Tasting Notes: Robust Porter (Beer #82)

February 1, 2014

I took some tasting notes for the Robust Porter I brewed in early October. I need to learn to take decent photos.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.064 Actual OG: 1.058
Target FG: 1.016 Actual FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.9%
Color: 34.1 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 38.2 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale
Fermentation Temperature:68°F

Aroma
Rich, complex malt character. Chocolate cake and smooth coffee. Medium-low roasted malt. Secondary notes of dark toffee, caramel, dried dates. Low hop aroma, takes on an earthy, woodsy character. Trace of smoke. Low fruitiness. No diacetyl.

Appearance
Very dark brown. Large tan head with moderate retention. Brilliant clarity.

Flavor
Rich, smooth malt flavors of bittersweet chocolate, slightly burnt roast, coffee, and traces of caramel, toffee last into finish. Medium bitterness lingers. Medium-low hop flavor – earthy, decomposing tree bark. Off-dry up front, with a drying finish. Hop flavor and roast remain on the palate.

Mouthfeel
Medium body. Medium carbonation. Suggestion of astringency from dry, roasty finish.

Overall Impression
A complex dark malty beer with firm hop bitterness and prominent dry roastiness to balance the malt.

This beer does OK in competitions, always scoring in the mid-30s. I’ll have to have a think about how to improve it. Maybe more bitterness, perhaps from roast. A touch more mid-crystal might help as well.

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Tasting Notes: California Common Beer (Beer #86)

January 20, 2014

I tried to pull a small sample glass for these tasting notes. The keg decided my sample would be even smaller than expected when it kicked on me. Steamdrank, we hardly knew ye.

In late October I brewed a California Common Beer. It was my first try at a style that’s typically defined by a single commercial beer – Anchor Steam Beer. My beer wasn’t a clone, or even an attempt at one; it was an attempt at formulating a recipe and brewing a beer that fits the guidelines. To that end, I think I did OK.

Aroma
Moderately high hop aroma – woodsy, cedar and spruce hops with a touch of herbal mint character. Medium toasted bread / bread crust malt aroma, with a touch of medium caramel. Medium-light fruity esters – hints of sweet cherry and tangerine. Somewhat sweet smelling.

Appearance
Medium amber color. Huge, moussey bone-colored head with very good retention. Brilliant clarity.

Flavor
Moderate maltiness and moderate-high bitterness. Bread crust / toasted bread malt flavor with a medium caramel flavor. Medium-high hop flavor, notably woodsy, cedar, lightly spicy, moderate spruce. Attack is off-dry to semi-sweet. Finish is drying. Hop bitterness lingers into finish. Low-moderate sweet cherry esters throughout.

Mouthfeel
Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Smooth. Slight warmth in finish.

Overall Impression
Hits all of the marks for the style, particularly in the balance between toasty malt and hop flavors associated with Northern Brewer hops. Fruitiness might be a little too high for the style, and the beer is a little bit too sweet. Otherwise a very pleasant, easy drinking, well balanced beer.

I am extremely pleased with how this beer came around. I entered it in a couple of competitions in late November and it did well – scoring mid-30’s in both, winning a silver medal in one of them. At the time the beer was young, murky, and kind of muddled tasting. Now, two months later, it’s showing wonderfully. Too bad it’s all gone.

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Tasting Notes: Belgian Golden Strong (Beer #47)

March 3, 2013

A couple months ago I brewed a batch of Belgian Golden Strong Ale. It’s still early to be drinking a beer like this (it needs more age), but I need to get it bottled up for the upcoming competitions, so here are some tasting notes:

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.072 Actual OG: 1.074
Target FG: 1.002 Actual FG: 1.005
ABV: 9.1%
Color: 3.3 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 30.5 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Laps WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale
Fermentation Temperature:Pitched at 64°F, ramped up 1°F every 12 hours for five days to 74°F

Aroma
Bright lemon and white pepper over top of ripe pear and a touch of tangerine. Some banana. Pronounced floral hop aroma, which combined with the alcohol smells rose-like. Cracker-like malt becomes more prominent as it warms and the head falls. Very light solvent notes.

Appearance
Yellow and hazy with a big, somewhat rocky white head that lasts for five minutes before falling to a ring around the glass.

Flavor
Pear and spice with a lemon-peppery zing. Touch of banana. Finishes dry, crisp, and clean. Crackery pilsner malt lingers into the finish, as does substantial hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel
High carbonation. Medium-light body. Smooth; no astringency. Very warm, approaching hot. Slightly solventy. Alcohol lingers into the finish.

Overall Impression
Crisp, clean, dry, and very drinkable beer with assertive floral, spicy, and fruit character. A touch of solvent in the aroma and flavor detract slightly. Overall very good.

This is a difficult beer to brew. The high percentage of sugar and high abv stress the yeast significantly. Assuring that fermentation doesn’t stick and keeping off-flavors away is tough with this one. While this example isn’t perfect, I’m very happy with how it turned out. If I brew it again I will use a better pilsner malt. The Northern Brewer-sourced “German Pilsner” malt I used here is brings too much cracker aroma and flavor. I’ll also add a bit of Carafoam in an attempt to add some head stability. I’m not sure what to do to eliminate the slight solvent character. I need to stress the yeast even less, but how? Maybe it will age out. After all, this batch is only two months old. When was the last time you had a two-month-old Duvel in the States?

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Tasting Notes: Bohemian Pilsner (Beer #45)

January 13, 2013

I brewed a Czech Pilsner in early December. It is terrible, but I think it can be saved.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.055 Actual OG: 1.054
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.5%
Color: 3.7 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 39.8 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 2001 Urquell Lager
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until 75% attenuated, then 67°F for 3 days

Aroma
Butter. Not artificial buttered popcorn, but straight up real butter. Behind the butter is a nice crackery Pilsner malt profile and floral, spicy noble hop aroma. The buttery diacetyl dominates.

Appearance
Light straw color with a huge bright white fluffy head. Good retention. Slight haze. (The picture is from before the beer really cleared up.)

Flavor
Much like the aroma, there’s a decent pilsner hiding behind loads of butter. You can taste the malt & hops, but the diacetyl really gets in the way.

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. No astringency. No slickness.

Overall Impression
A deluge of diacetyl turns what could be a good beer into an undrinkable one.

Taken 3 days after kegging. It is less hazy now.

I have brewed seven lagers so far and all except for this one have had a very clean fermentation profile with no diacetyl. I follow the same fermentation temperature schedule for all of them: pitch at 48°F, ferment at 50°F until about 75% finished, then raise the temp to 67°F to allow the yeast to clean up the diacetyl while it finishes up. I crash-cool three days after it reaches terminal gravity, hold it there for three days, then keg. I usually use WLP830 and this schedule works well with that yeast. I used Wyeast 2124 for the Rauchbier I brewed the same day as this BoPils, and it has no diacetyl. It looks like the Wyeast 2001 used for the BoPils is a diacetyl producing monster and requires more of a rest. I have read as much online since running into this problem. An experienced brewer friend also said he won’t use 2001 because it creates massively buttery beer.

In the end, though, I do think I can save this beer. I have warmed the keg to room temperature and I am going to krausen it with a smalle 1/2 liter starter of 1056 after I harvest it from the Irish Red Ale next week. I performed this same procedure on a butterscotch bomb English Pale Ale last spring and it cleaned the beer up beautifully. That beer went on to win a silver medal in the TRASH competition. I will post follow-up tasting notes after this beer has been krausened and settled out to see if it helped.

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Tasting Notes: Classic Rauchbier (Beer #46)

January 12, 2013

I have plenty of stuff I need to get done around the house today, but what better way is there to procrastinate than by tasting homebrew and taking notes? The smoked lager I brewed in early December is maturing nicely. Here’s how it tastes after a month and a half.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.054 Actual OG: 1.052
Target FG: 1.013 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%
Color: 17.2 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 27.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager
Fermentation Temperature:50°F until 75% attenuated, then 67°F for 3 days

Aroma
Balanced between sweet smoke and Munich-like malt character. Smoke quality is bacon-like. Malt is toasty with a very light caramel quality. No hop aroma. No diacetyl, DMS, sulfur, etc. Clean lager character.

Appearance
Medium amber color. Average sized, long lasting, cream colored head. Brillian clarity.

Flavor
Initial soft, toasty, Oktoberfest-like malt character yields immediately to pronounced campfire smokiness reminiscent of smoked ham. Attack is moderately sweet, but finishes pleasantly dry. Smoke flavor is of medium intensity. Low-moderate hop bitterness. Very low noble hop flavor. Clean lager character. No diacetyl, DMS, sulfur, esters, or phenols (aside from smoke).

Mouthfeel
Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Very smooth. No astringency. Significant alcohol warmth on the finish. Smoke and moderate hop bitterness linger.

Overall Impression
A clean, slightly crisp, very malty Oktoberfest style beer with a pronounced smoke character in the aroma and flavor. I am very happy with this beer for how clean and balanced it is. It may be lacking some intangibles – which keeps it from being amazing – but it is a very good beer overall. Much better than my first attempt at the style, which itself was pretty decent.

It looks darker here than in real life.

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Tasting Notes: Spruce Ales (Beers #42 & 43)

January 12, 2013

The other day I realized that I never reported on the results of my Spruce Tips experiment. About two an a half months ago I brewed two batches of identical red ale that differed only in the type of spruce tips used: one had 11 ounces of Norway Spruce tips, the other got 11 ounces of Blue Spruce tips. (Both were five gallon batches.) On to the tasting notes:

~~~Norway Spruce Ale~~~

Aroma
Soft maltiness – buiscuity with a pronounced caramel note, some raisin-like fruit character. Not much to remind you of spruce or pine, but there’s a pleasant hard-to-describe floral quality that must come from the spruce. No hop character. No diacetyl, et al.

Appearance
Medium amber with a large, fluffy, bone-colored head with infinite retention. Brilliant clarity.

Flavor
Medium-low bitterness. Malt-balanced, but not overly malty and not sweet. Malt profile similar to aroma followed by perfumey christmas-tree-like pine with lemony notes. The spruce character is pronounced in the aftertaste and makes a strong case for taking another sip.

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body with creamy carbonation. No astringency. Some very light alcohol warmth on the finish.

Overall
A pleasant beer well suited for December drinking. The spruce flavor is strong, but not overwhelming of off-putting. The base beer is kind of like a strong bitter with a bit more raisin flavor. I am pleased with how it came out.

~~~Blue Spruce Ale~~~

Aroma
Soft maltiness – buiscuity with a pronounced caramel note, some raisin-like fruit character. Dirty, earthy, musty.

Appearance
Medium amber with a large, fluffy, bone-colored head with infinite retention. Nearly clear. Slight hazy.

Flavor
Medium-low bitterness. Malt-balanced, but not overly malty and not sweet. Malt profile similar to aroma. There is a murky, unpleasant, earthy, dirty character from first taste well into the aftertaste. This flavor is piney, resinous, and sort of mushroom-like.

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body with creamy carbonation. No astringency. Some very light alcohol warmth on the finish.

Overall
The base beer is the same as the Norway Spruce version, but the spruce character in this one is disgusting. If I recieved a glass of this at a bar I might think the lines were dirty. This seems to be what blue spruce tips brought to the beer – the taste of dirty tap lines. I will be dumping the keg whereas the Norway one continues to impress me.

This experiment yielded interesting results. I expected the Norway spruce beer to come across as citrusey, piney, floral and it did. I expected the blue spruce beer to have a strong resinous pine-like flavor. Instead it just tasted dirty and rank. I will brew with spruce again, but only Norway spruce. Blue spruce does not make good beer. It’s Latin name, Picea Pungens, makes sense to me now.

Here is what I’ll change for this year’s spruce beer:

  • Fresh tips. Last year I harvested the tips and froze them in a foodsaver bag to be brewed with later. This year I will pluck them from the trees while the beer is mashing.
  • Lager. The tips are ready for picking in May, but who wants Christmas beer at the end of Spring? I will alter the base beer recipe a bit to make something like a Vienna Lager so the beer can benefit from cold aging until the holiday season.
  • More spruce. The spruce character – especially the aroma – was a little low in this year’s beer. Because of that, and because the beer will be aging for half a year before being tapped, I will up the spruce from 11 ounces to a pound or more.
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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)

Aroma

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.

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

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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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

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

Appearance
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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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

Aroma
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.

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

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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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

Aroma
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.

Appearance
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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