Friday, December 19, 2008

Tasting: Red Hook's Double Black Stout with Coffee

Sitting down to Tarantino and Rodriguez's three hour double feature Grindhouse called for something special. Red Hook's "DB" Double Black Stout with Coffee should fit the bill. I don't typically like beers with food in them (for lack of a better way to put it), but I have a soft spot for chocolate and coffee stouts.

Anyway, on to the tasting. Be gentle with me. It's my first time:

Appearance: 3/3 Solid black, dense. Brown where light shines through the meniscus, but otherwise dark.
Head: 1/3 No head to speak of, but I didn't expect one.
Aroma: 2/3 The coffee scent overpowers pretty much everything else.
Flavor: 2/3 Mellower than I expected, but I suppose I was calibrated for your typical Russian Imperial Stout. Low to average carbonation, a coffee flavor somewhat balanced by fair bit of hop bitterness. A slightly sweet start gives way to a medium bodied coffee taste with a roasted malty, hoppy finish.
Mouth feel: 2/3 Medium to thick body, low to average carbonation, seems right for the style.
Overall: 2/3 It started better than it finished. As coffee stouts go, it seems out of balance...kind of a Jeckyl and Hyde with it's sweet start and bitter finish.
Buzz: 2/3 It'll do.

The Double Black Stout is the first beer in Red Hook's Limited Release line of beers. If you want to try it, you should be able to pick it up until around February of next year.

The bottle advertises it as a "smooth, Imperial Stout enhanced by coffee and dark malts with a big, roasty flavor." It got better as I spent time with it, but the finish left me wanting for something more well rounded. It'll do for a change of pace, but nothing in it knocked me out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tasting Stone Double Bastard

Stone releases an extra-strength version of their flagship Arrogant Bastard called, Double Bastard each holiday season. At 10.4% ABV it is a potent brew, but not too heavy. I actually enjoy it more than the original, although I think that the Oaked Bastard is probably my favorite variant.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tasting: Wychwood Bah Humbug Christmas Ale

The shelves and aisles of my local stores are full of seasonal beer.   According to one chart I saw, this is peak season for limited offerings.  I doubt I will get through them all any time soon, and trying to purchase a decent selection is a costly undertaking with the price per serving much higher than the year-round beers. 

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a goblet.

Appearance: 3/3 Translucent orange with hints of red.
Head: 3/3 Nice head with very fine bubbles thick on the pour thins after a few minutes but doesn't disappear.
Aroma: 2/3 Nice hop aroma, subtle malt.
Flavor: 2/3 Nothing to really grab at; low carbonation, some hop bitterness, some sweetness, maybe some heat from the alcohol.
Mouth feel: 2/3 Medium to thick body, low carbonation, velvety on the palette.
Overall: 2/3 This beer doesn't make a lasting impression although it is good, and fairly balanced.
Buzz: 2/3 Light buzz after 2/3 glass.

The beer tasted better the longer I enjoyed it, it was a sipping beer, and hints of spice started to show as it warmed. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tasting Briefs

Lots of seasonal beers and not enough time to take detailed tasting notes means I will summarize:

Stiegl Goldbrau Lager - Very malty and smooth Austrian beer, but a bit too sweet.

Sierra Nevada Celebration - Tasty beer, hoppy, red in color and reminiscent of Dogfish Head's 90 min IPA. 

Stone Levitation Ale - Very good, the lightest beer offered by Stone at 4.4% alcohol.

Alaska Smoked Porter - Amazing beer, like a great cigar or fine wine, complex deep and rich flavored.

Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe Marzen - A great beer, very malty, but not too sweet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brew 11 Extra Stout

I wanted to brew a good winter beer, and decided on a stout. I juiced it up with a bit of Agave syrup with a target gravity of 1.090. It came out with a bit too much volume, but considering that, the gravity was pretty good at 1.082. I discovered that my mash keg has a hard time maintaining higher temperatures. I will insulate it some more and try one more brew and if the problem continues I will replace it with a cooler.

Strategy: Dough in at 168, observe drop to 153,
rest 30 min.
Heat Decoction and mash out at 160

3:13 PM 11/8/2008 strike temp=168
3:33 PM 11/8/2008 Temp dropped too quickly, reheating water.
3:50 PM 11/8/2008 Temp = 164
3:52 PM 11/8/2008 Dough in - Mash temp = 152
4:05 PM 11/8/2008 Temp Check = 150
4:25 PM 11/8/2008 Temp Check = 151
4:30 PM 11/8/2008 Started Decoction - 1.5-2 gal
4:45 PM 11/8/2008 Decoction boiling
4:55 PM 11/8/2008 Stopped Decoction Boil, return to mash
5:34 PM 11/8/2008 Sparge Water = 180, starting sparge
5:54 PM 11/8/2008 4 gallons in boil kettle, started heat
6:11 PM 11/8/2008 Runoff complete, 9 gallons of wort!
6:13 PM 11/8/2008 Boil Started

6:22 PM 11/8/2008 Added Centennial and Galena hops
7:02 PM 11/8/2008 Added 15 min hops
7:15 PM 11/8/2008 Added 3 min hops
7:19 PM 11/8/2008 started chill
8:03 PM 11/8/2008 Og = 1.082, volume = 6.5 gallons

Update - The recipe had too little roasted barley, and too much agave. It packed quite a punch, and after 3 months was finally conditioned and tasted ok though.

13 lbs American 2-row
.5 lbs Crystal 60
.75 lbs Roasted Barley
1 lbs Chocolate malt
.5 lbs Dextrine Malt
.5 lbs Munich Malt
0.5 lbs Dry Light
1.5 lbs Honey
1.0 oz Centennial (8.70%) - added during boil, boiled 60.0 min
1.0 oz Galena (10.0%) - added during boil, boiled 60.0 min
0.5 oz Cascade (5.5%) - added during boil, boiled 5.0 min
0.5 oz Willamette (5.0%) - added during boil, boiled 5.0 min
0.0 oz Cascade (5.5%) - added dry to secondary fermenter
0.0 oz Willamette (5.0%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tasting: Brew 10 Pale Ale

This is my 4th effort to make a good pale ale, this time I increased the flavor and aroma hops as well as the bittering hops. For some reason the final gravity ended up too high, and the fermentation temperature was too high so I am not there yet, but I am getting closer.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 2/3 Beautiful copper color, thick off-white head, champagne-like bubbles minor haze.
Head: 3/3 Light, thick head that lasts.
Aroma: 3/3 Nice hop aroma, surrounding subtle malt.
Flavor: 2/3 Somewhat dry, nice bitterness with strong hops, and some yeast a bit sweet.
Mouth feel: 2/3 Medium body (for a pale ale), somewhat overly carbonated, sweet flavor remains after swallowing fading to hoppy tartness.
Overall: 2/3 This is a very drinkable beer. The hops are a little more forward than necessary, and it is still a bit too sweet, but I think I have worked out why and will fix that in the next brew.
Buzz: 2/3 Light buzz after 2/3 glass.

I am quite pleased with this beer. It is more complex because I used 3 different hops, and the aroma and flavor that were lacking in the prior effort are there, perhaps a bit too strong. The bitterness is nice too.

Brewing Notes:
5:54 PM 8/22/2008 Heat started.

Strategy: Dough in at 145, observe drop to 135
Lauter/Heat until 148
Rest 30 min
Lauter/Heat until 160
Rest 30 min

5:13 PM 9/27/2008 Dough in at 145
5:18 PM 9/27/2008 mash temp = 135
5:23 PM 9/27/2008 mash temp = 140
5:27 PM 9/27/2008 Started heating sparge water
5:58 PM 9/27/2008 Mash temp = 158
6:06 PM 9/27/2008 Cooled to 150
6:28 PM 9/27/2008 Recirc up to 160
6:43 PM 9/27/2008 Start Sparge
8:22 PM 9/27/2008 Start Boil
8:28 PM 9/27/2008 Added .8 oz Chinook Hops
9:15 PM 9/27/2008 insert chiller
9:25 PM 9/27/2008 add 5 min hops + irish moss
9:30 PM 9/27/2008 Stop heat + add aroma hops + start chill
10:01 PM 9/27/2008 og = 1.054, taste is thin, not bitter.

3:11 PM 9/28/2008 Fermenter is bubbling away

11 lbs American 2-row
8 oz Crystal Malt 40°L
4 oz Crystal Malt 60°L
4 oz Carapils®/Carafoam®
.85 oz Chinook (13.0%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min
.5 oz Liberty (4.0%) - added during boil, boiled 5 min
.5 oz Cascade (5.5%) - added during boil, boiled 5 min
.5 oz Liberty (4.0%) - added during boil, boiled 0.0 min
.5 oz Cascade (5.5%) - added during boil, boiled 0.0 min

Notes on Lagering

N. Jufer (I am not sure if he wants to be quoted, but I need to attribute this to him since it is a direct quote)  responded to a question about lagering on the American Homebrew Association digest email I got today with an entirely different approach from what I used on the Pilsner I completed recently.  I used the Noonan (based on the German) method.  I think I will try this next time:

Rather than repeat rigid old school German lager practice (as in Noonan's "New Brewing Lager Beer"), I will relater to you what works for me (and works quite well judging by competition results). I drew on George Fix's similar experience as related in the Classic Beer Styles Book "Vienna-Marzen-Octoberfest". Also Palmer and Zainasheff have similar recommendations in "Brewing Classic Styles. My basic process is to pitch a big pitch of yeast on wort at 46 to 47 degrees F and let it ferment to completion at 50 degrees. Sometimes after a week to 10 days I will raise the temperature to mid-50's to finish the fermentation, but in all cases I let it ferment to completion in primary. This means, bubbling has virtually ceased and almost all the yeast has fallen and the beer is clear. This is generally fourteen to twenty eight days and is dependent on OG, fermentability of the wort, and on yeast strain, pitching rate, yeast health,  and the temperature regimen used.
Being a keg brewer, At this point I rack to the finishing keg and cool it in the refrigerator at 34 degrees. George preferred to cool the primary down to 34 degrees before transferring to keg (which aids in dropping more of the yeast still in suspension. I generally don't have room in my little fridge to do this so I transfer at 50 degrees F or whatever the finishing temperature was. Then the Corny keg is put in the fridge which is set at 34 degrees. I begin force carbonation immediately which by my process usually takes about 10 to 14 days to achieve. I usually don't hook up the out side of the keg during that period. When I do I pull off the yeast from the bottom and take two ounce samples every four days to a week or so until it clears to brilliant. This usually takes two to three weeks but the beer is not at its best until around four to six weeks (bocks and baltic porters even longer).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tasting: Budweiser American Ale

I have only read one good review of this beer, and several ambivalent reviews. I think it would be properly classified as an Amber Ale. I have 2 favorites in this category: Deschutes Green Lakes Amber Ale, and Firestone Double Barrel Ale, and this beer is nothing like them.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Beautiful copper color, nice off-white head, champagne-like bubbles.
Head: 3/3 Light, thick head that lasts.
Aroma: 2/3 Very light hops, and maybe some malt?? .
Flavor: 2/3 Very dry, somewhat watery, some yeast bitterness, and light hops, no malt.
Mouth feel: 1/3 Very light body, somewhat overly carbonated.
Overall: 1.5/3 Not very ale-like, very light in flavor, aroma, and bitterness, a few weird flavors that are very subtle, but definately there.
Buzz: 0/3 No buzz after 22 oz.

This is not a bad beer, but it isn't a good beer either. It is the best Budweiser I have had, but not as good as some of the Michelob beers like Amber Bock. A bit more gravity wouldn't hurt, but this is a very drinkable beer.

After purchasing this beer, but before posting this review, I read a couple interesting posts on Beervana discussing whether or not this should be considered a "craft beer".  As you can see in my comments, I do not, for the following reasons, repeated here:

Craft brewers and craft beer generally avoid the use of adjuncts unless it is used traditionally, like adding Belgian sugar to a Trippel, and don't use ingredients that the style doesn't call for to change the appearance or flavor or the beer.

After tasting Budweiser American Ale (as an example) 3 things made me suspicious::

1. The head retention was much better than I have ever seen on a light-bodied ale.

2. The body was much lighter than the color would normally permit

3. There were some very subtle off-flavors that I haven't noticed in an ale before.

These could all be in my head, but the above, combined with the fact that the label does not claim "using ONLY the finest malts, hops and water" or something equivelent tells me that the beer has been engineered with adjuncts and ingredients to position it where Budweiser thinks it will be best received by macro-beer drinkers.

If any of the above are true, this is NOT a craft beer in my opinion.  It doesn't mean it isn't good beer, but the whole point of craft beer to me is to work to get basic ingredients to do what you want in the beer, accepting that there are tradeoffs, and trying to achieve the best balance with what you have.  I think adding chemicals to aid with head retention, or rice to thin an ale changes it into something else, and would be analagous to using acrylic paint to touch up an oil painting.  It may look great, but it is no longer an oil painting.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Force Carbonation

Brew 8 has completed fermentation and lagering, it doesn't taste that great yet, but hopefully it will come around during bottle conditioning?? I am trying to force carbonate for the first time. I used a carbonation chart which tells what psi to apply to the beer at what temperature to achieve the desired level of carbonation. Pilsners typically have 2.4 volumes of CO2 and I am keeping it at 40deg (F) so I applied 12.5 PSI and will hope for the best.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fischer's Biere D'Alsace Amber Ale

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a large stemmed glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Beautiful copper color, nice off-white head, champagne-like bubbles.
Head: 1.5/3 Light head thins quickly.
Aroma: 2/3 Light malt, and fruity, grape-like smell no discernible hops on the nose.
Flavor: 2/3 Sweet, malty, hint of fruit, no discernable hops or very light bitterness slight musty aftertaste from the english hops.
Mouth feel: 2.5/3 Light body with light malt lingering on the palette.
Overall: 2/3 Not very beerlike, very light in flavor, aroma, and bitterness, but I really enjoyed it. This would be a great beer on a hot summer day.
Buzz: 2/3 This beer has a serious kick considering how light the body is, at 6%.

The alcohol percent exceeds many beers with heavier body which makes me suspect some other fermentables are used. Fisher's is owned by Heineken.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Great American Beer Festival

I don't know if I will ever attend the Great American Beer Festival or not, 3 days seems an awful short time to enjoy all the Beer that America has to offer.  A very special congratulations to AlesSmith for being the second San Diego brewery in 2 years to win small brewer of the year:

Here are the categories with the most entries submitted:
  1. Category: 46 American-Style India Pale Ale - 104 Entries
  2. Category: 4 Fruit or Vegetable Beer - 87 Entries
  3. Category: 12 Experimental Beer - 82 Entries
  4. Category: 17 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer - 79 Entries
  5. Category: 44 American-Style Pale Ale - 76 Entries
Making beer is not about winning contests, and I am sure that some of the best beer being brewed in the US wasn't even submitted for review this year, but I am still very interested in which breweries are doing well, and which beers are well reviewed.  I naturally root for San Diego and Oregon brewers.  Here is how they did (see the entire list of results here):

Category: 5 Herb and Spice or Chocolate BeerCategory: 5 Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer - 72 Entries
Bronze: State Beach Blonde, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 7 Specialty Beer - 21 Entries
Silver: Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Rogue Ales, Portland, OR

Category: 10 Session Beer - 33 Entries
Bronze: Blonde Bombshell, Cascade Lakes Brewing Co., Redmond, OR

Category: 12 Experimental Beer - 82 Entries
Bronze: Le Pelican Brun, Pelican Pub & Brewery, Paciic City, OR

Category: 13 Gluten-Free Beer - 10 Entries
Bronze: Chinquapin Butte Golden Ale, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR

Category: 14 American-Belgo Style Ale - 36 Entries
Bronze: Big Wednesday, Pizza Port Solana Beach, Solana Beach, CA

Category: 15 American-Style or German-Style Sour Ale - 34 Entries
Gold: The Dissident, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR

Category: 18 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer - 27 Entries
Bronze: Cascade Kriek Ale, Cascade Brewing Co., Portland, OR

Category: 19 Aged Beer - 38 Entries
Silver: Vintage Speedway Stout, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Category: 22 International-Style Pilsener - 22 Entries
Gold: Session Premium Lager, Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR

Category: 23 German-Style Pilsener - 44 Entries
Silver: Party Pants Pilsener, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 25 Munich-Style Helles - 30 Entries
Gold: Himmelbrau Helles, Laurelwood Brewing Co., Portland, OR

Category: 41 English-Style Summer Ale - 34 Entries
Gold: Surfer’s Summer Ale, Pelican Pub & Brewery, Paciic City, OR

Category: 42 Classic English-Style Pale Ale - 48 Entries
Gold: Full Sail Pale Ale, Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR

Category: 45 American-Style Strong Pale Ale - 71 Entries
Bronze: Organic IPA, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Portland, OR

Category: 46 American-Style India Pale Ale - 104 Entries
Bronze: Hop Head, Bend Brewing Co., Bend, OR

Category: 47 Imperial or Double India Pale Ale - 50 Entries
Gold: Hopnotic 2X IPA, San Diego Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Bronze: Hop 15, Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, CA

Category: 48 American-Style Amber/Red Ale - 65 Entries
Gold: Dry Hopped Red, Rogue Ales, Portland, OR
Bronze: American Amber, Rogue Ales, Portland, OR

Category: 50 Bitter or Pale Mild Ale - 42 Entries
Gold: Drop Top, Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland, OR

Category: 51 Extra Special Bitter or Strong Bitter - 43 Entries
Gold: Bachelor ESB, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR

Category: 53 Irish-Style Red Ale - 31 Entries
Silver: Ragtop Red, Rock Bottom Brewery - La Jolla, La Jolla, CA

Category: 67 Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout - 19 Entries
Bronze: Port Truck Stout, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 68 Foreign-Style Stout - 28 Entries
Silver: Black Bear XX Stout, Alameda Brewhouse, Portland, OR

Category: 70 Sweet Stout - 19 Entries
Bronze: Cow Stout, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 72 Imperial Stout - 44 Entries
Silver: Night Rider Imperial Stout, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 73 Strong Scotch Ale - 38 Entries
Gold: AleSmith Wee Heavy, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Silver: Way Heavy, Pizza Port San Clemente, Carlsbad, CA

Category: 74 Old Ale or Strong Ale - 40 Entries
Gold: AleSmith Decadence Old Ale, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Category: 75 Barley Wine-Style Ale - 55 Entries
Gold: Treblehook, Redhook Ales Brewery, Portland, OR
Silver: AleSmith Old Numbskull, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
 - 72 Entries
Bronze: State Beach Blonde, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA

Brew 9:Winter Warmer with Notes on Batch Sparging

Brad and I went in on our equipment for the first few brews, to reduce our exposure in case we didn't want to continue, and to help us get started faster. I bought the burner and pot for our first extract, he bought the Carboy and the rest of the equipment.

As we continued to brew, I slowly added to my equipment list until I had everything to brew all-grain, and now he is doing the same. Two weeks ago Brad and I brewed a Winter Warmer at his house, using his equipment with the exception of my Mash/Lauter Tun as he is still building his (more on that once it is done). We only had two vessels so I assumed that we could batch sparge, but the results were terrible efficiency.

After re-checking the procedure, I now realize that batch sparging still requires 3 vessels:
  1. A mash/lauter tun (holds the grain over a false bottom)
  2. A Hot liquor tank (maintains clear water at 170 degreees)
  3. A boil kettle, or a runoff vessel capable of holding the total volume of Wort.
The reason you can't do it with two vessels is because you actually have to sparge 3 times to get decent efficiency:
  1. After the mash is complete, add enough water to increase temp to 160, then recycle until clear, then sparge until the runoff slows.
  2. Add half the remaining sparge water (heated to 170), recycle until clear, then sparge until the runoff slows.
  3. Add the remaining sparge water (heated to 170), recycle until clear, then sparge until the runoff slows.
On low gravity batches, if you are willing to accept very low efficiencies, you can reduce the number of steps. Since we only had 2 vessels we added all our sparge water to the mash and drew the wort of in one large batch sparge. While our target gravity was 1.088, we only achieved an original gravity of 1.070, a huge difference! There was no way we could have achieved 1.088 with that equipment unless we lowered our yield to 4 gallons, and boiled off an additional gallon to thicken the wort.

What we did instead, once we realized our beer would have too much bitterness for the gravity we achieved, was boil 2 lbs of Dry Malt Extract (DME) into 2 quarts of wort and add it to the primary to boost the gravity to somewhere near our target and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tasting:Humbolt Brewing Hemp Ale

My wife and I hosted an Oktoberfest party which was also a late 40th birthday last week. We had over a dozen beers on offer and some great food. We had 4 different Oktoberfest beers, the orginal (Spaten) was the best, but all were enjoyable. One of my friends brought the Hemp Ale and was curious to know how it tasted since we didn't get around to tasting it during the party, so I promised him I would post a review:

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Gorgeous mahogany color, nice off-white head.
Head: 1.3/3 Thin head that disappears after 1/4 glass.
Aroma: 2/3 Rich malt smell with hint of fruit .
Flavor: 2/3 Sweet, malty, hint of roast, no discernable hops or bitterness.
Mouth feel: 2.5/3 Medium body with light malt lingering on the palette.
Overall: 1.5/3 Drinkable, not bad, but nothing stands out to make me want more.
Buzz: 2/3 Moderate buzz after 1 glass.

I am not sure, but it could be that the hemp is used in place of hops as a bittering agent.  I read elsewhere that the stems of the hemp is used, not the leaves or bud.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brew 8 - Pilsner

It has been a couple weeks since brewing a czech-style pilsner, and the beer is fermenting comfortably at 52deg (F) in my chest freezer.

This was another brew that I am very thankful I had brewing software for. I have several recipes for Pilsner, and this one was very basic using primarily 2-row instead of imported malt, but I thought the hops looked low.

I loaded the recipe into Beer Tools and saw that the bitterness was about 30% lower than the range for the style, so I boosted them up to be within the range. Here is the recipe:

Here are my brewing notes:

5:54 PM 8/22/2008 Burner started under Mash/Lauter Tun

Strategy: Mash in at 140(F), observe drop to 128
Recirc/Heat to 145(F)
Single Decoction to 150 (F)
Recirc/Heat until 160(F)

5:59 PM 8/22/2008 Temp = 158, replace water and recirc.
6:10 PM 8/22/2008 Dough in @ 141
6:14 PM 8/22/2008 Temp = 132
6:34 PM 8/22/2008 3 recirc. @ 1 qt ea + dir heat - Temp ~ 145
6:35 PM 8/22/2008 Start 1st Decoction
6:51 PM 8/22/2008 Decoction ph = 5.0, mash ph = 5.4
6:51 PM 8/22/2008 Mash temp = 145
6:59 PM 8/22/2008 recirc. + return decoction + direct heat
7:00 PM 8/22/2008 temp @ 150
7:04 PM 8/22/2008 2nd decoction
7:13 PM 8/22/2008 temp uneven 152 - 160
7:24 PM 8/22/2008 end 2nd decocotation
7:26 PM 8/22/2008 Direct heat + recirc.
7:32 PM 8/22/2008 temp @155
7:35 PM 8/22/2008 Starting sparge water heat - 6 gallons
8:05 PM 8/22/2008 Water at 180
8:11 PM 8/22/2008 Started Sparging, 1st runnings at ?? (hydrometer is broken)
8:40 PM 8/22/2008 Started boil
9:15 PM 8/22/2008 2.5 oz of Saaz hops
10:00 PM 8/22/2008 Added Irish Moss
10:05 PM 8/22/2008 put immersion chiller in
10:12 PM 8/22/2008 added .5 oz of Saaz hops
10:17 PM 8/22/2008 stopped boil, started chill
10:24 PM 8/22/2008 temp = 130
10:58 PM 8/22/2008 finished cleanup, beer in primary at 75 degrees, temp controller set at 70 degrees.

The mash tun spout was positioned over a 6 qt enamel pot with a burner under it, and when recirculating I would heat the wort up to 160 and then pour it over the grain bed.

When applying direct heat, I would also draw the bottom fluid off so it didn't heat up too much, the fluid was coming out at around 160, and then pour it over the grain bed.

My decoctions must have been too small since the temperature rise was a lot lower then I expected.

The next morning I purchased a new hydrometer and took a gravity reading, it was 1.050, I have no idea what the original gravity was. 1.050? 1.052? the target was 156 so it came in lower than expected.

I pitched from a 750cc starter and the primary started to ferment almost exactly 24 hours after pitching, 36 hours after pitching I dropped the temp to 60(F), 48 hours after I dropped to 55(f) and then to 50(f) where it bubbled away.

After 10 days, I transfered to secondary then slowly raised the temp. to 63(f) for 2 days (diacetl rest), then 1-2 degrees per day, I lowered the temp to 38(f) where it has been for 2 weeks now.  I used a 5 gallon corny keg for secondary, it is a very nice fermentation vessel for secondary fermentation and I plan to use them from now on.

The beer was very clear, somewhat thin and a little bitter when I tasted it during racking, we will see how it ends up after lagering is complete.  I purchased some Malto Dextrose so I can add a little body if needed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tasting: Paulaner Salvator Double Bock

I am preparing to brew my first lager. I have a temp. controller, and a chest freezer to keep the temps right, and I purchased a book on lager brewing, and am reading everything else I can find on the subject.

Reading about beer makes you really thirsty for beer, and reading about lagers makes me thirsty for a rich malty German beer. So I picked a few up the other day at Bevmo, and tonight I am drinking the first one.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Gorgeous copper color, nice off-white head.
Head: 3/3 Moderate head that lasts at least half the glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Rich malts with subtle hops .
Flavor: 3/3 Rich, sweet, malty. A touch of alcohol. You can actually taste the barley in this beer. Smokey, roasty, toasty goodness.
Mouth feel: 2.5/3 This beer is a bit heavy on the palette, still quite nice though. Moderate carbonation.
Overall: 2.75/3 Really, tasty. Even in the summer this beer is amazing.
Buzz: 3/3 Forget about it half a glass gets you a buzz, 7.9% ABV.

So many lagers, especially American lagers, lack character. No malty taste, no hops, nothing to grab on to. German beer can be the same, but they are generally so much better.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tasting: Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale (DBA)

Firestone lists the malts for this beer as:Two-Row,Marris Otter,Munich,Crystal,Chocolate Color=16l
Hops: Bittering - Magnum, Flavor/Aroma - Golding, Dry Hop - Golding IBU=32

Tasting: Chilled to ~45 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 beautiful copper color, clear.
Head: 2/3 Light head that thins before the glass is half empty.
Aroma: 3/3 Understated hops, rich malt and hints of smoke and vanilla .
Flavor: 3/3 Wonderful pale ale with smokey oak, subtle malt and even more subtle hops, .
Mouth feel: 3/3 This beer has great body, not heavy, but silky in the mouth. Moderate carbonation.
Overall: 3/3 This is a great Amber ale, not an easy one to reproduce since oak barrels don't come cheap.
Buzz: 3/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 5% ABV.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tasting: Full Sail Pale Ale

When up in Oregon, my friend Dave and I were enjoying a Rogue Ale, and he said his favorite ale was Full Sail, so of course I bought a 6-pack before leaving Oregon. The Full Sail brewery is located in one of my 2 dream places to live in Oregon; Hood River (the other is Bend). Less than an hour to the sunny side of Mt. Hood, in the Columbia River Gorge, it is an outdoors lover's paradise. It is famous for its fruit, its windsurfing, and access to the mountains and trout streams in the area.

Tasting: Chilled to ~45 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 2.5/3 Slight haze, but a beautiful light orange.
Head: 2/3 Light head that thins before the glass is half empty.
Aroma: 3/3 Almost perfect balance between the tangerine of the hops and the mild, rich malt .
Flavor: 2.5/3 The hops lead out, with the malt following behind. Bitterness balances out the sweetness nicely.
Mouth feel: 3/3 This beer has great body, not heavy, but silky in the mouth. Moderate carbonation.
Overall: 2.5/3 A very nice ale. I have had others I enjoyed more, but it is better than most. The yeast leaves this beer nice and dry but the brewer did not brew it too thin, so it is very nice overall.
Buzz: 3/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 5.4% ABV.

Dave's is a man who knows good beer. As I progress along this path of beer reviews, I find that my standards are getting higher. 6 months ago this beer would have received a perfect score. Now that I have tasted more, I know that there are a couple ales out there that are hard to beat. I will review them in the next month or so.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My first shift as a brewer's assistant

My goal of owning my own brewery, while it still sounds fun, doesn't feel very realistic. I am not sure that I would be willing to sacrifice enough of my time, money and energy to make it work, and San Diego County already has more than a dozen breweries so I am not sure that another one is in great demand either.

But I still love brewing, I honestly enjoy it more than drinking, so when I heard that a small brewery within driving distance allows people to help out on brew day, I jumped at the chance.

I am not going to identify the brewery (the photo is from another brewery) because I don't want to create any damage by publicly writing about someone else's business without their consent. I am sure that anyone familiar with the brewery will recognize it, but I just don't want to point to them directly.

I asked if it would be OK for me to help out one night during a brew and the head brewer said come on over, so I showed up at 4:30pm to help with 2 brews of ale.

There were about 8 other people there; the head brewer, 2 other brewers and some other employees and 3-4 other volunteers. People came and went throughout the night with the head brewer and other 2 brewers being very much in charge, but other people who had been helping out also kicked in when something needed to be done, like cutting heat to a kettle boiling over, or cleaning, or removing the protein from the boiling wort. In total, I would estimate that 20 people came and went during the evening, with an average of 8 on hand at any one point.

The equipment is a very interesting mixture of new and old, professional and home-brew, which is good for me, since it means there is a lot of work to complete a brew and they can really use the help.

The malt had been milled and staged for 2 brews of strong ale, with 600 lbs of grain going into 200 gallons of water for each brew. The first batch was very dense so it took a long time to lauter. They mashed in at around 155, which turned out to be a bit low, and they had to cycle the wort through the boil kettles for almost 2 hours to reach their target mash temperature. Because of the setup, quite a bit of water evaporated and the mash bed became quite dense and took a long time to drain through the false bottom. It was 11pm before we could start on the second batch. The second batch went much better, they mashed in with more water and at 158 and the mash reached target temperature in less than half the time, and things went quickly after that.

I was able to help with almost all aspects of the brew, doughing in (loading the malt into the hot water), working the pump to move the water from the HLT to the lauter tun, and to recirculate the wort to raise the temperature. I also helped filling the pots with filtered water, connecting the hoses, squeegeeing the floor, scrubbing the boil kettle between brews. My main task during the evening was to remove the protiens (also called hot-break) from the top of the boiling wort. It got tiring after a few hours, and the next day, my muscles ached from leaning over the hot pot and scooping.

During the evening I got to talk to the head brewer a lot, asking questions about water quality and composition, his beer selection (ie why he brews the beers he does). I feel like I got a very strong sense of what he is shooting for. I was able to guess what kind of yeast and hops he used by tasting one of his beers, and it was really fun to learn from someone so experienced.

After working for 8.5 hours, I finally left at 1:00am just as they started the boil for the second batch. I would have liked to stay to the end, but I had to wake up at 8am the next day and I was very tired so I went on home.

Everyone at the brewery was very friendly after I stuck around for a few hours and they saw me really helping out. I really had a great time and plan to stick with it until I think I am able to run an entire brew on my own (I don't expect them to let me, I just want to have it in my head how to do it), and will help out during kegging, and cleaning so I get a complete picture of what goes on.

It was a very exciting evening for me, and I am glad to get a chance to see if this line of work would be enjoyable full-time or not. It will kind of stink to give up my evenings for a while, but I have the support of my wife and I think it will be well worth it for the experience.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tasting Rogue Shakespeare Stout

The second beer from Rogue I have tasted, this beer comes with a complete ingredient list on the side:

Harrington, Klages Crystal and Chocolate Malt
Rolled Oats and Roasted barley
Cascade Hops

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Opaque, thick as mud, but in a good way.
Head: 3/3 Rich cappuccino head that lasts.
Aroma: 3/3 Chocolaty, roasted malt with cascade hops .
Flavor: 3/3 On the tounge, the flavor starts with deeply roasted malt, then the hops come on strongly with a dark toffee/dark chocolate flavor that lingers.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Almost velvety, this beer is suprisingly light on the pallette, moderate carbonation, the beer leaves the mouth and remains roasted and smokey in the throat.
Overall: 3/3 Great Stout, an excellent contrast to Guiness and more mainstream stouts while not has heavy as some others. Still easy to drink and quite enjoyable.
Buzz: 2/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 6% ABV.

Tasting: Eric and Brad's Belgian Tripple

If you have had a Chimay you are familiar with this type of beer. Made from a Northern Brewer kit it included relatively few hops and Belgian sugar candy in the ingredients.

The problem is that my West Coast USA tongue is calibrated for hoppy ales, IPAs, stouts and porters, and I also like the Malty Bravarian Octoberfest and Czech Pilsners.

A Belgain tripple is a whole other beer, low in hops and not very malty, it has it's own taste profile. The first couple bottles I had, I didn't enjoy that much because it was so different. Finally one evening I was having a chocolate chip cookie I had just made and thought, you know, the tripple would go well with this and gave it a try.

It was delicious. So in the future if you need a beer to go with your dessert course, pour a Belgian Tripple.

Tasting: Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

No detailed notes this time, but this was a great beer. Not too far off (although quite different from) Dogfish's 90 minute ale.

High in IBUs (ie Hops) and ABV (ie Alchohol), it tastes like a regular Sierra Nevada with twice the malt and hops. This is an IPA but edges into Barleywine territory in it's flavor and texture, if not its ABV.

It also came in a 24 oz bottle instead of 22oz. More beer. Always a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tasting: Rogue Dead Guy Ale

I picked up a case of Rogue Dead Guy Ale during my tour, the photo doesn't have a picture of the bottle since they used some Chocolate Stout bottles for some reason.

I am glad I read the Rogue Brews page before I tasted, since I assumed it was a Pale Ale, but it is actually a Maibock. With 4 malts and 2 hops (Saaz and Pearle) it tastes quite different from a Pale Ale while the body and bitterness is similar.

I am starting to see that Rogue is all about doing whatever the hell they want. As far as I can tell they don't even make a standard Pale Ale.

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Brilliant clarity, rich copper beer.
Head: 2/3 nice head of fine medium bubbles that disperse quickly.
Aroma: 3/3 Subtle noble hops, overlaying a rich malt aroma .
Flavor: 3/3 Simple flavor nice malt, with subtle hops very subtle sweetness, and a bit of something like caramel.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very pleasant mouth feel, moderate carbonation with prominent malt, then a light sweetness and hops in the aftertaste.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is good. I have very little experience with Maibock, but it is the best I have had.
Buzz: 3/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 6.5 ABV.

Once I found out that this wasn't a Pale Ale, the beer made better sense. This is a very drinkable beer, light body, great aroma, it will not get in the way of almost any food you enjoy it with, and is great to drink on its own.

Tasting: Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale

I had this beer at the Deschutes Brewpub in Bend and my brother-in-law picked up a case and shared a 6-pack with me. I can get some of Deschute's beers in SoCal, but I haven't seen this one yet, so I am glad to have a few to enjoy until my next visit to Oregon.

This is the first organic beer I have had. It was priced the same as the other beers at the brewery, so there is no reason not to go organic in this case. This is properly classified as an Amber Ale, the bottle indicates that Liberty and Sterling hops are used.

Tasting: Chilled to ~45 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Crystal clear, rich amber beer.
Head: 2.5/3 nice head of fine bubbles that disperse slowly.
Aroma: 3/3 Prominent hop aroma, almost mask an underlying rich malt .
Flavor: 3/3 Perfect balance of hops and malt, very subtle sweetness, and a bit of smoke.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very pleasant mouth feel, moderate carbonation with prominent malt, then smoke and hops in the aftertaste.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is wonderful, second only to Black Butte porter among Deschutes offerings.
Buzz: 2.5/3 Medium buzz after 1 glass, 5.2 ABV.

I don't fully trust my judgment yet, but I think this beer may really take off for Deschutes. Amber Ales are a great style and very accessible to all types of drinkers and this beer is really good.

I really like the Deschutes labels. This one is a Topo map of Green Lake, and after looking at it a bit harder, I realized that the fictional lake is suspiciously shaped like the Deschutes brand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brewery Tour: Stone Brewery

I neglected to bring my camera for this tour, but you can visit their website to see the photos of their pub and gift shop.

Although I have a lot of respect for Stone and do enjoy their beer, it isn't my favorite. I like hoppy beer, but theirs has a sharper, more piney bitterness than I like due the their hop selection. By the time you get half-way through a pint it mellows though, it is in those first few mouthfuls that you taste the sharpness.

Stone runs 5 tours on Saturday and 2 tours per day on other days during the summer, and they are full. They are generous with the samples (after the tour), and the tour is well done. They have a new 200bbl brewery, constructed in the past 3 years.

During the tour, we were encouraged to taste some barley and smell some hops. Engaging all the senses really does improve the experience. It was an interesting mix of people touring the brewery, some had no idea about Stone beer, others seemed to have no idea about craft beer. The tour guide could have done better when someone asked why Stone beer cost more than Budweiser, but generally did a great job and was knowledgeable about the brewery. Some items I noticed/learned about commercial brewing on this tour for the first time:

  • There is a huge hopper into which the crushed grain is loaded that also serves as a scale. They load about 7500lbs of malt per batch.
  • When loading the wort into the fermenter, it is injected through the yeast from the bottom ensuring lots of agitation of the yeast.
  • Because of the amount of yeast used, fermentation takes as little as 24 hours!
  • Because the water in this area is not that great, the water supply is split into two different filters, a carbon filter and a triple osmosis filter, and then blended to achieve the correct mixture of minerals.
Overall I think it was a great tour. The brewery was spotless, no hoses on the sealed, concrete floor. The brewers work in a small office just off the whirlpool vessel and, since everything is automated, no one was walking around the brew vessels during the tour. (Although I am not sure how the hops are added to the boil kettle, maybe that is done manually.) The tour went right next to all the equipment in contrast to the Rogue tour where the brew vessels were tucked in a corner, and Deschutes where the tour was conducted from a catwalk.

The gift shop was very nice, you can get growlers re-filled, and there is information about lots of events that Stone hosts including Beer University. After the tour, while tasting, I met a great couple from Oceanside that help out at a local smaller brewery. They said that the small operation welcomes volunteers who want to help out on brew day so I will check it out to see if maybe I can volunteer there.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tasting: Comparison of Brew4 vs Brew6

Our first all-grain brew, and 4th brew overall was a basic Ale as was our 6th. I changed the recipe slightly for the 6th brew to give more hop bitterness in hopes that it would offset the sweetness, and to tone down the hop aroma. They have both aged so now is a good time to compare them.

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: Both look good now that they have aged, Brew 6 is slightly clearer and slightly darker in color.
Head: Both have very nice heads that last well down the glass
Aroma: Very similar aroma, it is difficult to tell but brew6 is a bit more subdued. The problem is that the first one you smell desensitizes your nose and the second one comes off much lighter in aroma.
Mouth feel: Both have a rich, velvety, almost heavy mouth feel, with Brew6 being slightly more bitter, slightly less sweet.
Overall: Brew6 is the marginally better beer. If the body were lighter both would benefit. I don't think I should add more hops since the bitterness is as high as an ale should go in my opinion, in fact once I do reduce the body a bit I suspect Brew6 will be a bit too bitter.

Brewery Tour: Rogue Brewery

After the great time I had touring the Deschutes Brewery, I was eager to visit another one. We planned to head to the Oregon coast just south of Newport to spend a couple nights with some friends and so I looked up the Rogue Brewery and found it was right on the way.

Rogue offers 1 tour a day at 3pm, and there were 40 people on the tour. They offer no free samples of beer, although their Brewers on the Bay Pub is just above the brewery and offers a sample tray for $6.00. I had never tasted a Rogue beer before. I have been tempted many times, but never purchased one because their beer is so expensive! It costs at least 20% more than similar styles from San Diego County, and even in their hole-in-the-wall gift shop the 22oz bottles cost $5-6, and the 6-packs cost $10-12!!

I arrived early, but not early enough to order any beer so after waiting around for a while the tour kicked off on time, with me still wondering what the beer tastes like. The tour guide was a bar-tender, who has worked for Rogue for over 11 years in a few of their facilities and knew a lot about the company and the brewing process. The facilities are quite a bit rougher; no false floor around the brew vessels, rough concrete floor with hoses running about, some spent grains on the ground, fermentation vessels with spray-on insulation instead of jacketed. It was not at all unsanitary, but seemed more haphazard than I would expect a brewery to be.

Rogue uses a filter that uses crushed seashells as media to filter their beer prior to bottling, and their bottling line was a lot more compact than Deschutes' was.

Rogue has also just completed an expansion, I did not find out the size of their new brewery, but I would estimate it is around 50% the size of the Deschutes equipment. They brew a lot more types of beer at Rogue (up to 50 types a year), but they have 2 smaller breweries in Eugine and Issaquah, WA that can do the smaller batches. At one point about a year ago they were 7 months behind on deliveries so they had to expand. After expansion, they brewed 24 hours a day for 6 months just to catch up.

At the end of the tour the guide told us they were having a warehouse sale at the other end of the property so I picked up a case of 12 x 22oz bottles of Dead Man's Ale, which is pretty good, for $27, a good price. Their post popular beer is the Dead Man's Ale, after returning home I found out that their Shakespeare Stout is also well regarded so I will have to cough up the dough and give it a try.

Overall it was a good tour and a great contrast to the Deschutes tour. I was hoping to come away a true believer, but I think that their marketing message is too confusing. There is no theme that I can pick up on in their beers, their label art, the apparel they offer, or anything else. It is kind of pirate/hippie/burnout/rebel, but not strongly any one of those. I'm sure they think that it is all about the beer (and it is, their beer is very well regarded), but there is a lot of really great beer out there. I think it is important to help the consumer understand who you are and if they take the trouble to go to your facility and attend the tour and still don't have a clear picture of what you stand for, I think you really missed out on a great opportunity.

Brewery Tour: Deschutes Brewery

I was in Bend on vacation with all of my family (14 members in total), and asked my brother-in-law if he would like to visit the Deschutes Brewery and he was in. He had visited the Full-Sail bewery in Hood River earlier while I had never toured a brewery before.

I was excited to visit Deschutes Brewery, I really like their Porter, and their Mirror Pond Ale. I haven't had any of their other brews, but I am familiar with their story and was excited to learn more.

Before the tour we went to the Deschutes Brewpub in downtown Bend and had a delicious lunch. They include recommended pairings on the menu, had a good kid's menu and although they offer a sample board, I was curious to taste their Organic Ale (It was quite good, I will post a review later).

The tours kick off at 1pm, 2:30 and 4:00 and take about an hour. There are free tastings of all available beers (up to 4 samples per person) and children are welcome on the tour, although we did not bring ours. Our tour guide was in his mid-20's and knowledgeable about the company. He knew quite a bit about how things worked, and while there were some gaps in his knowlege about the brewing process, he gave a really great tour. One thing he did that was really cool was take us by the large hops cooler, and gave each of is a cone. We tore it apart and smelled and tasted them.

Deschutes has just completed an expansion. Their first brewery was in the brewpub, the second was a smaller (50bbl) JV Northwest system, and their third and most recent is a much larger (137bbl) Huppman brew house.

There are several distinguishing aspects to how they brew at Deschutes; they only use whole hops in their beer, almost all breweries use plug hops, and so their brewhouse includes an extra vessel, the Hop Back to remove the hops from the Wort prior to fermentation.

They clarify the beer by means of a separator centrifuge, not a plate filter or media filter.

One of the biggest surprises was that they have a blow-off tube on their huge fermenters just like homebrewers do, except that the tubes rest in a 55 gallon bucket of water and bubble furiously when active.

They have a rigorous QA process that involves isolated tasting booths and a spectrometer. Recent QA cases are retained for comparison purposes.

They have won several environmental awards for their brewhouse design: they recycle their spent grains by sending it to local farmers. They use heat exchangers to minimize energy consumption. Their bottles are shipped to them in the labeled cases with 6-pack cartons inside so that there is minimal waste in the bottling process as well.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Summer Hiatus

In spite of my efforts at insulation, the temperature in my garage is just too high to ferment, and will probably remain so for the next 4-5 months. I will probably purchase a freezer with a temperature controller to permit me to continue brewing, but funds are low for the next few weeks so I will have to wait and see how this quarter at my company goes. If I get a bonus in July I will probably get the freezer and try a Lager. I hope so since that is what most people I know drink and I am very interested to give it a try.

I have been training for a century, which I rode last weekend, and that has cut into my drinking, and brewing time too. Now that that is done, I hope to do some more tastings and post the results here, so stay tuned!

Big Brew Update

A brief update on the 4 brews:

Cascade Hops with West Coast Ale Yeast - Tastes just like before, too cloudy, too sweet. I will try again later and lower the mash temperatures. Also, the starter didn't have enough time so I will try to fix that later too.

Fuggle Hops with Coopers Yeast - Nasty

Fuggle Hops with Safeale Yeast - Tasty, I will offer up a more detailed tasting later.

Fuggle Hops with London Ale Yeast - Not too bad, I will offer up a more detailed tasting later.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brewery: Cool Box/Hot Box - Update

Temperatures the last two days have exceeded 90 degrees, and the temperatures in my garage, where my beer ferments, have exceeded 85. At night the temperature has been cooling down to the high 60's, but only for a couple hours.

Inside the cool box though, the temperature has only gotten to 73 degrees! The cool floor and the inch of insulation have been doing their part to keep the beer at optimum temperature. It is expected to be cooler tomorrow so this mini heat-wave has passed. During the month of August, when the hot days start to stack up 5-10 days in a row I doubt the temperature will be so cool, but by then I may have a freezer and a temp-controller to keep things cool since I want to start brewing lagers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bottling 4 Ales

I have been working the last 2 days to clean enough bottles for the large brew that I did a couple weeks ago, almost 8 gallons of beer. I first soak the bottles in a bleach solution for 1-2 hours, then scrape the labels off with a carpet scraper, then soak for a few more minutes and scub the glue off with a green cleaning pad. On some bottles, like the german beers I have had lately the labels slide right off. American brands are more stubborn, perhaps because Americans tend to put their beer bottles in ice-water to keep them cool and the breweries don't want the labels to come off.

After the bottles are clean, I then sanitize them in an iodophor solution for a couple minutes, set them to dry for a couple minutes, then cover them with foil. It took about 4 hours to clean and sanitize the 50 bottles required for the 7 gallons of beer to be bottles. Seeing the cool-box full of 72 servings of beer is pretty fulfilling. My friends will be sharing lots of Ale in a few weeks!

I was able to sample 2 of the 4 ales, and the Cascade recipe had benefited from the extra hops. The fuggles recipe with the London yeast was very fruity, it will be interesting to see how it tastes after conditioning.

I was able to save about 15 ounces of yeast from the Cascade batch and will re-use it next time I brew.

Brewery: Cool Box/Hot Box

Beer needs to stay at a specific temperature to ferment. Each variety of yeast has slightly different characteristics, but generally 70 deg. (F) is the ideal temperature for ales.

Last winter, I converted my bench/dog kennel into a warm box by putting a kenwood radiant heater in it and it worked quite well. We had a heat wave a couple weeks ago though, and the temperature inside the box began to climb and eventually reached 75 deg. (F), which is too warm, so I decided to insulate it further.

I went to Home Depot and purchased some R5 styrofoam sheets and cut and taped them into the inside of the box, and now the temperature is maintained throughout the day and it should stay cooler.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tasting: Disaster Porter

If you haven't been following the progress of this beer, read the articles where I brewed it, and then racked it first to see the history of this beer.

I bottled the disaster 2 weeks ago, and the taste at that time had improved yet again. I started to have a glimmer of hope and decided to bottle it rather than dump it.

Clearly, I have a lot to learn about hoppy beer (and most other types too for that matter). At each stage of production it tasted better, the bitter aftertaste subsided gradually and the flavors came slowly together. After bottle-conditioning for 3 weeks, it tasted great. Not what one would expect in a Porter, but good. At two different tastings with friends, it was a hit. I have never tasted a beer like it, and neither have my friends, although I am sure there is one out there. It doesn't fit into any category that existed 30 years ago, but it would be considered a robust porter now.

Tasting: Chilled to ~60 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Very dark, opaque but dark, dark brown, not black.
Head: 3/3 Thick but light head that lasts for most of the glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Rich smell of burnt malt with the slightest hints of chocolate, under a rich aroma of hops.
Flavor: 2/3 nice light malty flavor with strong hop finish.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Velvety on the palette, smooth medium body with light carbonation and sharp aftertaste of hops with subtle malt.
Overall: 2/3 A good beer, complex flavors of malt dominated by Hops.
Buzz: 3/3 Solid buzz after 1 glass.

Politics: Proposed Beer Tax

California Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr. Democrat from San Jose, CA is serving his first term in the California State assembly. Mr Beall, who has spent his entire life in Politics since graduating with a degree in urban planning from San Jose State, has proposed an increase in the tax on beer from 2 cents per bottle or can to 30 cents.

The current price of beer where I shop is from 40 cents to $1.25 per can/bottle, so this would increase prices from 20% to 75%.

Each time I leave California I am surprised by the increase in the price of alcohol, so it doesn't surprise me that someone hit on this as a way to raise revenue. The contrast is especially visible between Oregon and California when purchasing wine and spirits. Baileys costs twice as much in Oregon as it does in CA, and 2-buck chuck wine costs 3 dollars at the Trader Joe's in Oregon.

I suppose that with California's revenue problems it is better to tax items like Alcohol, Tabacco and other non-essentials, but on the face of it this is a stupid proposal.

If a 12-pack of beer costs as much as cheap rum or tequila, which do you think people will purchase? They both have the same amount of Alcohol, but which will people drink faster?

Why wouldn't a tax on wine also be appropriate? Maybe Jim has friends that drink wine but not beer?

Mr. Beall estimates that the bill will raise 2 billion dollars. I assume that is based on the number of 6-packs per year currently sold in California, but how likely is it that consumption stays even if the price increases 25-75%?

By pricing this on a per-serving basis this becomes somewhat of a regressive tax. People who spend $9.00 per six-pack of beer that is 7% alcohol will pay half the taxes on their purchase of someone who purchase a 6 dollar 12-pack of 3.2% beer. Now I realize that rich people drink cheap beer and the working-class doesn't only drink mega-bland beer, but generally your income level will predict which beer you purchase.

This could actually be a mixed blessing for craft breweries, since their beer will be closer in price to the cheap domestics on a percentage basis. Some people may decide to purchase craft beer instead of Coors/Miller/Bud when faced with an increase in price of only 60% instead of 120%.

It really doesn't matter to me personally, because I make my own beer for 50 cents a serving and pay no alcohol taxes at all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tasting: Hinano Tahiti

I generally prefer ales or heavier lagers like winterbier or dopplebocks, but those don't really go very well with Asian food, and we eat a lot of that. Our old standby with Asian food has always been Kirin, but I have been looking for something else. I really liked the Hite Max I tasted a few months ago, but when I spotted the Hinano Tahiti beer I had to try it.

Tasting: Chilled to ~35 degrees (f) from a pilsner glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Very light, crystal clear with tiny bubbles that continue to rise long after the pour.
Head: 3/3 Thick but light head with nice lacing down the glass.
Aroma: 2/3 Malt with subtle hops..
Flavor: 3/3 nice light malty flavor with subtle hop finish.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very smooth medium body with light carbonation and pleasant aftertaste of malt.
Overall: 2/3 A good beer, light but not watery, well balanced and tasty, I think I will have a side-by-side tasting once I have a few more good lagers I have found.
Buzz: 1/3 Mild buzz after 1.5 glasses.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Brew 6- Big Brew

I am exhausted. Yesterday I completed my most ambitious brew to date: I finished 4 different ales in one night.

After tasting our basic Pale Ale as an all-grain, I am still not that happy with the flavor profile. It is better, and I do like it, but it is too flowery and although not as sweet as our extract brew, still a bit too sweet. I was wondering what the following would do:
  • Change the boil times of the flavor/aroma hops
  • Use a different flavor/aroma hop
  • Use a different yeast
The problem is that I don't have enough faith in my brewing technique to compare brews done 2 months apart, if I mash in at a different temperature, mess something up etc., the taste difference could be a combination of factors. I wanted to isolate the above areas and focus on them.

So, I decide to do 4 brews at once. This is where having a large mash/sparge tun really pays off. I beefed up the malt bill to 8.5 gallons of yield, brewed it all up into 11.5 gallons of wort, then split the wort into 1 kettle of 7.5 gallons, and 1 of 4 gallons and started the boil.

10 minutes into the boil, one of my propane tanks ran out! I got another tank and proceeded with the boil, with one kettle 20 minutes behind the other in total boil time. For both batches, I used Cascade as the bittering hop, 1.25 ounces for the large batch, .75 for the small one. After that..

Large BatchSmall Batch
20 Min remaining.5 oz of Cascade.4 oz of Fuggle
10 Min Remaining.5 oz of Cascade.3 oz of Fuggle
0 Min .2 oz of Fuggle

Both batches have 34 units of bitterness, within the range of an American Ale, and they are both more bitter than our last recipe which should offset the sweetness. Both had an original gravity of 1.060, the upper limit of an American Ale.

For the large batch, I fermented with a California Ale yeast from a starter 5 hours old (it had just started bubbling) in a 6.5 gal carboy.

The small batch was split 3 ways:
1 Gal of liquid London Ale Yeast
1 Gal of Safeale US-56 Dry Yeast, hydrated 2 hours before pitching
1 Gal of Coopers Dry Ale Yeast, hydrated 2 hours before pitching

I would really like to have tried some other ale yeasts too, but the bill was getting higher and higher, so I decided to economize.

I squeezed the fermenting ale into my warm-box, next to the conditioning porter, and went to bed at 1am. It was exhausting but I really, really had a good time. I was so busy that I didn't even sit down except for about 15 minutes during the mash rest.

Within 8 hours of pitching the dry yeast was bubbling, and within 12 hours the liquid was also bubbling. In about 5 days I will rack them all to secondary, and by this time next month I should be able to compare the results!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tasting: Altenmunster Winterbier Dopplebock

I picked this beer up mainly for the bottle, it will be great to keep yeast in, and it was on sale for 2.99. But the beer was was the real deal, a great dopplebock.

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 deep mahogany with faintly tan head.
Head: 2/3 medium head, light tan in color, thins quickly.
Aroma: 3/3 sweet malty smell, hints of currants, toasty.
Flavor: 3/3 sweet, full flavor rich, malty.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very smooth medium body with light carbonation and pleasant aftertaste of malt with hints of raisins and currants.
Overall: 3/3 A very good beer, dark but not heavy, an excellent beer for the cold nights of winter.
Buzz: 3/3 At 7.2% alcohol, a winter warmer indeed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tasting: Harpoon Dark

Another beer from the beer-of-the-month club. A tasty dark beer that is easy to drink.

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 deep mahogany with tan head.
Head: 2/3 medium head, light tan in color.
Aroma: 3/3 light aroma of malt and hops.
Flavor: 3/3 mild flavor of malt and subtle hops.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Smooth medium-light body with medium carbonation and light sweetness.
Overall: 3/3 A good beer, dark but not heavy.
Buzz: 2/3 Mild buzz after 1 glass.

Observations on Orlando Beer

I traveled to Orlando for Convergence last week with my brewing/business partner Brad. We had a pretty good time drinking our way up and down International Drive near the convention center.

There is a microbrewery in Orlando but we didn't have a car so we couldn't get to it. We saw 2 Florida beers: Landshark Lager was the most abundant, Brad had one and said it wasn't bad. Yuengling was another Florida beer, it was decent.

I was really hoping to have some of the east-coast beers I have heard of like Dogfish or Victory that aren't available in my area, but since we were trapped in Tourist Central our selection was very limited. Even the bars/restaurants that had lots of beers carried only the big labels. It is amazing that with 15 beers on tap and 15 in a bottle the selection is still mainly the big 3 and their various permutations of cheap lagers!

One night we went to a Microsoft-sponsored party at Universal Citywalk, and the selection was also limited there. The exception was that Red Stripe was available at the Bob Marley cafe, and Amstel Light at the New Orleans-Themed restaurant. Other than that it was Bud, Bud Light and Heineken.

We spent a couple nights at a British pub drinking and throwing darts. Their selection included one "British Ale" and Boddingtons but I think their lines were dirty or something. It just didn't taste right.

Several restaurants had Guiness on tap, and did a good job of pouring it too. One place had a neon Bass sign in the window but didn't actually carry it, another had it on tap and it was good.

My expectations weren't too high considering we were in the vacation playground of mainstream America, but it is a shame that restaurants aren't more bold with their beer offerings.

Tasting: Cooper's Best Extra Stout

This came in my beer of the month club, it was the standout of the bunch. An interesting note is that it came in a 12.7 oz bottle that filled up my glass. Another beer I had recently came in a 11.3 oz bottle. I noticed it because the glass wasn't close to full after pouring.

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Thick black, opaque.
Head: 3/3 nice head of fine bubbles the color of espresso foam.
Aroma: 3/3 , Rich, malty smell with hints of coffee and chocolate.
Flavor: 3/3 Mildly sweet, malty offset by a burnt bitterness, very good and balanced.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Rich and full on the palette, smooth with a tangy, smoky aftertaste.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is wonderful. Balanced, rich and smooth.
Buzz: 3/3 Medium buzz after 1 glass.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tasting: Fuller's ESB

Tasting: Chilled to ~55 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 nice amber color, very clear with tiny bubbles that continue to rise.
Head: 2/3 nice head that lasts and leaves fine lace down the side of the glass.
Aroma: 3/3 , Rich, hoppy smell, with subtle hints of dried fruit and spice.
Flavor: 3/3 Sharp but pleasant hops with rich malt.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very smooth with medium carbonation and subtle sweetness that lingers with the hops.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is wonderful. Balanced, rich hoppy and smooth.
Buzz: 3/3 Mild buzz after 1 glass.

Brew #5: Disaster Porter - Update

I racked the Disaster Porter to secondary on Friday. The gravity is now 1.012 which is a little thin, but still within the range. I tasted it and was pleased to find that much of the bitterness has faded, leading me to think I didn't mess up the temperature on the top end, but that the recipe had WAY too much bitterness so I did some more research.

The recipe I found on the web called for 1.5 oz of Galena Hops at 30 minutes, 1 oz of Cascades at 30 min and 1 oz of Tettnager at 5 minutes resulting in over 57 Bittering Units, which is outside the range for a Porter. I found other references to that recipe where they boiled the Galena for 60 minutes which would result in an IBU of 60. That is high for an IPA, and double what the average Porter would have! For my brew, I adjusted the recipe to reduce the IBU to 55, the top end of the range for a porter according to Beer Smith, but in hindsight still way too high.

The original recipe was an extract recipe but it didn't have 60 minutes of boil time and did things in a weird order and called for sparging of the steeping grains, which I had never seen before, so I converted it to an all-grain, did a normal 60 minute boil, and reduced the hops.

I now think that the recipe had the right ingredients, just the wrong quantities. I found other Black Butter Clone recipes that have a similar grain bill, and the same hops, just in lesser quantities, with IBUs; between 27 and 40.

My prediction is that the beer will need to be aged for a month or two longer than usual, and will taste more hoppy than a porter should, but it will be drinkable. I will pay closer attention to the numbers next time I find a recipe online, and I will redo this recipe sometime in the future with the following recipe, IBU should be 30, OG should be 1.060:

10.5 lbs 2-row malt
8 oz chocolate malt
4 oz black patent malt
8 oz honey malt
4 oz Roasted Barley
4 oz rice hulls for sparging

0.75 oz Galena Hops, pellets (60 min)
0.5 oz Cascade Hops, whole (30 min)
1 oz Tettnager hops, pellets (2 min)

Mash at 155 for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tasting: English Ales

I have been trying to find good Ales to taste, and found two English Ales at BrewPort's Carlsbad beer shop that I haven't had before.

Fullers 1845 is based on an old recipe, hence the name. It pours dark and tastes just like the label says it has "a full body and a rich, dried fruit aroma". It is bottle conditioned but I did not notice any yeast runoff. It was not too sweet or too fruity. One of the best I have had.

I wanted to try a Bitter, and so when I saw Coniston Brewing's Bluebird Bitter I was excited to give it a try. It had a mild, balanced flavor with hops and malt both apparent. According to the label they use Marris Otter malt and English Challenger Hops. For those who haven't had one before I would say it is almost an Ale version of a light beer, but fuller and tastier.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Wort Ciller

My brew-partner Brad was not able to join me this last weekend on the Disaster Porter, and I forgot to ask him for his Wort Chiller, so I decided to make my own. Later when we start doing 10 gallon batches, it will be useful to have 2 chillers, one we can put in a bucket of ice, the other in the wort.

I purchased all the components for around $60 at Lowes/Home depot and soldered it up with silver solder. I then cleaned all the flux residue off with a bleach solution (which didn't work) and gasoline (which did work). It sticks well off to the side of the brew keg, and well out of it too.

It didn't leak, and I love that it has a ball-valve on it to control the rate of flow without walking back to the spigot. It took 9 minutes to drop the wort from boiling to 100 degrees (f), then another 6 minutes or so to drop to 80 (f).

Brew #5: Disaster Porter

I spent Saturday attempting to create a Porter similar to the Black Butte Porter:

9 lbs 2-row malt
8 oz chocolate malt
4 oz black patent malt
8 oz honey malt
4 oz Victory Malt (subs. for Roasted Barley)
4 oz rice hulls for sparging

1 oz Galena Hops, pellets (60 min)
2 oz Cascade Hops, whole (30 min)
1 oz Tettnager hops, pellets (2 min)

Wyeast #1338 European Ale Yeast (from starter 30 hours old)

Final volume was 5 gallons, my final gravity was 1.055. In the image, the porter is on the right.

I wanted to do a step mash in 3 steps: 125 Protein rest, 154 Sach. Rest, 158 mash out.

It was a disaster. I was working alone and watching my youngest daughter at the same time. I could not hit the temperatures. I shot past all of them and had to add water to cool down and I think I ended up passing the 180degree point while trying to mash out because the wort has a bitter taste that arrives well after swallowing and remains on the palette for a long time.

I am going to let it ferment and taste it at racking, but I am pretty sure the batch is spoiled and I will need to toss it.

In the future I will not be doing step mashes.

In addition to the temp. problems, I dropped the lid in the brew pot and had to stop the boil to retrieve it and ran out of sparge water before reaching my target volume.

My volume at the start of boiling was 7.2 gallons, and I ended up with just shy of 5 gallons in the fermenter. I HATE WHOLE HOPS!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tasting: Briefs

I have been tasting more beers than I can take time to write as I taste, but I want to take notes on them otherwise I will forget.

Young's London Ale: I had the misfortune to eat some cheese before tasting this beer and it messed with my palette so I had my wife taste it, and her evaluation was "very easy to drink". It tasted overly yeasty and sweet to me, but I blame the cheese.

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale: This is classified as a strong ale on, but it isn't as strong as some. Very tasty, hoppy, malty beer.

Coronado Golden Ale: This beer was a mess to pour, 1 inch of beer and 6 inches of foam. I ended up dumping 1/3 of it as I poured off the foam. A bunch of sediment poured into the glass then distributed into a haze. Tasted sweet and yeasty, maybe I got a bad batch?

Stone IPA: Another winner from Stone. The hops are offset by a subtle sweetness, medium/heavy body. Very, very good.

It is amazing how good the beer from Stone and PortBrewing are. I have another dozen or so beers to taste before I will have been through the regular bottled beers from the major San Diego Breweries, but I haven't had a bad Stone or PortBrewing beer yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Brewery Equipment: Mash/Lauter Tun Insulation

Since our efficiency was so low on the first all-grain brew, I did some research to see how we could improve our efficiency and also how to reduce the sweetness in the finished beer. After reading the How to Brew website, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing book and a couple articles I read on the web, I have decided that on our next brew we will allow the mash to rest at 3 temperatures; 30 min at 122, 20 min at 150 and 15 min at 158.

I would rather not have to apply heat during the rests since it makes the time too busy, and it is hard to keep the mash within a few degrees of the target temperature. I noticed on the Texan Brew site that they insulated some of their kegs so I decided to insulate our mash keg. I found some duct insulation at home depot that is coated with aluminum and rated at 3R. After installing the insulation and taping it up I did an experiment to determine 3 things:
  1. Would the insulation burst into flames?
  2. Would it keep the water at temperature for 30 minutes?
  3. Did the insulation make any difference?
To answer those questions I filled the insulated mash keg and the uninsulated brew keg up with ~3 gallons of water and brought them up to 122 degrees. I kept them both covered, and opened them up every 5 minutes and stirred them with the mash paddle (recommended for step mashes) and then took the water temperature with the following results:

I charted the results after correcting the data to the same start temperature, in the actual experiment the uninsulated keg started 4 degrees higher. Some interesting observations:
  1. The temperature rose after removing heat for about 5 minutes then began to drop off.
  2. The uninsulated keg temperature dropped twice as fast from peak temperature as the insulated keg.
  3. The insulated keg was able to maintain temp. to within 3 degrees(F) for 30 minutes.
  4. The "metallic" tape I purchased melted off the bottom of the insulation, I replaced it with aluminum.
After seeing the tape melt off, I decided to test the insulation to see if it was flammable. It was. I experimented and determined that it would not ignite from the heat of the keg, but it could begin to burn if directly exposed to gases that were hot enough. Flame on the aluminum shield did not cause it to ignite however.

When installing the insulation, I left 1 inch between the bottom of the insulation and the start of the ring surrounding the bottom of the keg so the insulation that was in contact with the keg wasn't going to get hotter than the mash, but the hot gases rushing up the side could ignite the exposed bottom portion. To provide a shield against the gases, I cut some excess insulation into a 3 inch strip and removed the insulation, leaving only the aluminum with some remaining glue. I installed it in place of the melted tape around the bottom of the keg.

Overall I think this will make step-mashing quite a bit easier, and will reduce the use of the propane as well. I will wait to see if it performs well for the next few brews before I insulate the Brew Keg and the HLT though.

Update: Nov, 2009 - I now use this as my brew kettle, and use a 10 gallon rubbermaid cooler as my mash tun. It holds heat much better and holds up to 20 lbs of grist. To increase temperatures in step mashes, I draw off 5 quarts of liquor, bring it to a boil in a 6 quart pot and return it to the mash.