Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tis the Season To Be Hoppy!

Ah yes, buds on the trees, grass turning green, tulips blooming, lawnmowers, robins, girls in skimpier outfits... wait.. oh right.. HOPS ARE COMING UP! I noticed about a week ago that some small little hop bine fingers were just starting to poke up out of the ground, and since then they've done what hops do... grow FAST. They've been poking up about an inch further a day at this point, much faster than last years first year growth. Last April I planted Cascade and Hallertau rhizomes and got a pretty decent harvest off the Cascades but virtually nothing from the Hallertau. I'm noticing this year however that the Hallertau is rocking at a pretty steady clip with multiple bines popping up as opposed to last years one. Cascades are abundant as expected after last seasons 27 feet of vertical growth, they're looking great.
Today I got some new rhizomes from Jim at Liberty Street Brewing Co. and immediately took them home and dug a new area to plant them. I figured the sooner the better since the others are already so big. He gave me 2 Tettnanger and 2 Nugget rhizomes that looked like small trees. The ones I bought last year were just little 5 inch long twigs with one or two shoots on them, and by comparison Jim's are ridiculous. Apparently they were recently cut from 15 year old crowns and looked prehistoric. I ended up planting these in an area on the northeast corner of my house where I will run twine up to the roof for them to crawl up. I figured my wife would be furious about the location but was pleasantly surprised when she was only a little upset. =D These already have some pretty good shoots on them so I planted them with a bit of these popping up above the surface, they should catch up to my second years pretty quickly.
As you can probably tell I get pretty excited about my hops and felt their emergence warranted a blog post complete with the hipstamatic-ish photos and all. I'll post more pics later in the year when they are starting to get those glorious cones. Thank you to Jim for the new specimens for my collection, much appreciated! I can't wait to brew another homegrown IPA, (hopefully a bit more IPAish this time around) with these new varieties, also to see them climb up to my roof from my rose garden. God I love summer!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Belgian Singel: The Session Beer of the Trappist Order

So it's that time of year again when homebrew competitions start popping up all around us. My brewing goes from a drinking beer, grilling meat wrapped in bacon, tossing hops into the kettle every so often, to a lab coat and clipboard type of operation and this brew session was no exception. Speaking of "session", that's exactly what this beer is all about. The competition is for a session beer, under 5.0% ABV, a daily drinker if you will. The perfect set out to mow the lawn beer in hand brew, and this one from the minds of some of the greatest brewers on the planet, the Trappist Monks of Belgian monasteries. We're all familiar with the Belgian Dubbel, Trippel, and even Quad, but there's not much buzz out there about the Singel, or Enkel. This is a relatively small beer brewed by the monks for personal consumption within the Abbey, that they can drink on at lunch or dinner and return to prayer or other activity without the inebriation.
So I set out to construct a perfect clone of this "Fathers Beer", and I now believe I've done a pretty damn good job.

For my mash, since this is a small beer, I mashed at 158F for 45 minutes after a 15 minute protein rest at 130F. I really need to build the body of this beer since there isn't much of a grain bill
to work with. While mashing I set out all of my
boil additions to be ready when needed. I went
with .75oz Challenger hops at 60min, and 2 smaller Saaz additions at the end of the boil, plus yeast energizer, nutrient, and moss flocculant.

So I get my fresh wort into the brew kettle and fire it up to a boil, but right around 200F, the hotbreak started getting pretty heavy and created a bit of protein foam on the surface of the liquid. Since this is going to be a very fast turn around beer, about 20 days from boil to bottle, I wanted to help the clearing process along as much as possible so I went ahead and skimmed the foam off the top and discarded it. I'm not sure how much this will actually help but I figured it was worth a shot.
After my boil I created a dual purpose for my grill, grilling meat obviously, but also as a perfect elevated surface for me to use as a make-shift tier system for draining my wort into the ale pail. This worked out perfectly and as a technique will definitely be employed again on future brews. I do in fact plan on building a brewing platform eventually though, a nice 3 tiered system with a recirculating pump setup (awesome). I'm so happy warmer weather is here so I can do every step of my brew sessions outdoors again.
Obviously so are creatures like this little fly, who really enjoyed slurping around my kettle for splashed wort, braving the jet engine like flame from my 20lb burner just for a taste of that sweet nectar.
I ended up hitting my target gravity of 1.042 and as always, was excited as if it was the first time all over again. Something about all of these different elements and procedures coming together and delivering the perfect final result you sought after makes me giddy like a school girl... ok not quite but I was very pleased. I swirled the heck out of the wort and splashed it around like a hurricane on high seas in order to aerate sufficiently and pitched one vial of White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale Yeast.
Now we wait... we wait about 14 days and I will check it for a collapsed krausen. Should I find that to be the case, I've considered adding plain gelatin at this point to further clarify the beer, let it sit another week and then bottle for competition entry. I can't wait to drink these myself either. If the wort was any indication of how this is going to taste... well, good luck to everyone else who goes toe to toe with this one. I'm looking for Best of Show ;)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wild... Captured!

I recently posted about my experiment in capturing wild yeast for brewing purposes. Well, after only a week I have a REALLY nice colony of yeast going in a 200 mL starter. I combined the yeast samples from all three jars into a new sterile jar with a new, higher gravity wort. This afternoon I looked at it to check progress and was happy to see a nice little krausen forming on the top, bubbling away, smelling deliciously wild. I decided to taste it and was excited instantly for the beer I will be able to produce with this. It's tart, with a slight coffee flavor and an abundance of wild feel to it. Now I'm just going to let this guy do it's thing a bit longer and then throw it in the fridge until brewday. Stay tuned.

Homegrown 90 Minute IPA - Tasting Notes

Well, considering I usually invest anywhere from 3-12 months into a batch of beer, this beauty had a pretty quick turn around. If I remember correctly, something like 14 days primary and 7 days secondary on dry hops. I just bottled one week ago today, so I wasn't expecting full carbonation but I was anxious to taste this. I cracked one open a few minutes ago and was very pleased with the finished (except for minimal carbonation) product. Here are the findings:

Appearance - SRM 17-20, A LOT-LOT darker than the 7.2 BeerSmith predicted.

Smell - Citrus, floral, heavy Munich producing some thick malt aromas. Cascade dry hop coming through lighter than anticipated, however, certainly noticed.

Taste - Bitter, floral, citrus, malt, coffee, in that order.

Mouthfeel - Creamy and malty but not cloying, carapils/dextrine showing through heavily here.

Overall Drinkability - Incredibly smooth for an IPA, definite session beer.

Serving type: Pint glass

Overall I'm very pleased with this and can't wait until September/October for my second season Cascades to brew this one again!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Capturing the Wild

I've recently really started taking a liking to the sour beers and am fascinated by wild fermentation. I brewed a ridiculous sour on Feb 27th and have watched week by week as the pellicle grows and looks more disgustingly beautiful, this is going to be a great beer. I've danced around the idea of doing another sour and in traditional style doing an actual wild fermentation, allowing my wort to sit in open air outdoors and allow fermentation to proceed naturally and wildly. With this method there are so many variables and uncertainties that could lead to a wasted batch I've decided to do the next best thing.

I made a small wort of around 1.022 SG, and divided it up among three sterilized quart sized mason jars simply covered with one layer of cheese cloth, and sat them outside. I kept the gravity way low because I didn't want to encourage other bugs to take up residence in my gatherers, so nothing above 1.030 would have been ideal. After a couple weeks of sitting out open to the outside air I can assume that some wild strain of Southeast Michigan beastly yeasties will have settled in the jars and began active fermentation on the sweet wort. I can also assume that I will probably capture some unwanted bacterial strains that may or may not be desirable. For this situation, to play it "safe" or "safer", I will decant the wort down to the layer of yeast that will eventually settle to the bottom, combine the three jars reduced contents to one, pitch new wort, and let a new stronger colony of my wild yeast take over. This should give me a fantastic starter for a nice crisp summer sour that is destined to be brewed in the coming weeks. I guess this would be my first post on that beer, check back in the future for updates.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bourbon Oaked Raspberry Porter

I went back and forth on this beer for a couple weeks on exactly what it was going to be. It started out that I was just going to brew a nice simple porter, but anyone who knows me and my brewing style would know that idea was short lived. I then decided that I would clone Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter, with a secondary on toasted coconut. Meh.. I will eventually do that one day but I wanted to go a bit further with it. I was at my LHBS pulling grains for a porter and walked down the accessories isle. I saw the oak chips, I saw the can of Oregon brand raspberry puree, I saw a lightbulb turn on in the air a few inches above my head Saturday morning cartoon style. Done and done, I had my idea.

The Recipe:

7 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM)

2 lbs Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)

1 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)

8.0 oz Black (Patent) Malt (500.0 SRM)

1.00 oz Fuggles [4.50%] (60 min)

1.00 oz Fuggles [4.50%] (30 min)

3.00 lb Raspberry Puree (Secondary 8.0 weeks)

4.00 oz Oak Chips (Bourbon Soaked) (Secondary 7.0 days)

1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Beer Smith has a funny way of showing times on additions. Obviously I'm adding the hops at 60 and at 30 in the boil, but the raspberry will be added at the start of secondary and will remain for 8 weeks, with 7 days left I will add the oak chips. Glad I could clear that up.

While I was mashing I decided it would be a PERFECT time to fry up some super fresh smelt I had picked up that morning from my local premiere fish market.
Wow, they were delicious and really hit the spot. Right right, back to the beer. After my mash I took my first runnings and was very pleased with the color and flavor. I continued with the sparge and boiled as usually for 60 adding fuggles at first sign of boilage and again at 30. I could have boosted the bitterness, and actually intended on it by adding goldings at 60 and fuggles at 30/15, but I omitted the goldings at the last minute to avoid too much of a contrast between the flavors I am adding and bitterness.
After my boil I cooled this thing down to 72F and pulled a sample for hydrometer testing. I was very pleased when I took this reading. 1.064 adjusted for temp. This means that I achieved between 80-90% brewhouse efficiency, a personal best that I figured was unobtainable with a cooler mash tun. Awesome.

So the porter is bubbling away in primary for 3 weeks before being racked onto the raspberry puree in secondary, and then another 7 weeks to clear up before adding medium toast french oak chips that I've soaked in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon. This is going to be one hell of a beer, and I for one can't wait to give it a taste.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homegrown 90 Minute IPA

Last spring I decided I was going to plant some hop rhizomes in the back yard and let them climb and wrap around my deck awning. I selected the 2 varieties that I use most in brewing which at the time was Hallertau and Cascade. Well, I quickly learned that the noble Hallertau is in fact not so noble in it's first season in southern Michigan. It grew a mere 4 feet tall and produced one hop cone! Now, my Cascades (yes I capitalize hop varieties) on the other hand... wow, they grew just over 17 feet long and produced hundreds, maybe even in the low thousands of cones. I thought I wasn't going to have a decent harvest first year but dry weight ended up being just under 6oz, plenty for a 5 gallon IPA.

I decided on a recipe that I felt would work really well for a 90 minute using Maris Otter as my base malt to give it that perfect mouthfeel. My entire grain bill looked something like this:

10lbs Maris Otter
2lbs Munich Malt
1lbs Cara-Pils

I mashed for 60 minutes at 155 and tossed 1oz of hops in with the mash. I heard of good results doing this so I figured I'd try it for myself. I tasted the first runnings and there was a definite hoppy quality to the wort that was noticeable.
After I hopped the mash I felt I should just keep going with this and hop every step of the way, so I tossed about 1/2oz into the sparge water as I was bringing it up to temp. It ended up sitting at 168 for 30 minutes which infused even more hop goodness into the process.

You can see me collecting the first runnings for vorlauf, already running pretty clear. This sweet, sweet beer nectar tasted so good infused with my homegrown cascades, I knew I wanted to do something more with this batch, something to set it apart from other IPA's I've brewed in the past. I got an idea from a likely place.
I started thinking about DogFishHead 90 Minute IPA and how they are continuously hopped. I don't have any way to continuously hop except of course to stand there and add them myself by hand. Well, this is exactly what I did. I sat there with a stop watch and for 90 minutes threw one hop cone into the brew kettle every 30 seconds. It was cold outside, so I had to sit in the brew steam to stay warm for the duration of the boil, but it smelled great so I didn't mind. One hop at a time.. lol. I am really looking forward to enjoying one of these this spring while sitting out back and watching the new cascade vines turning into powerhouses of alpha acids!
After the boil I brought it in and ran the wort chiller through it for about 15 minutes to get down to 70ish, and decided to pitch even more hops at this stage, that eventually did make their way into the primary. I ended up on the low side of my target gravity but it shouldn't matter too much, we're only talking like 1/2% ABV.
So this is in fact a single hop beer, but cascades are so complex I feel like it's going to work out just fine. For yeast I went with a yeast cake preserved from a recent batch of my house pale ale of Wyeast 1056 American Ale. The airlock is cranking away and the smell coming from it smells of pure hop oils. I'll give this one about 10 days in the primary and move to secondary to get it off the old hops and yeast cake, and also to dry hop 5 days with the remaining 1oz (approx) of my first year homegrown cascades.

Making your own beer is great, having knowledge of the different malts and hops to design your own beers is better, and growing your own ingredients on top of that... absolutely beautiful.