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 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 25.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast

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

Aroma
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.
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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 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 21.7 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Appearance
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.

Aroma
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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First Tasting: American Rye Beer (Beer #38)

September 25, 2012

I brewed a batch of American Rye Beer on Labor Day (9/3/12). Kegged it about ten days later. Time for some tasting notes.

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.056 Actual OG: 1.057
Target FG: 1.012 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.9%
Color: 5.8 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 24.2 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Appearance
Pale yellow. Hazy, but not cloudy. Bright white head with long retention. Good lacing.

Aroma
Rye grainy, bready, somewhat yeasty aromas punctuated with a bright lemon character and a touch of lavender. Low esters. Spicy note either from hops or from rye itself. No diacetyl.

Flavor
Reasonably grainy with pronounced rye flavor. Significant spiciness. Finishes dry to off-dry with lingering bitterness. Notably spicy hop character. No fruity esters. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel
Creamy, medium body from medium-high carbonation. Carbonation acidity nips at the tip of the tongue. Fairly bitter finish. No astringency, but slighly solventy.

Overall Impression
Much more enjoyable than my last attempt. Brighter, fuller, with far more rye flavor. Dry finish makes you want more. Very pleasant, easy-drinking beer. Slight touch of fusel/solvent finish detracts a bit.

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First Tasting: American Amber Ale (Beer #35)

September 10, 2012

The American Amber Ale that I brewed three weeks ago has been in the keg for about a week now, so it’s time for a taste…

Vital Stats:
Target OG: 1.056 Actual OG: 1.054
Target FG: 1.014 Actual FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.5%
Color: 13.6 SRM (Calculated)
Bitterness: 40.6 IBU (Calculated)
Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Appearance
Deep orange to amber in color. Large beige head that lasts for about 5 minutes before finaly falling to a 1/8″ layer of foam atop the beer. Much lacing. Quite hazy

Aroma
American hop character first and foremost, backed up by light caramel sweetness with a touch of toffee. Hop aromas are grapefruit, candied orange, and a hint of pine. No diacetyl. No fruity esters.

Flavor
Grapefruit and pine resin up front, yielding slightly to showcase significant malt character in the midpalate. Malt is not overly crystal, but rather a combination of biscuity, slightly sweet, and a touch of toffee or chocolate. Very light roastiness. Finishes firmly bitter. Has what seems to me as a rather salty aftertaste – I’m not sure if that’s from hops or water adjustment.* Very slight grassy aftertaste. Good balance between hop bitterness and malt.

Mouthfeel
Moderate carbonation provides a fluffy, medium-full creamy body. No astringency. No alcohol heat.

Overall Impression
A good example of an American Amber Ale. Firmly bitter, but not approaching IPA levels. Bitterness is in balance with sweetness and body from the malt. Hop flavor and aroma are prominent. A distinctly American ale. Clean.

This beer came out much better than I expected, given that I brewed it from leftover specialty malts and had to use some things I wouldn’t have chosen, such as Aromatic and Pale Chocolate malt. The hop finish lingers and it might be this that I’m mistaken for saltiness. American Amber is a style that I really like when they’re significantly hoppy with plenty of malt body & sweetness to balance it out. This beer has that.

* Regarding water – I brewed this with distilled water and added 1 tsp. of gypsum and 1/2 tsp. calcium chloride to the mash. I added no kettle salts. I was attempting to keep the salt additions very simple as suggested by Gordon Strong in Brewing Better Beer. I used more gypsum than CaCL to accentuate hoppiness.

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Tasting Notes: English Premium Bitter (Beer #31)

March 19, 2012

I usually like to post these notes as “First Tasting” and “Follow-up Tasting,” but in the case of the English Pale Ale that I brewed in mid January these notes aren’t really “first tasting.” I’ve drank plenty of this beer, but I didn’t take notes until February 29th. Here are those notes that have been sitting on my computer desktop for a few weeks…

Appearance
Deep copper to amber in color. Nearly clear, slight haze. Thinnish off-white head that lasts for a minute or two before falling to a ring around the glass.

Aroma
All aromas are very light, subtle. Not an in-your-face beer. Smells of toast and caramel malt. Light earthy hop aroma. Slight oxidized wet paper character. Subtle fruitiness – pear and dried fig. No diacetyl*.

Flavor
The flavors, like the aromas, are subtle. A raisiny crystal malt character is backed up by an earthy bitterness. Light fruitiness that’s hard to describe precisely. The combination of light crystal malt and earthy hops combine to form a iced-tea-like flavor. No diacetyl*.

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body. Moderate carbonation. Something of an acidic bite on the tongue. No astringency.

Overall Impression
I believe this beer is well brewed and matches the BJCP style well. Unfortunately I do not know the style that well as Bests are hard to find in the US. A group of serious homebrewers tasted the beer recently and all suggested it was a good example. It’s not the most interesting beer and the characteristics are subtle, but it is a session beer. It won’t make anybody stop their conversation at a party to declare it’s awesomeness, but it also won’t draw any derision. The pints should flow without much being said about it one way or the other. Which is acceptable for a session beer that took the scenic route to being ready to drink.

* It is worth expanding on the “No diacetyl” comment in the flavor and aroma notes. When this beer was young it reeked of butterscotch. Tasted like it, too. I took a liter of it to the January TRASH meeting in a bottle labeled “bitterscotch.” Werther’s Original in a glass it was.

What caused the overwhelming diacetyl character? I used WLP1968 – London ESB Yeast – a strain known to throw diacetyl, one that requires a D-rest to clean up before the beer is ready. Only I didn’t do a D-rest. I fermented straight-through at 68°F for five days then crash cooled and kegged it up, locking in all the butterscotch. I thought the beer was ruined, but one of the best brewers I know suggested I try krausening it with a fresh pitch of yeast. What could it hurt? I let the keg warm up to room temp (it was already carbonated and on tap at 40°F) and when a batch of APA was done fermenting I harvested a slurry of 1056, pitched it into a starter and when the starter was at high-krausen, I pitched it straight into the keg of Bitter. A week later the 1056 was done and the beer was clean and diacetyl-free. Lesson learned.’

The beer was tasted a couple weeks later at a brewers’ gathering and the same guy that suggested krausening it said it tasted like a medal winner to him. Was he right?…

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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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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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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:

Appearance
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.

Aroma
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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…

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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:

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

Aroma
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.

Flavor
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.

Mouthfeel
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.

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