First Tasting: Strong Scotch Ale (Beer #26)

December 15, 2011

The Scottish Wee Heavy I brewed about three weeks ago has been in the keg for about 10 days. I figured I’d give it a taste. As I was drinking it, I kept thinking that it just doesn’t taste ready yet. I didn’t realize that I only brewed it less than three weeks ago. For some reason I thought it was older. Knowing how young it is makes me feel a little better about how it’s tasting. It’s not awful in any way, but it seems rough. Time should improve it. But until I give it another taste in a month or so, here’s what I jotted down tonight:

Appearance
Deep red to brown. Cloudy. Off-white to light tan head that lasts a few minutes.

Aroma
Sweet deep caramel complex malt. Dark dried fruit (fig, dates). A touch of brown bread. Some alcohol. Yeast still present.

Flavor
Caramel malt. A touch of brown bread, but not overly molassas-like. Touch of smoke. Higher alcohols are rather rough. Starts somewhat sweet and finishes moderately dry. Pronounced bitterness. Still tastes green and yeasty. Hint of bubblegum on the finish.

Mouthfeel
Medium-full body with medium carbonation. Very warm on the finish.

Overall Impression
I’m having a hard time making heads or tails of this beer. It’s pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t seem complex enough to me. It has good body and lots of malt flavor. It doesn’t taste clean, though. I’m not sure if that’s because it needs more time to age, or if it didn’t ferment properly. I’ll have to reserve judgement until I can taste it again some time down the line.

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Follow-Up Tasting: American Rye Ale (Beer #23)

December 14, 2011

American Rye Ale. It’s a style that I didn’t know before I brewed it. I like rye beers like Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic, so I thought I’d have a go at making one. I learned that American Rye Ale is quite a bit different from Hop Rod, which is described on their site as “A high gravity IPA brewed with 18% rye malt.” No, American Rye Ale is something altogether different. I don’t really like it. It’s, well, bland. But the MBC drinkers in my family sure did like it! They tore through the keg on Thanksgiving and now it’s nearly kicked. On to the tasting!

Appearance
Hazy pale golden. Bright white head. I had to cheat to get a head to form (barely crack the faucet open so it froths the beer), but the head that created lasted for several minutes, eventually falling to a thin layer of foam.

Aroma
Lemony and biscuity. Sharp and soft at the same time. Considerable wheat aroma. A hint of rye-like spice. Just a hint. A touch of spicy hop aroma and a fruitiness that reminds me of crisp white wine such as sauvignon blanc.

Flavor
Bready, grainy base malt flavor complimented by softness from wheat and spiciness from rye. Modest bitterness carries through from the semi-dry attack to the crisp, dry finish.

Mouthfeel
Medium body. Creaminess bolstered by the carbonation. Light warmth on the finish.

Overall Impression
Not my style of beer, but I do belive it was well brewed & fermented. It’s easy drinking and is not at all unpleasant. I’m shipping it off to the competition in Akron to see if the judges agree.

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Brew Day: Belgian Golden Strong (Beer #27)

December 12, 2011

I brewed yesterday. Belgian Golden Strong. The recipe came from Brewing Classic Styles. (What else is new?) Everything went reasonably well. The recipe was simple: 11 lbs of Belgian Pilsner malt – mashed at a low temp to create a fermentable wort – plus three pounds of table sugar to make it even more fermentable. My water profile isn’t too well suited to mashing such a simple grain bill with no darker malt, so getting the mash pH down was a task. I used Bru’n Water to help me figure out how to adjust my water using salts. It took a healthy dose of Gypsum and Calcium Chloride to get the Calcium levels up high enough reduce the buffering capacity of the bicarbonate in my municipal water that would keep the pH high. I was able to manage a mash pH of 5.5 which is on the high end of the acceptable range. I shouldn’t get astringency from this, but if this beer does turn out to be astringent I know where I can look to improve it.

For a style of beer that’s not known for having any hop character, there sure were a lot of hops in there:

The 5.5 gallon batch took 80g of Czech Saaz hops at 3.0% alpha acid. This beer style should be firmly bitter to offset the alcohol sweetness and fruity esters.

The rest of the boil, chilling, and pitching all went smoothly. Immersion chillers work much nicer in the wintertime when the ground water temperatures drop. In the summer I couldn’t chill below 75°F; yesterday I got to 64°F in 20 minutes. I forgot to add Irish Moss to the boil, but the wort still settled reasonably clear before I racked it to the carboy so no big deal.

24 hours after pitching and fermentation was well under way:

Temperature control is key for this style. The book calls for a rather precise temperature schedule that you can’t really accomplish without a ferementation chamber. I think dual-stage might even be necessary to follow the schedule (start at 64, go up by 2.6°F each day for a week). I’m sure you can make great Golden Strong ales without such precise control, but I am very happy to have the franken-freezer right now.

The beer should be ready to start drinking in late January. Kind of a long wait, so hopefully it’s worth it…

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First Tasting: Belgian Dubbel (Beer #25)

December 12, 2011

Five weeks ago I brewed the Black Scapular Dubbel recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. This was my attempt at re-brewing the recipe that Jess brewed earlier this year. The first attempt didn’t come out great so I wanted to have a crack at getting it right. This one is definitely better. We’ll see what the judges think in some upcoming compeitions. But for now, here are my notes on this young beer:

Appearance
Deep candy red in color, thinning to a caramel-brown at the edges. Pillow off-white head that falls after a couple of minutes. Hazy, but becoming more clear each day.

Aroma
Caramel, toasty malt. Belgian fruity esters – hints of fig, plum, dried fruits. A touch of cherry. Maybe a bit of bubblegum. Touch of perfumy, spicy phenol. No hop aroma.

Flavor
Toasty, sweet caramel malt gives way to dried fruits, figs, plums, touch of raisin and a clove-like spice. Higher alcohols lend some warmth. Complex. Finishes dry. Surprisingly dry given the sweet attack. There is a touch of bitterness, but it’s well-dominated by the malt.

Mouthfeel
Full, creamy body. Somewhat under-carbonated*. Smooth. Warming alcohol on the finish, but not hot or solventy. Very slight grain husk astringency on the finish that brings a perception of dryness.

Overall Impression
A good dubbel. Still a little rough around the edges and green tasting, but given its age it’s coming along very well. I am happy with it.

At this point I don’t fully trust my palate or my ability to discern if a beer is really good or not. I’m looking forward to getting judges’ notes from competitions on this beer to help guide me in future brews. Belgian beers can be hard to get a good read on because they’re very complex and even the commercial examples vary widely.

*It’s at 2.5 volumes right now. It should be at about 3.5-4, but I don’t have a dual-regulator for my CO2 source and I don’t want to over-carb my other beers to get the Belgian beer carbed correctly.

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