler at midnight on Thursday, October 19th. I put them in the fridge to keep for a few days until I could crush them. On Sunday the 23rd I finally had a chance to crush them.

The grapes were in great shape. If you have the opportunity to work with Lanza grapes, I recommend it. The fruit had no mold, no split berries, no material other than grapes (MOG), and was perfectly ripe with a good sugar level and nice brown pips. All of this is amazing considering the abysmal growing conditions Northern California faced this year.

The white in these pictures isn’t mold; it’s bloom. The flash on the camera made it really stand out more than it did in person.

The numbers were very nice: 21.5° Brix and a pH of 3.63. I didn’t test TA because I didn’t have any distilled water and the pH number was perfect, so I figured I could let it wait until after fermentation & pressing.

I had to crush & destem in the basement because the weather outside wasn’t great that morning. It was in the 40s and drizzing, so I chose to do it in the dungeon.

Here they are crushed but not destemmed:

To destem them, I cut some of the slats out of one of the boxes the fruit came in and rubbed the grapes over the holes. The grapes fell through leaving the stems in the basket.

Here they are crushed & destemmed:

The stems:

Finally, here is the must two days later – 24 hours after pitching the yeast – at the onset of fermentation:

This was a little over a week ago, and the wine is still fermenting. It probably should have been done by now, but I let it stay a little cooler than I probably should have. Fermenatation temperatures have been in the mid-70s. Mid-80s likely would have been better to bring out the spicy quality of the wine, but we’ll see how this goes. The wine will probably be on the fruity, jammy side, which might be a good thing.

I’ll be pressing the wine this week and will have a post up about that soon.

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