First Tasting: American IPA (Beer #34)

February 27, 2012

I brewed batch #34 – American IPA – about three and a half weeks ago. I kegged it and added dry hops Friday before last. 1/2 ounce each of Simcoe and Amarillo. Whole leaf. I put them in a muslin bag with some stainless steel screws and fastened the sack to the underside of the keg lid using a worm clamp. Tonight I removed the dry hops. A couple of days ago I took these tasting notes:

Appearance
Golden honey to light amber color. Slightly hazy. Big fluffy bright white head with good retention.

Aroma
Tropical fruit (pineapple, mango) layered with orange, grapefruit, and a slight piney resin. Some grassiness. Soft biscuity malt. No diacetyl. The hop aroma is strong, but not quite as in-your-face as I was hoping.

Flavor
Citrusey grapefruit hop flavor. Firmly bitter. Rather grassy with a slight soapiness, likely coming from the whole-leaf dry hops. Light toast / biscuit malt flavor.

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body that is bolstered by the moderate carbonation, which lends a creaminess. Very slight warmth on the finish. No astringency.

Overall Impression
A straightforward, bitter, fragrant American IPA. Not very complex, not a lot of depth of flavor. However, the few flavors are well balanced to create a pleasant beer. The grassy soapiness is distracting, but it’s not overwhelming. The dry-hops are still in the keg, so I hope these flavors might drop out after I remove the hop sack.

I removed the dry hops tonight and I will take more tasting notes in one week. I also have to bottle up several of my beers for the TRASH competition that is approaching quickly…

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Update: 2011 Suisun Valley Old Vine Zinfandel

February 13, 2012
StarSan spirals are fun! Except when the foam kills your malolactic bacteria…

The Suisun Valley, CA Old Vine Zinfandel that I crushed in mid-October of last year has been sitting quietly in a corner of my office all this time. By now the wine should be well into its oak regimen, sitting in the cooler basement temperatures, but unfortunately it hasn’t yet finished malolactic fermentation. Well, half of it hasn’t. Paper chromatography tests have shown that one of the carboys finished and the other only sort of started. I think I might have killed half of the bugs the day I pitched them. One of the carboys had lots of StarSan foam in the headspace. I dumped the powdered bacteria into there. MLB is notoriously weak and finicky. This might have been enough to knock it out.

In an attempt to kick start the whole process without buying more MLB (that stuff is expensive!), I decided to stir up both carboys to get the fine lees into suspension, then blend them. I racked half of the finished batch into a clean carboy. I then racked half of the other batch into that same carboy to top it up, then racked the rest of the 2nd batch into the first batches carboy. Hopefully this blending is all I’ll need to do. If the MLB were still viable, they should get back to work and finish the job.

I did all of this a week ago. I should be able to perform a chromatography test in another two weeks to see if things are progressing. Meanwhile I will continue to stir the lees into suspension every couple of days. My concern is that having the wine go this long without adding sulfites and the exposure to oxygen it got from the blending might allow acetobacter to take hold and turn it to vinegar. I’m in dangerous waters right now with this batch. If MLF finishes up without such an infection taking hold, I’ll be able to sulfite the wine and start its oak regimen and I’ll feel much more comfortable and safe at that point.

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First Tasting: American Amber Ale (Beer #32)

February 13, 2012

My second attempt at brewing the American Amber Ale recipe from Brewing Classic Styles has been in the keg for one week. Time for a taste!

Appearance
Amber to light red in color. Hazy. Huge, fluffy, buttercream-colored head that lasts forever. Abundant lacing.

Aroma
Classic american hop aromas are the first thing you smell. Citrus dominates with notable almost-pine-like resin. Floral. Sweet caramel/toffee maltiness backs up the moderate levels of bright, fresh hoppiness. No diacetyl. Very little esters.

Flavor
Citrusey hop character layered atop a somewhat sweet caramel maltiness. Firm but not overwhelming hop bitterness. Long-lasting hop flavor on the finish. Finish is rather dry. Caramel malt flavor could be more pronounced, but too much would risk exiting the classic style and drifting towards a West Coast Red.

Mouthfeel
Light-medium body. Should be a little fuller-bodied. Moderate carbonation. No astringency. Alcohol is well masked, but finishes slightly warm. No fusels.

Overall Impression
I am in love with this beer. I was excited to brew it again because the batch I brewed a year ago was very enjoyable. My one niggle last year was that it wasn’t hoppy enough. My personal preference for American ales is that they have firm bitterness – not taste bud killers, just firm enough to give them some backbone – and they should burst with hop aroma and flavor.

Last year’s batch was plenty bitter and the malt & hop flavor were good, but there was no bright hop aroma. I rectified that this time by dry hopping with just a wee bit of the flavor & aroma hops for five days (7g each of Cascade & Centennial pellets). The end result is an example of one of my favorite styles of beer that I look forward to drinking. I tend to be unhappy with my beers more often than not, but this is not one of those cases. I will likely brew this recipe again and again.

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First Tasting: Northern English Brown (Beer #30)

February 13, 2012

It’s been a month since I brewed the Northern English Brown recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. It’s been on tap for a little while now. Tonight I took some tasting notes.

In the picture, my beer is on the right and Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale is on the left.

Appearance
Reddish brown in color. About 12 SRM. Surprisingly brown-hued for how light the color is. Beers in this SRM range are usually much more honey-amber colored. Foamy off-white one finger head that lasts for a couple of minutes before falling to a coating atop the beer. Hazy, but not cloudy.

Aroma
Light maltiness with pronounced walnut overtones. Hint of earthy UK hop aroma. Light fruity esters.

Flavor
Dried fruit and tree nuts come first. A good dose of raisin in the midpalate. Long walnut-flavored finish. Moderate fruity esters. Finishes rather dry.

Mouthfeel
Light-medium body. Moderate carbonation. Slight warmth on the finish. Fairly tart with an acidity that bites the tip of the tongue.

Overall Impression
A tasty nutty brown ale that’s easy to drink. The flavors are a little muddled and the beer tastes a kind of murky. I would like it to be a little more clean and crisp. Unfortunately I don’t know the style too well to say if mine is right or wrong. I will have to wait for judges notes to get a better feel for it.

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Brew Day: American IPA (Beer #34)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.065 Actual OG: 1.059
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.010
ABV: 6.4%
Color: 7.6 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 66.4 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On Friday, February 2nd, 2012 I brewed the “Hoppiness is an IPA” recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I brewed one IPA before and it was pretty good, but this recipe is rather different from that one.

This was my first time using Simcoe and Amarillo hops. I was worried the beer might come out catty, but the gravity sample I tasted wasn’t too bad. There was a bit of cat pee, but the Simcoe hops seemed to give more of the desirable mango aroma and flavor. The mango/slight cattiness balanced very well with the grapefruit notes provided by the Amarillo hops.

Unfortunately neither of those hops were available in pellet form, so I got to try out commercial whole-leaf hops for the first time. They’re fun to brew with because they look so cool, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass because they soak up so much wort and leave you with a big wad of debris to throw away after you’re done.

Like the few batches before this one, I entered the recipe into BeerSmith as the book prescribes it, the used the “scale recipe” function to scale the grist bill to my system. This worked nearly perfectly when I used it before, but this time around I came up short of my target OG. I was targeting 1.065 but ended up with 1.059. The adjusted grist bill I used was:

– 9 lb 15.2 oz US 2-row
– 1 lb Crystal 20°L (Recipe calls for C15, but I couldn’t get it)
– 12.9 oz Munich (9°L)
– 5.6 oz Crystal 40°L

Because the beer is somewhat similar to the APA recipe I used in the past and because I’ve been having some issues with diacetyl in my beers lately, I chose to ramp this beer’s temperature towards the end of fermentation for a D-rest. When activity began to slow (after three days), I increased it from 67°F to 71°F and left it there for six days before dropping the temp to 34°F for a crash cool. It will be kegged two days from now.

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Brew Day: American Pale Ale (Beer #33)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.056 Actual OG: 1.058
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 6.3%
Color: 6.5 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 42 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On January 27th, 2012 I brewed up a batch of American Pale Ale. This was the second time I brewed this Brewing Classic Styles recipe, but a lot is different this time around. The first time I brewed it I used my home-grown Centennial hops (and a dash of home-grown Willamette) for flavor & aroma (along with the Cascade pellets called for in the book). This time around I used all Hop Union pellets and also dry-hopped the beer. I didn’t dry-hop it last time.

The first attempt was good, but far from great. It had a lot of diacetyl that manifested as a strong butterscotch note. The aroma carried a strong washed-rind cheese smell. It wasn’t foul; it actually worked well in the beer. But it was kind of unexpected. This time I’m hoping for it to be much cleaner and more predictable.

To try to take care of the diacetyl issue, I ramped the fermentation temperature from 67°F to 69.5&def;F when fermentation began to slow (after three days) and increased it again to 72°F 24 hours later. I held it there for three days before racking to a secondary fermenter for dry-hopping. I dry-hopped with 14g (1/2 oz.) each of Cascade & Centennial for five days before crash-cooling and kegging. I kegged it yesterday. It should be ready to start tasting next weekend. I didn’t detect any diacetyl in the sample I took before kegging.

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Brew Day: American Amber Ale (Beer #32)

February 13, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.052 Actual OG: 1.049
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 5.0%
Color: 13.4 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 37.5 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

On January 20th, 2012 I brewed the American Amber recipe from Brewing Classic Styles for the second time. The first time I brewed it was almost exactly one year prior. It was my first all-grain batch and with it I scored my first medal in a competition. I’m still looking for my second.

This time around I altered several things. Changes to my process include precise fermentation temperature control, the use of a stir plate, pure O2 oxygenation, and milling my own grain. That last difference requires me to change the recipe to adjust for the increase in efficiency it brought me. The adjusted grist bill looks like this:

– 6 lb. 12.8 oz. Maris Otter
– 13.1 oz. Crystal 40°L
– 11.7 oz. Munich (9°L)
– 8.7 oz. Crystal 120°L
– 8.7 oz. Victory (28°L)

I kept the bittering, flavor, and aroma hop charges the same as the book calls for – except that I bittered with Yakima Magnum instead of Horizon, and I adjusted the amount of bittering pellets used to keep the same HBUs.

The recipe does not mention dry-hopping, but I chose to do so for this batch. Last year’s judges’ notes suggested it would benefit from a touch more hop aroma. I agree. To that end I dry-hopped this batch in the primary fermenter after five days with 7g (1/4 oz.) each of Cascade & Centennial pellets. I just chucked them into the carboy. It’s a small dry-hop charge. I’m not trying to make a west-coast amber; I’m just trying to brighten up a classic American amber. I think it worked well, as I’ll post about in the tasting notes that will be coming soon. I allowed the dry hops to do their thing for six days before crash-cooling for three days then kegging it up. It’s on tap now, and I’m enjoying it.

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Brew Day: Premium English Bitter (Beer #31)

February 12, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.047 Actual OG: 1.047
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.011
ABV: 4.8%
Color: 11.2 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 30.8 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1968 ESB

I brewed the Northern English Brown ale on a Friday night after work. The following morning (Saturday, January 14, 2012) I got up and brewed a batch of English Premium Bitter. The recipe, as usual, came from Brewing Classic Styles. Much like the batch the night before, I used the “scale recipe” function in BeerSmith to adjust the recipe to account for my system’s efficiency. It came up with this grist bill:

– 7 lb. 4.8 oz. Munton’s Maris Otter
– 8.2 oz. Aromatic (26°L)
– 8.2 oz. Crystal 120°L
– 4.1 oz. Special Roast (50°L)

Much like the previous recipe, after scaling the recipe I hit the target pre-boil and OG values. So far so good for assuming 78% efficiency and scaling to meet it.

The beer fermented out in three days at 68°F. I let it sit for two more days, then crash-cooled the carboy in the fridge for three days, then kegged it up. After getting it carbonated I realized I had a problem: major diacetyl bomb. It was bad. I named the beer “Bitterscotch” when I took a liter of it to the T.R.A.S.H. meeting to have people taste.

The beer was overwhelmed by butterscotch flavor. I felt it ruined the beer. But there was hope. Some friends from T.R.A.S.H. suggested it could be saved by pitching in an active starter of fresh yeast. This process – called krausening – was worth a try. I moved the keg to a warm (70°F) spot in my house and waited until Batch #33 (APA) was ready to be racked to secondary for dry-hopping. I harvested the APA’s yeast (Wyeast 1056), brewed a 1 liter starter, and added a healthy cup of the washed yeast to the starter. I let it run overnight on the stir plate and build up a good krausen. In the morning I pitched the active starter right into the keg of Bitter and left it at ~70°F for a week. It’s still sitting there, but it has to be as done as it’s going to get after that much time. Soon I will rack it to a new keg (to separate it from all the American Ale yeast I pitched into it) and put it in the keezer to re-equibrilate it’s carbonation. Hopefully the diacetyl is toned down enough to make the beer decent.

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Brew Day: Northern English Brown (Beer #30)

February 12, 2012

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.051 Actual OG: 1.051
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.1%
Color: 11.9 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 26.6 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale

To start 2012 I brewed seven batches of beer in six weeks. Keeping up with all those brews caused me to fall a little behind on this journal. It’s time to post about what I’ve brewed recently. I want to get the brew day posts out of the way so I can get on to the tasting notes…

I brewed a batch of Northern English Brown Ale on January 13th. The recipe came from Brewing Classic Styles, but for the first time I used the “scale” function in BeerSmith to adjust the recipe to match my system. I had been getting about 78% efficiency since I started crushing my own grain. BCS assumes 60-65% efficiency. BeerSmith adjusted the grist bill to look like this:

– 8 lb. 2 oz. Munton’s Maris Otter
– 10 oz. Special Roast (50°L)
– 6.7 oz. Crystal 40°L
– 6.7 oz. Victory (25°L)
– 3.3 oz. Pale Chocolate (200°L)

I hit the target pre-boil and OG with these adjustments. Fermentation went smoothly and the beer was crash-cooled after five days and kegged after three days in the fridge.

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