First Tasting: Brown Porter (Beer #29)

January 25, 2012

A few days ago I posted about the Brown Porter that I brewed earlier this month. I said it was nearly ready for it’s “first tasting” notes, so here they are:

Very deep amber to brown. Hazy when you can see through it. Foamy light tan head lasts for several minutes before falling to a thin layer coating the beer surface.

Milk chocolate & hazelnut right up front. Not unlike nutella, but not nearly as sweet or overwhelmingly nutty as everyone’s favorite spread. Hints of roasted malts. Slight fruitiness. Very soft smelling. By that I don’t mean the aroma is light, but rather is has a pillowy character to it. Slight hint of light-medium roast coffee. No harshness. Faint earthy hop character. Becomes fruitier as it warms – dried fruit, figs.

Much roastier than in the aroma. Chocolate & nuttiness present, but they don’t dominate like they do in the aroma. Dark caramel / toffee flavors are present. Finishes medium-dry with somewhat firm lingering bitterness. Finish is reminiscent of cocoa powder.

Medium body, medium creaminess. No astringency. Moderate carbonation. Warm alcohol on the finish.

Overall Impression
A great beer. Very chocolatey with just enough roast & hop bitterness to balance it. This is one of my favorite styles of beer – London Porter and Taddy Porter are A-OK by me – and I think I nailed it. Well, Jamil nailed it. But I brewed his recipe well. It is very similar to the batch Jess brewed, but smoother, without the slight astringency hers had. I think it is slightly fruitier than hers was, too, but we’ll have to do a side-by-side to tell. Luckily we have one bottle of hers left…


2011 Chilean Syrah – Bottled

January 25, 2012

Last May I picked up from Pittsburgh’s Strip District eight 36 pound boxes of Syrah grapes that had been harvested in the Curico Valley of Chile about three weeks prior. Weekend before last I put that wine in bottles. 144 lbs of grapes became 52 bottles of wine in the end.

Between picking up the grapes and bottling the wine, it went through crushing, pressing, malolactic fermentation, several oak additions, and several rackings. Wineries that age in barrels like to keep their wine in them for a year or two before bottling. But I don’t have barrels; I have carboys. And when the wine is in the carboy there is no benefit to bulk-aging once the oak regimen is done and the wine has fallen clear. So into the bottle it went.

The bottles are in the wine rack now where they’ll sit for another few weeks before we open the first one. I still have to put shrink-wrap caps and labels on the bottles. I’m in no rush to get to that…


Brew Day: Brown Porter (Beer #29)

January 22, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.052 Actual OG: 1.059
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.9%
Color: 24.2 SRMĀ (Calculated)
Bitterness: 27.49 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale

Two weeks ago I brewed another batch of the same Brown Porter recipe that Jess brewed last fall. It will be tough to improve on her results, but we felt that the few process changes I have recently implemented could push this beer to another level. That’s the hope, at last.

Changes to my process since the last time we brewed this recipe include:

  • Adjusting mash chemistry via brewing salts. I use Bru’n Water to figure out what salts to add. I think this is the change that will have the biggest positive impact on this recipe. My water is well-suited for brewing amber-colored, balanced malty-to-bitter beers without having to adjust the water. Dark beers like this porter benefit from some adjustment.
  • Oxygenating the wort with pure O2.
  • Using a stir plate to build of starters.
  • Milling my own grain.

Above is a picture of the mixed and crushed grain for this batch. It’s amazing how a bucket of something so light in color can produce such a dark beer.

In the past when I was having the homebrew shop mill my grain, I could just enter the recipe into BeerSmith exactly as it appeared in Brewing Classic Styles, set the software to expect 65% efficiency, and the numbers would just work out. That is until batch 24 when the grain began to arrive well under-crushed with many whole, uncracked kernels. This problem continued for a few batches. This was the catalyst for me to ask Santa for a grain mill.

This was my second batch where I milled my own grain. On the first batch (Foreign Extra Stout), I got 72% efficiency, so for this batch I entered the recipe, set the efficiency to 72%, then adjusted the base malt down to get the same target OG as the book lists. This worked OK, but I ended up getting 81% efficiency, so I knew that adjusting only the base malt would not continue to work. I figure you can adjust only the base malt if you’re changing it by a pound or less for a five gallon batch, but any more and the whole recipe will need to be scaled. In later batches I decided to let BeerSmith adjust the entire recipe for me. More on that in the write-up on those batches.

This beer was kegged on 01/14/12 and is almost ready for drinking. I’ll be posting some first tasting notes soon.


First Tasting: Foreign Extra Stout (Beer #28)

January 19, 2012

I kegged the Foreign Extra Stout on January 10th – eight days after brewing it and have been stealing samples of this beer all week. Tonight I felt it was ready for its official first tasting. Here are my notes:

Very dark brown, nearing black. Pillowy, smooth light-tan head that lasts and lasts.

Soft smell of semi-sweet chocolate – not too dark, but not milk chocolate. Smells like chocolate cake. Complex roasted malts. Slight hint of black licorice. Sweet smelling. No hop aroma. Touch of English fruity esters – pear, dried fruit. Touch of toffee. No diacetyl.

First thing you notice is it’s not nearly as sweet as it smells. Or rather, the hop bitterness is high enough to prevent the beer from seeming sweet. Dark chocolate. Bitter, but very balanced with the body & high final gravity. Bright acidity. Long finish. Complex flavor coats the tongue.

Very smooth, no astringency. Creamy. Medium body. Bitter, dry finish but not harsh. Slightly warm alcohol on the finish. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression
Balanced more towards robust and assertive and away from sweet and fruity, making this more of an Export Stout and less of a Tropical Stout. I think this might be the best beer I have brewed thus far. I really am pleased with it. I hope it does well in competition to validate my impression of the beer.

Starting with the Schwarzbier I brewed last fall, I took to adjusting my mash water with brewing salts. I calculate the salt additions using Bru’n Water. This seems to have had a huge impact on my dark beers. The couple of all-grain dark beers I brewed before that were harsh and astringent. Since then they have become very smooth. This stout is as smooth as the Schwarzbier was, and the stout is an ale. I’m really happy with how things are progressing for me and my brewing. Hopefully eventually I can get consistency nailed down and will have the confidence that each beer I brew will be good and, more importantly, will be able to re-brew a beer at any point and duplicate the results I had in the past.


Brew Day: Foreign Extra Stout (Beer #28)

January 19, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.076 Actual OG: 1.078
Target FG: 1.017 Actual FG: 1.019
ABV: 7.8%
Color: 39.1 SRMĀ (Calculated)
Bitterness: 44.9 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale

About two and a half weeks ago (January 2nd) I brewed the Foreign Extra Stout recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. After the failure that was batch #27, I knew I had to change my oxygen protocol. So starting with this beer, I now oxygenate with pure O2. This was also the first batch I brewed where the starter was built up on my new stir plate.

As if that wasn’t enough change for one batch, this was also the first batch where I milled my own grain. My parents-in-law gave me the Cereal Killer for Christmas and I love it. I had some issues with the rollers sticking at first, but I got the hang of it after a couple minutes. Having no experience to go on, I set the mill rollers to .035″ and assumed I’d get a total efficiency of 70%. I kept the recipe exactly as it is in the book and went with it. In the end I got a little higher efficiency, but was pretty close.

The brew day went smoothly. The beer fermented out in two days. I let it rest for two more, then moved the carboy to the fridge to crash cool for three days, then I kegged it. I’m already drinking it and I’ll be taking the keg to the next TRASH meeting. On to the tasting…


DOA: Belgian Golden Strong (Beer #27)

January 17, 2012
The picture on the left is of the Belgian Golden Strong I brewed in mid-December going down the drain. It never made it out of the primary fermenter before being pronounced dead.

I had a hunch this batch would not go well. The recipe (from Brewing Classic Styles) called for 26% of the fermentables to come in the form of table sugar. I’ve heard from many sources – including the book’s authors’ podcast – that it’s often a good idea to add sugar after fermentation is well under way to prevent the yeast from filling up on simple sugar and thus being unable to follow that meal with a harder-to-digest round of maltose. The book doesn’t suggest doing this for this recipe, though, so I chose not to. I probably should have. The beer fermented for two days then stalled at an SG of about 1.035. Target FG was 1.007.

The percentage of sugar was certainly not the only problem with this beer. It likely would have been able to deal with that had I properly oxygenated the wort before pitching the yeast. For the ten batches or so prior to this, I aerated using a wimpy aquarium pump and a 0.5 micron stainless air stone. This method wasn’t getting enough oxygen into the wort on a good day, and for this beer in particular I think the pump was unable to push air through the stone at all, so I pitched the yeast into an environment with too much simple sugar and no O2 to help them build up their numbers and strengthen their make-up.

Had I realized the fermentation was stuck sooner, I likely could have saved this batch. It never would have been great, but it probably could have been drinkable. Unfortunately, though, I put off taking a gravity reading until about day 8, at which point the fermentation chamber had been ramped up from a pitching temperature of 64°F to 82°F.

Fermetation should have been nearly complete as the temperature approached that high number, but instead the small number of overly-stressed yeast that were still eating at that point were putting out some horrible off flavors due to the hot environment. I spent the next week trying to kick-start fermentation. I gently stirred the lees back into suspension several times. I took gravity readings that showed it was dropping by a couple of points per day.

After a week I performed a fast-ferment test. With a half teaspoon of fresh, rehyrated, and proofed bread yeast I was able to ferment an eight ounce sample of the beer down to 1.007 in 24 hours. This proved to me that the wort was fermentable, but my beer yeast were not up to the task. At this point I could have purchased and pitched more ale yeast, but the beer was tasting really bad. I decided it wasn’t worth putting more time, effort, and money into a batch that could never be better than mediocre at best. I dumped it.

Moving on…

Starting with the very next batch, I now oxygenate my wort using pure O2. I picked up a small cylinder and regulator at the big box store. I run the oxygen into the wort just before pitching for 60 seconds for normal-sized beer (1.050ish) and 90 seconds for anything over 1.070. I’ve done four batches this way and they all seem to have fermented well. Granted none of them had any simple sugar, but that doesn’t mean the results can be discounted. On to better beer!

I will brew this beer again. Next time I will properly oxygenate the wort using pure O2. I will hold the sugar back until the maltose is half-way fermented. And I will keep an eye on the SG to make sure it is dropping appropriately along the way to avoid letting the temperature ramping schedule get ahead of the fermentation progress.


Gear: Stir Plate Build

January 4, 2012
To make good beer consistently, one needs to have control over every controllable part of the process. I have been making yeast starters for every batch for a while now, but I didn’t have the best control over them. My process was to visit Jamil’s Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator, put in my OG, yeast manufacture date, set the starter type to “Intermittent Shaking,” and let it tell me how much starter wort to make. I’d combine the wort and the yeast in a gallon growler with foil over the lid and give it a swirl every time I walked by. This is a pretty good way to make a starter, but it’s not completely predictable and you can’t get perfectly repeatable results doing it this way. To achieve true consistency – or as close as you can really get – you need a stir plate.Commercial stir plates are expensive – ranging into the hundreds of dollars for the size I would need. Luckily homebrewers figured out long ago how to make one from some scavenged computer parts and a few items from Radio Shack.

I more or less followed the plans put forth by some guy named Dan in Michigan. (Thanks, Dan!) I tried to follow the instructions verbatim but it didn’t work well for me with my power supply and the parts I picked up. In the end I just went with a simple switch, potentiometer, and the fan.

The pot might burn out after some time because it’s not meant to run at full resistance non-stop. If it does, I’ll revisit the LM314 voltage regulator and see if I can get it to work. For now, though, it’s working great. Check out the whirlpool:

I have used the stir plate to make one starter so far: a 2L starter for a batch of 1.075 Foreign Extra Stout. My starters used to take about 48-60 hours to finish fermenting. On the stir plate it was done in 24 hours. More importantly, I was able to make a 2L starter whereas before I would have needed 3.33 liters! The stir plate will save me money in the long run, because starter wort isn’t cheap to make due to the high price of DME.


Follow-Up Tasting: Breakfast Stout (Beer #16)

January 1, 2012

The other day I decided to have a glass of the biggish stout I brewed nearly a year ago. It was my 2nd all-grain batch. When the beer was young it was decent. It had some interesting characteristics, but it was flawed. It was astringent, overly-fruity, and got oxidized at some point between the mash and bottling. Since it wasn’t too desirable, the bottles sat in the back of the fridge. I noticed them and tried one. Had the time helped it? Here are my tasting notes:

Completetly black. Khaki-colored 1 finger head that only forms with a vigorous pour and lasts for a couple of minutes before falling to a ring around the edge of the glass.

Coffee, cocoa, treacle, licorice. Roasted malt. Slightly smokey. A touch of black olive. Smells similar to Founders Breakfast Stout. Fruity esters and hot alcohol detract from a pleasant-smelling beer.

Flavors follow the aromas. Coffee, dark cocoa, licorice, dark treacle. A hint of black olive. Some cardboardey oxidized character. Finishes dry and slightly astringent. Has a stale, been in the fridge too long type taste. Warm finish, but not hot.

Medium body. Too much carbonation, which makes it sharply acidic. Mildly astringent.

Overall Impression
It’s drinking better than it was last winter/spring. The beer is flawed, but it has more good working for it than bad working against it. I kind of want to brew this again now that I have fermentation temperature control and more batches under my belt. It’s a bigger beer and benefits from some age, so I might brew it in April or May to have it ready for fall/winter of next year.

So, did the time in the fridge make it any better? No. Age can never fix flaws. But while the flaws are still there, the other flavors – the good ones – are better melded than they were last spring and the beer is more drinkable now even though it’s gone stale.