Brew Day: Red Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

October 23, 2012

I have wanted to brew a spruce beer since I first tasted the 2011 Spring Spruce Steinbier at ECB. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, and I figured it would work great as a Christmas/Winter beer.

The first step in developing the recipe was to choose a type of spruce. In my back yard I had two spruce trees – a blue one and a Norway. I have read that Norway gives better results as the blue variety is too piney and resinous. But I wanted to try for myself, so I brewed a batch of each. I can say that the tips, themselves, were quite different from each other. The blue ones smelled very “sprucey” and somewhat musty, whereas the Norway ones had a bright, lemony, citrus, pine smell to them. I chewed up one of the norway ones and found it to taste the same as it smelled, but with the lemon more pronounced. It was not at all unpleasant.

Spruce tips are available in May where I live, but I wanted these beers for the holidays, so I vacuum-sealed and froze them immediately after harvesting. They sat in the freezer until this week.

First wort addition of blue spruce tips

The next step was to determine the base recipe. That steinbier at ECB was great, and I pegged it as being akin to a Vienna Lager. I want this beer to be ready in about six weeks, so I chose to go with an ale. And since it’s a holiday beer, I figured a bright red color would be approrpriate. So here’s the grist bill I came up with:

– 10 lb Muntons Maris Otter
– 6 oz Crystal 40L
– 4 oz Belgian Special B (180L)
– 2 oz English Roasted Barley (500L)

Infusion mash at 152, then batch sparge. Target OG: 1.054

Blue spruce ale, chilled

The color in the picture above is exactly what I was looking for. It does sound like an odd selection of specialty grains, but my reasoning was thus: (1) The C40 because it’s an amber ale – it has to have crystal malt. (2) The Special B provides a ruby color that you can’t get from typical crystal malts. Also, it provides a figgy, raisiny flavor that’s often present in holiday beers. I believe those bigger winter warmers get it through kettle caramelization and extended aging, but the end result is similar. (3) A wee bit of black patent makes Irish Red ales red and gives them a slightly bitter, drying finish which I think will work well in this beer. It should also give some color to the head, making it sort-of khaki instead of off-white-to-bone.

Norway spruce ale approaching boil

The “hop” schedule for this beer follows:

– 6 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ FWH
– 8 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 60 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 20 min
– 3 oz fresh (frozen) spruce tips @ 10 min
– 10 g Polaris hops, 21.8% AA @ 10 min

Polaris is a new hop variety that a friend bought an 11 lb sack of. I bought a pound from him. They are supposedly Germany’s answer to Cascade. They have an extremely high alpha acid content, are very oily, and provide a minty “ice glacier candy” character. When selecting hops for this recipe, I dissolved a few pellets in hot water and felt they would compliment the pine flavors from the spruce well.

The two batches are currently fermenting at 67°F. I pulled a slurry of 1056 from the fridge that I harvested a month ago. I rejuvenated it in a 1.5L starter, then split the resulting yeast between the batches. said this should be enough yeast. Lag time was a little longer than I’m used to – longer than 10 hours but less than 20 hours (I was at work when it started) – so maybe it was a bit of an underpitch.

This was a fun experiment, and I can’t wait to try the results and tweak the recipe for future batches. I moved this summer, so I no longer have a blue spruce tree in my yard but I do have about 12 Norway spruces, so I’m really hoping that turns out to be the better batch!

Edit: Actually I do have a blue spruce tree in my yard. My yard is the woods, so I don’t have a good inventory of all the trees just yet. I also have several sassafras trees. Anyone have a good root beer recipe?


Brew Day: Belgian Dark Strong (Beer #41)

October 22, 2012

About three weeks ago a couple of friends hung out in my garage and we all brewed a batch of Belgian Dark Strong Ale. The weather was beautiful and we all had a good time. More importantly, we all made a batch of what we hope will be good beer. We were aiming for a starting gravity of 1.107, but all came in at 1.115! Big-ass beer. A different yeast strain was used for each one. I used WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity – the Westmalle strain. Another guy used White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale – also the Westmalle strain, but isolated at a different time so is likely somewhat different. Finally, the third dude used WLP500 Trappist Ale Yeast.

Mine fermented like mad right off the bat:

But after a few days it slowed dramatically, and after three or four days it was chugging along slow and steady but had only dropped to 1.060. Through temperature ramping and yeast rousing via stirring I was able to eek out a final gravity of 1.030. The beer has since been crash-cooled and kegged and is now lagering, which it will do throughout the winter before it sees light in time for TRASH and NHC 2013 first round. If it’s good and not overly sweet, I will enter it in those competitions.

Last I heard, the WLP500 batch finished at 1.021 and the WLP530 batch, like mine, was around 1.030. The sample I tasted as I put mine away for the winter was promising – very “Belgian,” but not too much bubblegum or banana or any of that crap. It had loads of fig an dark dried fruit flavors, plus a good touch of spicy phenols. The 12% abv was strong and hot, but not solventy. My only concern was that it was too sweet. 1.030 is a high FG. We’ll just have to see how it ages out over a few months…

Here’s the bonkers recipe we followed for five gallon batches:

– 17 lb, 10.2 oz (8 kg) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Aromatic Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Munich Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Victory Malt
– 1 lb, 7.5 oz (.75 kg) Vienna Malt
– 12.3 oz (.35 kg) Belgian Special B
– 1 lb, 6.9 oz (.65 kg) Table Sugar
– 1 lb D-180 Belgian Candi Syrup
– 84 g German Hallertau Hops (4.0% AA) @ 60 min
– 28.3g Czech Saaz Hops (4.0% AA) @ 15 min

Mash at 152. The sugars were added for the last five minutes of the 90-minute boil.


Brew Day: Vienna Lager and Schwarzbier (Beers #39 & 40)

October 22, 2012

About a month ago (September 23rd) I brewed two lagers – Vienna Lager and Schwarzbier.

The recipes came from Brewing Classic Styles. That book actually has two Schwarzbier recipes, and this is not the same one that I brewed about a year ago. This one is supposed to conform more to the BJCP style guideline, whereas the one I brewed last year was overly roasty. The judges notes confirmed that.

After one week of fermentation at 50°F I began the diacetyl rest by allowing them to free-rise to 68°F ambient temperature. At that point one beer was just about fully fermented and the other was about 90%. I would have preferred to start the D-rest at about 75% attenuation, but it got away from me for a day. After three days of rest I couldn’t detect much diacetyl, if any, so I moved the carboys to the fridge to crash cool and four days later (10/7/12) I kegged them up, sealed the kegs with CO2, and put them in the fridge to lager. They’ve only been lagering for 15 days, but I decided to move them to the keezer (40°F) and start carbonating them because I plan to enter them in the Butler Brewfest Homebrew Competition and entries are due next week. I would like to let these beers lager for a couple of months at least, but I don’t have a lot of beer in my pipeline right now. After the competition I might let them sit a while longer before putting them on tap for Thanksgiving.

The yeast for this beer came from the Rauchbier I brewed a month prior to brewing these two lagers. I did not create a starter for these lagers because the re-pitches were fresh (harvested two weeks prior) and half a yeast cake per pitch should have been sufficient for a couple of 1.047 lagers.


Tasting Notes: Classic Rauchbier (Beer #36)

October 14, 2012

On the last Sunday in August a friend and I brewed two batches of Classic Rauchbier. We followed the recipe from Brewing Classic styles, splitting the base malt 50/50 between smoked malt and typical base malt. I used Weyermann Rauchmalz, he used home-smoked US 2-row malt that had been smoked with a blend of alderwood and fruit woods. Here are some tasting notes for my batch:

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.055 Actual OG: 1.053
Target FG: 1.015 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.4%
Color: 14.9 SRMĀ (Calculated)
Bitterness: 25.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast

Deep amber to brown in color. Slightly hazy. Large, foamy, light tan head with moderate-to-good retention.

Balanced malt and German hop aromas backed by a light ham-like smokiness. Hops are floral and spicy. Malt is sweet and munich-like, with a biscuity undertone. There is a biting acidity in the smell.

Medium-sweet with a malty backbone. The hops balance it out somewhat, but overall too sweet. Hop flavor is floral and slightly grassy. Smoke is light to moderate, serving as a sort-of seasoning to a somewhat-too-sweet Oktoberfest style beer. Smoke character is reminiscent of ham. There is a bit of a salty flavor, as if the water was over-adjusted. Hop bitterness and grassiness carries into the finish. Finishes dryer than it initially tastes. No esters, phenols (aside from smoke), diacetyl, or DMS.

Medium-full body with a thinning finish. Medium carbonation.

Too bad my glass wasn’t perfectly clean. (Note the bubbles on the sides.) Thanks, crappy dishwasher!

Overall relatively smooth as a lager should be, but there is a slight astringency.

Overall Impression
This is a tasty beer and it’s hard to pick out significant flaws, but it is lacking that certain something to get the drinker really excited about it. Additionally, it is not nearly smokey enough for me. Overall it is a little too sweet and a little too biscuity. The day we brewed this, the dude who brewed the home-smoked batch was supposed to bring a sack of Pilsner malt but forgot it. So we used US 2-row for the base malt. I think it contributed too much sweet maltiness to the flavor.

Classic Rauchbier is a wonderful style, and I will be brewing another one soon in an attempt to really nail it. I want to have a knock-your-socks-off example ready for next spring’s TRASH & NHC competitions. What I plan to change:

  • Moar Smoke! For this batch, the base malt was split 50/50 between Weyermann Rauchmalz and Briess US 2-row. Next time I will probably use Weyermann Rauchmalz for the entire base portion of the grist bill.
  • No US 2-row malt. Smoked malt varies in intensity from batch to batch. Next time I will plan to use all smoked malt for the base, but if the batch is significantly smokier than the last one, I will use German Pilsner malt and not US 2-row in its place.
  • Water adjustment. I think the water for this beer might have been over adjusted. It tastes a little salty. For the next batch I will use Bru’n Water as I typically do to compute the salt additions.
  • Lager longer – This beer should lager for several months before drinking it, but I tapped it after just a few weeks due to impatience and lack of beer in the pipeline after having not brewed all summer. The next batch will lager for quite some time before I tap it.

First Tasting: Blonde Ale (Beer #37)

October 10, 2012

I brewed a batch of Blonde Ale on Labor Day (9/3/12) as part of a double brew day with the American Rye Beer I posted tasting notes for a couple weeks ago. Here are some tasting notes for the Blonde:

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.052 Actual OG: 1.055
Target FG: 1.011 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 5.6 SRMĀ (Calculated)
Bitterness: 21.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Deep gold in color. Slightly hazy. Medium head that lasts for a couple minutes before falling to a thin layer of foam atop the beer. Bit of lacing.

Soft biscuity malt. Slightly sweet. Light fruity hop aroma – touch of pineapple. Perhaps a hint of diacetyl. Might be confusing Maris Otter aroma for diacetyl.

Soft malt with a bready, biscuity quality. Clean fermentation character- no esters, no phenols, no fusels, a wee bit of diaceyl. Moderate hop bitterness and light hop flavor – slightly earthy, slightly more fruity. Finishes medium-dry with hop bitterness lingering.

Medium-light body with moderate carbonation. Smooth. No astringency, no alcoholic heat.

Overall Impression
A clean, well-brewed easy-drinking ale. Not as clean as a light lager, but nearly as clean as an ale can be. Trace of diacetyl takes away from an otherwise perfectly boring beer. Balance is towards malt, but there’s enough hop bitterness & flavor to satisfy craft beer drinkers if the only other option is m/b/c.