Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tasting: India Black Ale

A pretty bad picture. It is very black though and that is a baby sling instruction manual underneath it.

This beer smelled awesome going into the keg. The first few pour..I can't say that I felt the same. I just wasn't feeling it. Did I not use enough Crystal Malt? Should I have used some Chocolate Malt? I really wanted to avoid both when brewing. I had expectations. Maybe it was the Centennial Hops? I used a lot of Simcoe and Columbus and Cascade, but maybe I used too much Centennial.

I love this beer. 

It took a good week of mellowing out and carbing up, but pour after pour I love the beer. I was pretty stoked to be using my new keezer build too. It made the whole experience an adventure. It was the first beer poured on it. Guests came by and with my low expectations and their refined IPA palates, I worried. There was nothing but smiles though. Maybe it was because my child was just born and that was the main reason they were there. Who knows. But I will brew this beer again. That is what it comes down to these days. For years I was not a fan of my IPAs and Pale Ales. I have written extensively dumbing down my hoppy beer skills. But since January I brew at least one IPA and Pale Ale a month.

As days went by the beer got darker. Blacker. I thought for sure it was going to be a "Very Dark Hoppy Beer." But yes, my sight on brewing an India Black Ale was clear. I beautiful white head sits nicely through the first few sips before a web of foam stays on the side of the glass. The beer itself is quite dry. There are not a lot of Crystal Malts and the body is pretty thin, but the hops and color play with senses and leave you smelling and tasting the dankness.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brewing: India Black Ale

Mixed additions of Simcoe, Centennial, Zythos, Columbus

I don't know what to make of this style. Your preferred taste on a Black IPA, or whatever you choose to call it, seems to either fall into the "slightly roast, chocolaty-I want it black for a reason IPA," or the "straight up IPA that is simply black and chalk full of dehusked malts." Unless you have a recipe that you love and will never defer from, I say it is best to play around with both and take away or minimize based on your hop/ yeast selection. Hop selection is just as important to me as a pound of dehusked carafa or a quarter pound of chocolate.

Your yeast choice is a fun thing to play around with also. Cali Ale or American Ale accentuates those hops, but also can hammer the roasted grains if used in heavy quantity. A choice that I have played with is Wyeast Thames Valley. It is definitely more malt driven, but it really can round out the malt profile and provide a nice plum flavor. Using a Rye Malt with this yeast is nice.

I am using the Breiss Midnight Wheat for the first time with this recipe. I am falling into that Black for Black sake here, but we'll see what happens over the dank, piney bittering hops on top of the a heavy amount of Centennial.

Pablo Neruda 
Ah Vastness of Pines
Ah vastness of pines, murmur of waves breaking,
slow play of lights, solitary bell,
twilight falling in your eyes, toy doll,
earth-shell, in whom the earth sings!

In you the rivers sing and my soul flees in them
as you desire, and you send it where you will.
Aim my road on your bow of hope
and in a frenzy I will flee my flock of arrows.

On all sides I see your waist of fog,
and your silence hunts down my afflicted hours;
my kisses anchor, and my moist desire nests
in your arms of transparent stone.

Ah your mysterious voice that love tolls and darkens
in the resonant and dying evening!
Thus in the deep hours I have seen, over the fields,
the ears of wheat tolling in the mouth of the wind

India Black Ale
60 Min Mash, 60 Min Boil
Breiss 2 Row, Crystal 40, Midnight Wheat, Carafa II (Special), Turbinado
Columbus, Simcoe, Zythos, Centennial
WLP 001: Cali Ale

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tasting: Petite Saison

The second of the last of my "Birth" series brews has finally surfaced. I brewed a very simple Saison with Vienna and Pils malt and Styrian Goldings and Saaz hops 2 months ago. This beer was mentioned in my last post as part of a brew competition for Earth, Bread and Brewery in Mt Airy, PA. I still have not seen the tasting notes from the judges, but I was pretty annoyed by them. They were something along the line of, "Can't pick out the taste. And Something weird about this." I don't doubt that it was a bit different. Vienna Malt saisons aren't something that I commonly, commercially see. Regardless, I was so diligent with this beer. I ramped up fermentation a few times and let the French Saison yeast rip through the wort. On bottling day I absolutely loved it and I can't say that I toot my own horn like that very often. I also sound like a complainer and can't take criticism. I am just pretty pleased with the result.

I love this yeast strain. I nice dry peppery finish. The Vienna Malt provides a nice semi-sweet, biscuit-like taste, although it was as dry as can be without overdoing it. It was a very simple recipe that I will make over and over. I think switching up the hops and doing single hop treatments will be nice alternatives. It is highly carbed at 2.9, and the head never settles. I have about 25lbs of Pilsner Malt left from 70 pounds. This beer only took about 8 pounds of grain and 2oz of hops, so I think that a 10 gallon batch within the next few weeks will happen or it will end up being part of the "Afterbirth" series.

Petite Saison
1.042 SG/ 1.006 FG
90 Min Boil
Vienna Malt, Pilsner Malt
Styrian Goldings and Saaz Hops
Wyeast 3711: French Saison 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hop Shower

I have been brewing a bit more than usual lately. Usually I team up with someone and brew 10 gallons when I want a hoppy beer. But in January I made an excellent IPA and now super hoppy Pales and IPAs are all I want to brew. A few weeks ago Earth, Bread and Brewery had a homebrew competition in partnership with The Malt House in Mt Airy. The base malt needed to be predominately Vienna. I thought a Vienna Saison sounded nice. So a simple malt bill of Vienna and German Pils with Saaz and Styrian Goldings were brewed up and fermented with Wyeast French Saison. I was pretty pleased with the super dry, bready finish. Nice pepper notes and high carbonation rounded it out to what I expected.  This beer is also a take home gift to the baby shower attendees (see next paragraph). I'll doll it up with a label when I post some reviews on all the beers in this post.

As for Pale Ales, I have a baby shower coming up and needed something for, a hopefully pleasant Sunday afternoon. Hoppy Pales can be a challenge if you do not want a malty finish, but are avoiding a grassy one as well. 9ozs of hops made their way into the kettle and secondary. I've been adding a bit of Pils malt in all of my beers lately. I have 30 pounds left from a sack and adding 20% to the grist hasn't altered any flavor. I am not sure what I thought it would do. It will be finished carbonating in a another day or two, but upon kegging I was pleased. I was so pleased that I wanted to brew up another Pale, similar, but with that malty finish and piney, dank hops that work well in a high ABV IPA, and we'll see what it could do in a 5.6% Pale.

The IPA that I brewed in January was a standout. I dedicated most fermentors to Sours last year and although I need to get back on that Bretty horse soon, I also have a few pounds of hops that I want to use now. I ended up parting with half of the keg to a friend and I will probably do it again with this IPA that I brewed on Tuesday. There was nothing out of the ordinary with this recipe. 2 Row, a small amount of Pils, Crystal 40, Carapils and Dextrose with a nice hop explosion to boot. 5.5 gallons made it into the fermentor somehow. A blow off chugged it's way up 36 hours later. It smells Divine.

Pale Ale 1 
2 Row, Pilsner, Carared, Cystal 40, Cara 8 Malts
Columbus, Simcoe, Citra, Centennial and Cascade
Wyeast 1056

Pale Ale 2
2 Row, Crystal 20, Honey Malts
Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, Centennial, Zythos
White Labs 001

Big Flavor IPA
2 Row, Pilsner, Crystal 40, Cara 8, Dextrose
Columbus, Simcoe, Centennial, Zythos, Amarillo (Boil)
Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial (Dry Hop 1st Addition)
Simcoe, Centennial, Amarillo, Zythos (Dry Hop 2nd Addition)
Fresh Slurry of White Labs 001

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tasting: Big Aroma IPA

For once I am more than pleased with an IPA that I've brewing. It's still a bit cloudy, but that is expected. It's only been conditioning for 6 days and if I can hold myself back from enjoying too many then it be a will a treat to have on tap for a few weeks. My efficiency was way down on this beer. Maybe it was all the hop additions, maybe it was the cold temperature outside. I didn't take a preboil gravity reading. Efficiency doesn't always matter a whole lot, but I did use more Specialty Grains that I would normally want to use with this. I aimed for higher alcohol, but it finished out below 1.010 and the dry finish is what I truly aimed for. 

It's got a beautiful orange hue and head that lasts halfway through. The Munich, Crystal 40 and Carapils didn't add much color, but with it was a very vigorous 75 minute boil. 

It smells very piney, and dank. There is a fair amount of Simcoe and Columbus in this beer. It is a nice punch in the nose, but hops are all that you pick up on.

As for the rest of the beer. It is right to my liking for this style. It has a bit of a Firestone Walker Union Jack maltiness to it, but less sweet. The Cali Ale yeast and the dextrose addition dry it out nicely and let the hops shine through. There is a fair amount of body perceved as well.  The cabonation level is just right. It is West Coasty to say the least.

Big Aroma IPA
OG: 1.062
FG: 1.008
75 Min Boil

Great Western 2 Row, Munich, C40, Carapils, Dextrose
Columbus, Simoce, Centennial, Cascade, Amarillo Hops
WLP 001: Cali Ale Yeast

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brewing: Big Aroma IPA

Brewing an IPA when it is snowing outside, and you are brewing outside is not on my repeat list. I have wanted to brew an IPA for months now. I have collaborated on few and they came out beautfully. I brewed an Oat IPA back in the Fall, but I keg hopped and forced carbed a few bottles so that it would be drank quick and fresh. I've been out of that beer since the month I kegged it. I've also been reading the IPA book by Mitch Steele since the holidays and it is very inspiring to say the least. My IPAs are one of the brew styles that I feel I can do better on each time. So research was what I let my eyeballs devour over the past few weeks. I went after this brew session with some tips by Nathan Smith. I like his agressiveness with hopping and his malt bill overall. I am also a big fan of drying out all my beers the best I can.

Excessive hopbursting seems to be the technique that I have found myself using with the past three or four IPAs that I made. After many stuck runoffs into the fermenter I shied away a bit. I don't know why. I've been using a hop spider for any hopping over 6 ounces. I found it a bit annoying when adding late hops as my immersion chiller was in the way. As for dry hopping, I obviously shy away from heavy amounts also. Keg hopping I am all for though. So I went at this beer with the 7, 7, 7 method that Nathan has used. 7 Days in the Primary, dry hop in the primary for 7 days as soon as fermentation slows down, and then again at the 14th day. Keg on 21 day and let it settle out. All this in the primary was an interesting approach. I wasn't sure about that 14th day hopping in the primary again, so here is where I racked. I may have done this whole thing wrong. The gravity was at 1.008. That is pretty much where I wanted it at. I pitched at 62 and ramped up to around 64 for dry hopping. At 12 days in I brought it up to about 66-67 will leave it there until day 20 or so and bring it back down to get in the keg.

The Aroma was beautiful when racking off. 11ozs of hops total until I keg and I am pretty sure I will keg hop with 1-2oz as well of Amarillo. This was a pretty standard IPA (2 row, C40, Carapils, Munich, Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe, Cascade, and Cal Ale yeast. I am looking forward to enjoying this by months end.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brewing: Russian Imperial Stout

I was chatting it up at Tired Hands in December when the man behind the bar asked what I like to brew. My response stuck with me as I thought about what was currently fermenting or aging or next up on the brew list. I thought about what I brewed throughout the year. I was a bit dumbfounded. "I tend to brew a lot of stouts and saisons," I said. Now when beer shopping I do not often buy stouts or saisons. I rarely buy Belgian beers in general and stouts are usually a few 22oz bombers of the Imperial variety. Every once in a while in the summer I see a big stout on tap and I can't wait to brew it. Saisons are always a toss up. A sweet saison is rough for me. They are pretty hard to get down when the yeast is more than overwhelming and the carbonation is lower than it should be. Conversely, a dry, effervescent straw-like Belgian drives me to brew saisons. I've been working on a dozen or so saison recipes over the past two years. I've dialed in one that I am happy with, but continue to work with different sugars, temperatures, and yeast strains that I will lead me from brewing these sweeter saisons that take up so much of my basement square footage.

But back to stouts. Although late in the year, I brewed a Russian Imperial a month back. I wanted to test my mash tun limit, but I did not think about water absorbtion as much as I should have when the false bottom sits so high up in the kettle. Going down from my usually 1.25-1.33 qts/gallon down to 1.15 qts/ gallon and 19 pounds of grain caused some chaos. The mash tun was nearly full and I still had a bit more grain to stir in, but I had no room. I drained off as little as I could to fit the last pound or so from the bucket. I do love the heat that holds in my mash tun when it is full though. I still do not recirculate, but direct fire when I need to. I keep a thermometer at arms reach and use the kettle's thermometer as well. Oh well. It is my method for now. Conversion went pretty well and OG was 1.096. I under shot only slightly from 1.100.

I racked off after 3 weeks. My starter was excellent, but I didn't think the blow off was going to be so vigorous. I lost just about one gallon. So with 4 gallons left I racked 3 into a 3 gallon carboy and 1 gallon into a 1 gallon vessel. I added Oak Chips that were in bourbon for 2 months. I have never used chips (as opposed to cubes or sprirals), so I am not sure what to expect other that what I have read on forums. I'm figuring on bottling the 1 gallon in April and see how long I want the rest to go.

Russian Imperial Stout
90 Min Boil
OG: 1.096
Pale Malt, Flaked Barley, Flaked Oats, Chocolate Malt, Roasted Barley, Crystal 120, Carafa III
Willamette and Chinook Hops
WLP 004 -Irish Ale 

Bourbon soaked oak chips added to secondary. Aging for 3.5 months.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Saison

Last year the Holiday-Style Brew was a Belgian Dubbel with a variety of spices w/ a decent amount of fig additions. We opted for the title, "Dubbel de Figs." This year I had a hankering to brew the Northern Brewer Saison de Noel. I must have a thing for beer names with "de" in them. What I ended up making was a Dark Saison. I went with a decent Pils base, some Aromatic, Special B, and Debittered Carafa III. Honey and Turbinado Sugar have been a nice addition to my Belgians. I picked up that little mosaic of sugars from a Brewing Network episode with Jolly Pumpkin.

I love a very dry saison. The WLP Saison I is a bit sweeter than any of the other saison strains and with the temperature in my basement hoovering around 65 degrees I had to smoother blankets around the carboy to keep the temperature as high as I can get it without a heating pad of some sorts. Why did I do this without a heating pad? I don't know, but never again without one for a saison in the winter. I had deep, looming fear of the gravity stalling in the 1.030 range. I had done my best to let go for 2 weeks.  At 12 days in I checked the gravity and sure enough it was struggling. Time to rouse the yeast. But with the Aromatic and Special B malts, a bit of fruitiness might be nice, but maybe to dubbel(ish).

It ended up finishing out at 1.010 and I am pretty satisfied. It showcases the Special B nicely, but for future dark saisons I would rather a dehusked black malt. I seem to have a bit too many Belgians laying around and nothing dark and strong. A week ago I had two nice IPAs tapped and now none. My Dark Farmhouse V.2 is bottle conditioning so adding a sour to my refrigerator is going to be nice. The Chocolate Oatmeal Stout that I brewed for a holiday gift is tapped as well. I only kegged 4 gallons and bottled a few for family. In need of something with a higher ABV during the winter I have been buying some Russian Imperials as of late. Philly Brewing Co. Shackamaxon Stout has hit the shelves and it is a nice local treat. The RIS that I brewed late in the year has nothing but months of aging to look forward to. So for now it looks like the Rye Farmhouse and future IPA will replace those kegs soon.

A Winter Eden- Robert Frost

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year's berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree's young tender bark,
What well may prove the year's high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o'clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life's while to wake and sport.

Winter Saison
OG: 1.068 FG 1.010
90 Min Boil
Pilsner, Aromatic, Carafa III, Special B Malts
Orange Blossom Honey, Turbinado Sugar
Magnum, Amarillo Hops
WLP 565-Saison 1