First Tasting: Belgian Dark Strong (Beer #41)

December 19, 2012

Nearly three months ago a couple friends and I did an experimental brew. We developed a recipe for a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, then got together one Sunday to all brew the same recipe at the same time. We then each oxygenated as we saw fit, pitched our own choice of yeast, and followed our own temperature schedules. Our wort was all nearly identical prior to pitching yeast. Same OG, tasted the same, etc. Fermentability of the wort probably varied due to our different brewing systems. The resulting beers are shaping up to be quite different from one another. I’d like to do a side-by-side-by-side tasting with their beers some time down the line. For now, here’s some early tasting notes on my batch.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.109 Actual OG: 1.115
Target FG: 1.014 Actual FG: 1.032
ABV: 11.1%
Color: 23.2 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 41.0 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity (the Westmalle strain)


Sweet, rich, complex brown-bread-like malt and prominent dark dried fruit esters (fig, prune, dark cherry, raisin) up front, followed immediately by well balanced spicy phenols suggesting star anise and allspice. Some perfumy floral notes. No hop aroma. Very pleasant and inviting. No diacetyl, DMS, fusels, or other off-aromas.

Deep ruby red to brown with a large, smooth, tan-colored head that lingers. Nearly brilliant with a very slight haze.

Bold, complex malt profile with massive spiciness. Abundance of dark fruit as in the aroma, only more pronounced. Very sweet, approaching cloying. Drinkable in that I’ve had commercial beers this sweet, but not as enjoyable as it would be if it were 8 gravity points or so dryer. Low-medium bitterness that would balance perfectly if the beer weren’t quite so sweet. No diacetyl, DMS, fusels, or other off-flavors.

Very full, syrupy body. Medium-high carbonation. Strong, warming alcohol carries into the finish, but is not hot or burning.

Overall Impression
A very rich, complex, malty beer with tons of “Belgian” character in the form of fruity esters and spicy phenols. All the aromas and flavors are well balanced – except for the sweetness. The beer is far too sweet, which is a shame because it is otherwise wonderful.

This is by far my best attempt at any Belgian beer. The malt profile and yeast character are well balanced, complex without being muddled, and the flavors all sing loudly and in harmony. But there’s the one guy in the back playing tuba and it’s obviously his first time – the beer is just too sweet. It should have finished up in the high teens but it stalled out in the low 30s. It actually slowed way down in the 60s, but I was able to coax it along for a few more days before the yeast called it quits at about 1.032.

My plan for this batch is to transfer most of it to a three-gallon carboy with a couple ounces of oak chips and pitch some Brettanomyces Lambicus. I’ll bottle the rest and cellar it. The brett should dry the beer out significantly while adding further complexity in the form of tart cherry, wild, barnyard notes, and notable oak (from the oak, not the brett). It will take 6-12 months to complete and should turn out pretty good. If not, it will be a good learning experience.

I plan to brew this recipe again, changing only the process to get it right next time. I will adjust my expected efficiency upward to aim for an OG of 1.100. I will mash at 149°F to make a more fermentable wort. I will add a second shot of O2 about 8 hours after pitching. Finally, I will add the table sugar and amber Candi syrup after we’re well into fermentation.


Brew Day: Classic Rauchbier (Beer #46)

December 15, 2012

Two weeks ago when I brewed the Bohemian Pilsner, I also brewed another batch of Classic Rauchbier. I like to brew two patches per brew day – mash the 2nd one while the first one is boiling. I feel I get more out of my time doing that.

Nice amber color. Whirlfloc + mostly pilsner malt = lots of cold break

This is the second batch of rauchbier that I have brewed recently. The one I brewed a little over three months ago came out pretty good, but I can do better. That one scored in the low 30s in a couple competitions and won a bronze medal at Oktobersbest Zinzinnati, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it. I felt it was slightly too sweet, and balanced too malty. It wasn’t crisp enough. Moreover, the smoke character was way too low for my taste. Some felt it was plenty smoky. However, being a fan of Schlenkerla, I like campfire in a glass.

To that end I changed the recipe this time so that Weyermann smoked malt makes up 75% of the grist bill as opposed to the 38% used last time. (The rest is made up of a bit of Munich malt, Carmunich, Melanoiden, and a touch of Black Patent.) I also used a different yeast this time. I have found that WLP830 provides a very round, smooth, malty beer. I wanted something a bit more crisp, so I’m giving Wyeast 2124 (the Carlsberg yeast) a try.

Top: Rauchbier. Bottom: Bohemian Pilsner.

Both of these beers are done fermenting and have been crash-cooling for about four days now. I’m going to keg them today. They’re scheduled to go on tap some time in late winter or early spring, but I’m sure I’ll be posting some tasting notes before then.


Brew Day: Bohemian Pilsner (Beer #45)

December 12, 2012

Sunday before last I brewed up a couple lagers, the first of which was the Bohemian Pilsner recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. Also known as Czech Pilsner, this beer is maltier and more rounded than the dryer, more crisp German Pilsner. It’s still a crisp, refreshing, hop-forward beer; it’s just not quite as dry and bitter as German Pilsner.

Beer doesn’t get much lighter than that. Those are the darker first runnings, even.

The recipe was as simple as can be: 10 pounds of German pilsner malt, 13 ounces of Cara-Pils, and about six ounces total of Czech Saaz hops added at at various times. That’s a lot of hops for a five gallon batch of beer that isn’t some sort of American Ale.

Loads ‘o hops

They’re low-alpha hops, so the bitterness is down around 40 – high, but not american ale high.

Brewmaster Bean kept an eye on the process.

After a 90 minute boil, I chilled the wort to 65°F, racked it to a fermenter, then put it in the fermentation chamber to finish chilling to 48F before pitching the yeast later that night.

A while back I swtiched from Irish moss to Whirlfloc for my kettle finings. That, coupled with pilsner malt protein’s tendency to clump, created one super clear wort. The wort in the carboy was a clear as a filtered glass of beer. At least until I got close to the bottom of the kettle and started sucking up some cold break, which is actually good for the fermentation & flocculation. For future batches I need to devise a way to get all the wort, some of the cold break, and none of the hop debris. That’s a problem that pretty much all homebrewers wish they could solve.

Clear wort atop cold break & hop debris

This beer was about 75% finished with fermentation after five days, at which point I warmed it up to 67°F for a diacetyl rest. It sat there for three days and now it’s resting at 34°F for a crash-cool. I’ll keg it tomorrow night. I plan to serve it sometime in March or April, though I’m sure I won’t be able to wait that long.


Tasting Notes: Scwarzbier (Beer #40)

December 9, 2012

The keg of Schwarzbier that I brewed the same day as the Vienna Lager was a big hit at Thanksgiving and is getting kind of low. I figured I should get some tasting notes before I fill some bottles to store for the spring competitions and the keg kicks.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.047 Actual OG: 1.053
Target FG: 1.009 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.4%
Color: 23 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 31.3 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until 90% finshed, then 67°F for 3 days

Light clean, crackery malt aroma. Crisp floral/spicy hop aroma. Low but notable nutty roastiness. No diacetyl, DMS, or sulfer.

Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Huge light-tan head with very good persistance and lacing. Had to allow the head to settle before completing the pour. Slightly hazy.

Clean pilsner-like malt flavor backed up by bright noble hop character. Touch of roastiness. Roast is more prominent in the aroma than in the flavor. Clean bitterness carries into and beyond the dry finish. No diacetyl, DMS, or sulfur.

Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Smooth mouthfeel and bitterness. No astringency.

Overall Impression
A clean, crisp pilsner-like black beer. Roast character is present but does not dominate. Roast, smooth base malt, hop flavor, and crisp bitterness are all well balanced, leaning towards the hoppy side. Very drinkable.

I am very happy with how this beer has progressed. When it was a few weeks old I felt it was far too roasty. As recently as a couple weeks ago – when I last tasted it – it was still too roasty. But today it’s very clean and crisp with the roast character playing a subtle supporting role. Hopefully the bottles I fill hold up for the competitions in March and April that I plan to enter it in.


Tasting Notes: Vienna Lager (Beer #39)

December 9, 2012

The Vienna Lager I brewed back at the end of September is starting to come around after soem bulk-aging time at 34°F. Time to take some tasting notes…

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.050 Actual OG: 1.053
Target FG: 1.010 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%
Color: 10.8 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 27.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until finshed, then 67°F for 3 days

Pronounced vienna malt character. Some light fruity esters suggesting raisin, fig, etc. Maybe a very light touch of diacetyl. Some light, spicy/earthy hallertau hop aroma.

Medium amber color. Medium-sized off-white head consisting of various-sized bubbles with very good retention. Clear, but not brilliant. Slight haze.

Primarily vienna malt with a nice, soft character reminiscent of light toast and subtle raisin flavor. Low-medium hop bitterness balanced well with the malt, though the balance is definitely towards the malt. Off-dry finish with a lingering soft bitterness. Low-but-detectable earthy/spicy noble hop flavor.

Light-medium body. Medium carbonation creates both a creaminess and a slight acidic bite on tip of tongue. Slight warmth on the finish. Finishes crisp.

Overall Impression
A pleasant malty amber lager. It’s dryer and less rich & malty than Oktoberfest/Marzen, making it much more digestible. A touch too fruity and a hint of diacetyl detract very slightly from an otherwise very good beer.

I initially rushed this beer, moving it from the lagering fridge to the kegerator after just two weeks to get it ready to enter in the Butler Brewfest competition in early November. It wasn’t very good at the time. The beer was cloudy and the flavors were muddled. It was giving off fruity aromas that were totally out of place. After bottling my competition entries I put the keg back into the beer fridge at 34F and left it there for a month. I also added 1 tsp of bloomed gelatin to help it clear. Today the beer is much cleaner. It’s nearly brilliant in clarity and the flavors are clean and crisp. Another couple months and hopefully it’s tip-top in time for the competitions in spring and early summer.


First Tasting: Baltic Porter (Beer #44)

December 8, 2012

Posting the brew day log for the Baltic Porter made me decide I should take some tasting notes now before I put the keg away to lager for the winter.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.089 Actual OG: 1.091
Target FG: 1.016 Actual FG: 1.018
ABV: 9.7%
Color: 30.5 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 38.1 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast
Fermentation Temperature:53°F until 75% attenuated, then 67°F for 3 days

Malty and rich, with equal moderate notes of milk chocolate, dried fig/date/plum, and toasty bread. Moderate nut aromas suggesting walnut and pecan. Some licorice. Bit of caramel & toffee. Some floral, lightly spicy notes likely from the Czech Saaz hops. Hopefully this fades with some age.

Clean, slightly yeasty lager character that I get in every beer I’ve brewed with WLP830. NO diacetyl or DMS. Low alcohol aroma.

Deep amber to brown. Large, thick, khaki-colored head of very small bubbles. Head lasts a couple minutes before falling to a thin layer atop the beer. Rather hazy.

Much more robust and complex than the aromas suggest. The aroma is complex, but it fails to prepare you for the flavor. Rich and malty, with strong flavors of dried dark fruits, brown sugar, and some chocolate roastiness atop a toasted bread foundation. Notable medium bitterness balances the relative sweetness and high alcohol well. Some spiciness from the Saaz hops. Some coffee and licorice linger. Fermentation character is clean and malty. No diacetyl, fusels, or DMS. Notable alcohol, but hides its 10% abv quite well. Would guess it’s about 8-8.5% if I didn’t know better.

Full body, smooth, warming finish, but not hot or solventy. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression
Very rich and complex malt-dominated beer with hop bitterness and flavor to balance. Hop flavor is a little high, I think, and the beer tastes kind of “green,” meaning it could use some age to allow the flavors to meld, integrate, and congeal a bit. Overall very drinkable already; I’m looking forward to what some age will do for this beer.

It looks darker here than in real life.

I brewed this beer without ever having tasted a true example of the style. Based on what I’ve read in the BJCP guidelines and from online tasting notes of true Baltic porters, I think this is a good example. Regardless of how it fares in competitions next spring and summer, I am going to enjoy this beer.


Brew Day: Baltic Porter (Beer #44)

December 8, 2012

Three weeks ago I brewed the Baltic Porter recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. This is a beer style I don’t know very well since there aren’t many commercial examples available in the US. Some craft breweries make beers they call Baltic Porter, but from what I’ve read and been told by those who’ve been to the Baltic region these beers aren’t true to the style. The US craft versions are big, bold, nearly black, and roasty – built like a robust porter but with higher ABV. Baltic Porter, on the other hand, should be dark but not black, mildly roasty, with moderate dried dark fruit esters from the malt & alcohol. Jamil’s recipe is supposed to approach that.

4 oz of low-alpha hops makes for a very green wort!

The recipe had an esitmated OG of 1.089. As is shown below, I ended up at 21.8 Plato, or 1.091. I was pretty happy with that.

The beer finished at 1.018, giving it 9.7% ABV. It is kegged, carbed, and lagering now. It should be ready for drinking after a few months, but realistically it will be best if saved for next winter. I will post some initial tasting notes soon to give me something to look back at when tasting it after it has aged.


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.