Monday, April 30, 2012

Oatmeal Stout - Three Ways - Tasting and Evaluation

Back in March, I posted about using different finishing techiques to create distinctive beers from the same wort.  The basic idea was that homebrewers have a limited amount of time to brew beer, given real life demands and constraints.  Homebrewers also demand variety that cannot be achieved by producing multiple batches of exactly the same beer, even though producing a multiple batches are a more efficient use of time.  So, why not use different finishing techiques to produce different beers from the same initial brew.  I set out to try this process by creating the following beers from the same base oatmeal stout recipe:  oatmeal stout with tincture of grapefruit, oatmeal stout aged on sour cherries, and oatmeal stout aged on cocoa nibs.

Kenny, the owner of my local homebrew store, The Fermentation Trap, and I sat down to evaluate the results of the different finishing techniques recently.  Our goal was to evaluate each beer on its own merits and to see if the finishing methods really produced beers that were distinctive.

Oatmeal Stout with Tincture of Grapefruit: This version was used in the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA) internal Iron Brewer competition.  The base beer was blended with a tincture made by soaking grapefruit zest in vodka.  Feedback from the Iron Brewer competition indicated that the beer, while well-made, lacked a strong grapefruit character.  When compared to the base beer, grapefruit was definitely present, but was very subtle when evaluated on its own merits.  Otherwise, the beer was very smooth and the wheat augmented the mouthfeel provided by the oats.  It is a recipe modification I will use in the future.

Oatmeal Stout with Sour Cherries:  This version of the stout originated from 1 gallon of unfinished beer, without the grapefruit, that had 1.5 lbs of frozen sour cherries added.  After aging for 10 days, the beer was racked off the fruit and bottle-conditioned.  The beer's aroma is dominated by cherries, almost to the exclusion of other characteristics.  The cherries even drove the beer to have a distinctive pink tinge around the edges of the glass.  The beer's entire flavor profile consisted of cherries, even down to a sour aftertaste.  It was very clear that the beer had lost all evidence of its stout base and was really a cherry - beer.  While not completely objectionable, we both wished that more of the stout came through in the finished beer.

Oatmeal Stout with Cocoa Nibs:  This version of the stout came from 1 gallon of unfinished beer, aged on top of 1.5 ounces of cocoa nibs.  Chocolate came through in the aroma of the beer, reminding both of us of unsweetened baking cocoa, blended with the smell of dry hot chocolate powder.  The flavor of the beer initially reminded me of the base beer, a solid oatmeal stout with increased creamy mouthfeel.  These flavors slowly transformed into dark chocolate with some medium roast coffee, while maintaining the same mouthfeel.  The flavor finishes with a lingering bitterness, but one that likely came from the roasted grains and cocoa nibs, rather than from hops.  This beer was our favorite by far, presenting both the characteristics from the base beer and capturing the intent of its finishing technique.  The cocoa nibs provided a richer creamy character with a solid chocolate presentation.  This version was definitely one I would make again on its own merits.

Playing with finishing techniques was a fun exercise a way to create three different beers.  I would highly encourage our readers to give it a try, if for no reason than you can create more variety, more efficiently.



Friday, April 27, 2012

Tasting the 2011 Sam Adams Longshot Winners

This past weekend when Tom and I were able to be in the same location (albeit for a sad occasion - a funeral), we were able to hit up a New Jersey bottle shop together and pick up some beers to try.  The six-pack that quickly leapt into our hands was the 2011 Sam Adam's Longshot Beers.  To be truthful, I don't remember hearing much fanfare about the Longshot Competition since they did the Category 23 competition in 2010.  So it was a sure surprise when we found these three beers in the cooler.

For those that are not familiar with the Longshot competition (see the official site here), it is a competition put on by Sam Adams as a way to get back to founder Jim Koch's homebrewing roots.  In the competition (which is free to enter - a rarity for most comps), the best two beers are chosen from all the entries to be brewed and nationally distributed by Boston Beer Co.  In parallel to this competition, Boston Beer Co. also runs an employee version of the comp, wherein the best employee-homebrewed beer is chosen for the third slot in the sixpack.

The 2011 winners were an interesting mix of style with two hefty beers (~9% ABV) and a more drinkable table beer (~5% ABV).  The selections included:

  • "A Dark Night in Munich", Munich Dunkel by Corey Martin
  • "Five Crown Imperial Stout", Russian Imperial Stout by Joe Formanek
  • "Derf's Secret Alt", Imperial Altbier by employee Fred Hessler

While at the check out counter of the bottle shop, I would have bet that the dunkel was going to be my favorite of the three.  In many cases, the imperial beers are 'interesting', but not always drinkable.  However, after trying all of them (two of which I got to try with Tom), I have to say that Joe Formanek's Russian Imperial Stout was far and away the stand-out of the group.  It was awesome.  Big roast, vinous, dark fruit character, but balanced well enough that it was not sweet.  The alcohol, which was hardly noticeable, is tucked beautifully into the dark lusciousness of the beer.  Kudos to you Joe! I'd love to get my hands on that recipe.

If you've had the opportunity to try the 2012 Longshot beers, let us know what you thought of them and which was the favorite.



"The cheapest beer in the bar is called premium, don't ask me why."
-Jim Koch

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unexpected Sourness

As my homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), was preparing the second batch of beer to fill our bourbon barrel, we encountered an unexpected surprise.  As reported previously here, CAMRA purchased a used bourbon barrel to fill with stronger beers that would benefit with an oak and bourbon character.  The first batch to fill the barrel was Denny Conn's Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter.  After the first month, the beer tasted good, but lacked the full oak and bourbon flavors that the brewers desired.  Last Saturday, after two months, the beer was removed from the barrel and a new flavor was encountered - sourness.

Souring bacteria will eventually come to inhabit almost any barrel used to hold beer.  Wood is a porous material that is difficult to clean and makes the perfect environment for lactobacillus and other acid-producing bacteria. Beer, in general, is not strong enough in alcohol content to completely prevent bacteria growth in the wood.  Our homebrewing club knew this, but hoped to age several non-sour beer styles in the barrel before it turned.  To help ensure the initial batches were not soured, we selected a barrel that contained spirits, instead of wine, whose high alcohol content would naturally prevent bacteria growth.  The first recipe we selected was also a higher alcohol beer and we hoped that between those two factors, we would limit the likelihood of sourness.

The sour bacteria could have come from two possible sources.  First, the barrel was dry when we opened it, meaning that it did not contain any visible liquid bourbon.  The barrel did release a strong bourbon aroma when opened, but the dry barrel staves could have started growing bacteria colonies coming in through air ingress as the barrel did not contain liquid.  Second, and more likely, one of the batches of beer put into the barrel could have contained an infection.  We did not taste the individual batches before putting them into the barrel, and in hindsight, we should have done that.  However, even if each batch was tasted, the initial stages of bacterial infection  might have gone unnoticed.  Once mixed in with the rest of the beer, the infection would continue to grow and then lodge itself in the barrel staves.  This would be slowed by the alcohol concentration in the beer, but it would proceed regardless.

So, now the barrel is soured, the question is what to do.  Some of the brewers of batch two have already started fermenting their wee heavies, the style selected for this batch.  Most of us agreed that a soured wee heavy did not sound ideal, so that recipe has been discarded, leaving those brewers to complete the batch without the barrel.  The main problem is that we might not have enough interest is sour beers in the club to generate the 50 gallons of wort required to fill the barrel, regardless of recipe.  If that turns out to be the case, then the barrel may well become a planter.

Has your homebrewing club encountered the problem of an unexpectedly soured barrel before?  If so, what did you do about it?



Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Toast to Family

Jeff and I are getting together again this coming weekend, but this time under more somber circumstances.  Our grandfather passed away and the family is gathering in New Jersey to remember him.  In thinking about my grandfather and his life, I am struck by the importance of my family in my life.  They provide context for the things I enjoy most and, in many ways, define who I am.  I am grateful for what I have learned from my grandfather, both directly from him and through the example that he set for my father.  I am also glad to share the writing of this blog with Jeff, as it gives us a means to connect over a shared effort and hobby, despite the 500 miles that separate us.

So please raise a glass and say a toast to family and its importance in our lives.



Monday, April 16, 2012

Designing Recipe Kits - Quikie Kits

I heard an interesting concept on Basic Brewing Radio several months ago about making a very quick batch of beer when the brewer is pressed for time on brew day.  The idea combined several innovative techniques to cut the total brew day time down to approximately an hour, or maybe a little more.  The batch of beer would be created using extract and some steeping grains, added late in the boil, along with a large volume of hops, all with the goal of finishing the boil in approximately 15 minutes.  The method features the following:

Steeping Grains Added to Heating Water - Steeping grains can be added to the brewing water in a muslin bag while the water is cold.  Once the water heats up to around 160 F, the bag can be removed, thus having steeped the grains fully and potentially even converting some sugar.  All with no time added to the brew day, given that the water had to heat anyway.  This can be done in concentrated wort boils, to save more time, or in full volume boils too.

Dried Malt Extract Added Late - Malt extract is concentrated wort that has already been boiled.  It does not need to go through the full boiling cycle to coagulate proteins and generate break material because it has already done that.  However, malt extract needs to be sanitized, especially dried malt extract.  Thus, adding the malt extract to the boil for 15 minutes is sufficient to properly sanitize it and minimize any color darkening in concentrated boils

Hop Bursting - One of the major reason why wort is boiled for an hour is to isomerize the alpha acids in hops and generate the necessary bitterness in the beer.  This length of time efficiently uses the hops, minimizing the amount of hops needed to create the bitterness.  However, alpha acids isomerize during the entire length of the boil, so the required bitterness can be generated from a 15 minute addition, but a much larger volume of hops is required.  The larger volume of hops also generates increased hop flavor and aroma.  Large later boil additions of hops are called hop bursting.

These ideas can be combined into a method that massively reduces brew day time, especially if doing a concentrated boil.  After the steeping grains are removed from the brewing water, it is heated to a boil.  At that point, add the malt extract, hop charge, and whirlfloc/Irish moss and the boil can finish in 15 minutes.  The rest of the brew day proceeds as normal.  I have even used this method to make an entire extra beer during a normal all-grain brew day, with only extending the all-grain mash by 30 minutes.

I presented this idea to the owner of my local homebrewing shop, The Fermentation Trap.  Kenny was very interested in the concept and we set about developing some recipe kits around the idea.  The recipes needed to feature hops significantly, due to the hop bursting, but could range all over the beer style universe.  The main draw of the recipe kits would be how quick they could finish a brew day, thus we named the series "Quikie."  To date, we have developed an American Pale Ale, which is currently available.  We also have a red IPA that is almost complete, and several more in the pipeline including an American Red Ale, an American Stout, and a normal IPA.

Working on the recipe formulations has been very entertaining, and resulted in surprisingly tasty beer.  It reminds me that while most homebrewers aspire to all-grain brewing and complex and controlled brew days, there can be other driving forces as well.  Time is a precious commodity that we all have little of and any way that we can save it, while still enjoy the hobby we love, is something worth pursuing.



Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lug Wrench Brew: Frosty Fool, Eisbock

After an 18 month hiatus, Tom and I were finally able to strike up the propane burner together and brew our latest collaborative beer.  The prior collaborative brew was our Wheatwine Braggot, which was made back in November 2010.  So once all the kids and wives were asleep, we brewed up the base beer for what will become our Eisbock.

Aptly named after the April Fool's Day brewing session, this beer will represent the first collaborative beer where we did not pick the beer style - the readers did.  Three to four weeks prior to our planned brew session, we narrowed our interests down to six potential styles and then put it to a vote on the blog.  The idea was somewhat of a whim, but after we put the poll up, both Tom and I were incredibly energized by the number of participants that took part in the decision.  For a while, it looked like we might be brewing our first sour beer, but the Eisbock style made a surge and ultimately had the most votes.  The whole process might seem a little gimicky from the readers' perspective, but for Tom and I, it was very entertaining and enlightening to 'crowdsource' the style decision.  I would expect that we will do it again the next time we do a collaborative beer (although hopefully it won't be 18 more months away).

After the style was decided upon, choosing the recipe was somewhat a no-brainer.  Jamil Zainasheff's recipe and process is the only notable recipe for Eisbock that I have come across.  The grain bill and process described below should look familiar to anyone who is a disciple of Jamil's book.  However, accommodating the ~25 lbs of grain in my 5 gallon mash tun was going to be a problem.  Luckily, I was able to barter with another homebrew and friend (thanks Jeff H!) to score a larger capacity mash tun to get the deed done in.

At the time of this writing, the base beer is still bubbling away through primary fermentation.  Once its complete, I'll rack it to a corny keg and let it lager for 4-6 weeks before doing the icing process.  Assuming I remember to take some pictures, the icing process will most likely be the subject of a future blog post, which I will link back to here.

Below are the notes and recipe for the collaborative eisbock.  The notes will be updated as the beer continues to ferment, lager, get iced, aged, and be tasted.

Frosty Fool, Eisbock
(recipe modified from Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0
Total Grain (lbs): 24.5
OG: 1.086  (target: 1.088)
FG: 1.022 before icing; estimated to be 1.026 after icing
SRM: 14.9 before icing; no noticable color difference after icing
IBU: 28.0 (Rager)
ABV: ~8.5% before icing; ~10% after icing
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60% (dropped it to accommodate lower efficiency with big beers)
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain / Extract / Sugar
13.5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner Malt (Weyerman)
9.5 lbs. Munich Malt 10L (GlobalMalt)
1.25 lbs CaraMunich 40L

0.5 oz Warrior Pellet Hops (15% AA) at 60 minutes
0.5 oz Hallertauer Pellet Hops (4% AA) at 30 minutes

1.0 Tab Whirlfloc at 30 minutes
28 drops of Foam Control in the boil

Saflager S-189 (from a local brewpub), propagated up through two 2L starters

Mash Schedule
60 minutes at 152° F
Batch sparged to get 7 gallons in brew kettle

Brewed on 4/1/12 by the Wallace Brothers.  Seventh collaborative session brew

Aeration was accomplished via an aquarium pump and diffusion stone, run for 30 minutes.  Foam Control was added to the carboy as needed during aeration.

Beer was about 53° F after aeration, so the carboy was placed inside the fermentation fridge (set point at 45° F) for ~8 hours before pitching yeast.

Pitched entire 2L starter when carboy was 43° F and placed the setpoint of the fermentation fridge to 46°F.

Activity kicked off in the carboy 48 hours after pitching yeast.

In order to help drive fermentation of the lager, I will be ramping the temperature up using Mike McDole's technique for driving lagers.  Also, given the OG of the beer, I will keep the initial fermentation temperatures lower than normal, as this sucker is going to throw off a lot of heat.

4/4/12 - Fermentation activity started with kreuzen forming.  Temp set at 46° F

4/6/12 - Fermentation going strong.  Raised temp set point to 48° F

4/7/12 - Fermentation still going strong.  Raised temp set point to 50° F

4/9/12 - Fermentation slowing slightly. Raised temp set point to 52° F

4/11/12 - Fermentation slowing more.  Raised temp set point to 55° F

4/20/12 - Fermentation continues to slow.  Raised temp set point to 60° F

4/26/12 - Fermentation almost complete.  Raised temp set point to 70° F

5/3/12 - Fermentation has been complete for a few days.  Cold crashed the beer by dropping the set point temperature down to 35° F.  The beer remained in the carboy until I got the chance to rack it off the lees and into a keg.

5/26/12 - Finally, I was able to transfer the beer off the yeast and into a sanitized keg (after ~3 weeks of lagering in the carboy).   The beer tastes very clean and has a stong malt intensity paired with a warming alcohol sweetness.  No detectable hot alcohols at all, which I am very pleased with.  The color, on the other hand, is fairly light - lighter than I would have wanted.  The icing should darken it a bit, but perhaps if we ever brew this again, we'd add in some coloring grains to darken it up a bit.  I'll let the beer lager for another 2-3 weeks before icing it.

6/19/12 - Completed the icing process by placing the keg in a freezer for 10 hours and then transfering the unfrozen liquid into a new keg while the frozen slush was left behind.  After measuring the volume of the left behind slush, we removed 3 quarts of liquid, thereby condensing the eisbock by 15%.   A description of the whole process can be found here.

2/24/13 - After 8 months of lagering in cold storage, we tasted the beer for the first time.  It is very clean with a sweet, rich malt character, although the sweetness does not linger into the aftertaste.  It may not be "over-the-top" enough to score well as an Eisbock, but the results are very pleasing.

4/8/13 - Samples the Frosty Fool beer were entered into the 2013 Ocean State Homebrew Competition, where the beer was awarded a silver medal in the Bock category. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

New Belgium to Brew in North Carolina

A few days ago, Jay Brooks at the Brookston Beer Bulletin posted that New Belgium is going to open a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina.  According to the press release, New Belgium plans to have the 400,000 barrel brewery completed by 2015, which will generate 50 jobs in the Asheville area.  The brewery was drawn to the area for its beer culture, environmental surroundings, and the opportunity to work with a brownfields site in the downtown area.

In some ways, New Belgium's decision represents a bit of a disappointment for me.  Around a year ago, a co-worker of mine told me that Kim Jordan, CEO and co-founder of New Belgium, was in a local bike shop asking about biking trails in the area.  She also inquired about the local culture and the housing market and seemed to hint that she might be interested in moving to the area.  This is, of course, the type of information that fuels rumor mills around the world, regardless of topical area.  But, it still led to day-dreams of a New Belgium brewery in central Virginia and was a fun topic of speculation among friends over a beer.

New Belgium is not the only brewery to decide to expand to Asheville in recent months.  Back in January, Sierra Nevada announce plans to build a brewery in Asheville.  Like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada had been looking for an east-coast site for several years to help expand production and decrease shipping costs.  The incredibly fact that they both choose Asheville puts a growing beer town on the map as a major beer destination.

With a large number of breweries and beer bars already, I hope to make a trip to Asheville sometime in the not-to-distant future.  Even if it means that New Belgium did not pick my hometown.



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Session #62: What Drives Beer Bloggers

Welcome to The Session - a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic.  For the month of April, members of Brewpublic chose "What Drives Beer Bloggers?" as the collective topic to explore.  A round-up of all the blog posts will be posted in the near future.  You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday ("The Session") over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This Session topic immediately grabbed my interest.  The large majority of beer bloggers do not write posts to generate income, as only the largest of blogs pull the traffic that allows advertisements and donations to earn substantial revenue.  I would venture to guess that the major beer bloggers pull in larger chunks of their income from guest columns and articles that their blog's popularity allows them to garner.  But, these individuals are few and far between.  I think the majority of beer bloggers are fueled by passion.  Passion and enjoyment of the beverage and, more importantly, for the craft beer culture.

The craft beer culture is an unique place to immerse yourself in these days.  With interest in craft beer skyrocketing over the past few years, more and more people are drawn to its interesting flavors and the back-stories of the companies that make it.  Beer is a very social beverage, with roots in the working class, and it has long been more approachable than wine or spirits.  Beer is associated with pubs and larger social events, with drinking sessions and joy in the company of friends and peers.  While the craft beer movement is elevating beer's status and the limits of what the beverage can be, the common socially-binding nature of beer can be seen in the collaborative nature of the craft brewing industry.  Stories of breweries going out of their way to help other "competitors" abound in the industry and collaborative beers are all the rage.  Many beer bloggers, too, believe that they are sharing information and contributing craft beer's good and this collaborative culture is what drives them forward.

Here at Lug Wrench Brewing, that basic cooperative tenant is true, but with a focus on a shared hobby and a homebrewing bent.  Jeff and I are brothers who grew up in Upstate New York.  We have long shared hobbies and interests together and have been close since childhood.  With both of us living far apart and having families of our own, it has become more difficult to maintain this bond.  We both discovered we have a love of homebrewing and craft beer and randomly thought that it would be great to share the hobby across a distance of more than 500 miles.  The internet allowed us a free mechanism to write about our interests and co-author a blog, so Lug Wrench Brewing Company was born.  In addition to writing about beer, we also collaboratively brew a batch of beer designed to age whenever we are together, with the goal of fostering a library of interesting aged beer to try again when we next meet.

Lug Wrench has been a fun project for us, and one that we hope lasts for many years.  It has provided us the opportunity to share a common interest and grow our friendship, despite the distance.  In many ways, Lug Wrench embodies the cooperative spirit and enjoyment of craft beer, for two brothers, as we share our interest with others.

I would want it no other way.



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Beer Style To-Do List

In fitting with our most recent blog poll, I counted up the number of individual BCJP beer styles that I have personally brewed.  After 3+ years of brewing, I had cobbled together a list of only 28 different beer styles.  When considered against the 80 styles that are "official", the number of styles I've never attempted was almost twice that of what I have brewed.  This made me a little ... restless.

I have heard several other homebrewers who have set their eyes on the goal of brewing every style in the BJCP catalog.  I am not one of them.  However, when I listed out what I have brewed, it made me realize that it can sometimes be easy to fall into a rut and brew the same 'familiar' styles over and over again.  At my house, that typically comes back to American Wheats, American Pale Ales, Irish Reds, and Belgian Golden Strongs. 

As a means to help spur myself to try other styles, I wanted to list out all the 'To-Do' styles that I have yet to attempt.  I've copied that list below for two reasons.  First, by putting it up on the blog, it will force me to be honest with myself on what I have and have not brewed.  Secondly, I'll plan on referencing back to this post from time to time as a muse to inspire me to brew something different.

BJCP Beer-Styles 'To-Do"
  • 1A - Lite American Lager
  • 1B - Standard American Lager
  • 1C - Premium American Lager
  • 1E - Dortmunder Export
  • 2B - Bohemian Pilsener
  • 2C - Classic American Pilsner
  • 3A - Vienna Lager
  • 4A - Dark American Lager
  • 4B - Munich Dunkel
  • 5A - Maibock / Helles Bock
  • 5B - Traditional Bock
  • 5C - Doppelbock
  • 6C - Kolsch
  • 7A - Northern German Altbier
  • 7B - California Common Beer
  • 7C - Dusseldorf Altbier
  • 8C - Extra Special Bitter
  • 9A - Scottish Light 60/-
  • 9B - Scottish Heavy 70/-
  • 9C - Scottish Export 80/-
  • 9E - Strong Scotch Ale
  • 10B - American Amber Ale
  • 11B - Southern English Brown
  • 12B - Robust Porter
  • 12C - Baltic Porter
  • 13A - Dry Stout
  • 13B - Sweet Stout
  • 13F - Russian Imperial Stout
  • 14A - English IPA
  • 14C - Imperial IPA
  • 15C - Weizenbock
  • 15D - Roggenbier
  • 16A - Witbier
  • 16D - Biere de Garde
  • 16E - Belgian Specialty Ale
  • 17A - Berliner Weisse
  • 17B - Flanders Red Ale
  • 17C - Flanders Brown Ale
  • 17D - Straight Lambic
  • 17E - Gueuze
  • 17F - Fruit Lambic
  • 18A - Belgian Blond Ale
  • 18B - Belgian Dubbel
  • 18C - Belgian Tripel
  • 19A - Old Ale
  • 19C - American Barleywine
  • 21B - Christmas/Winter Spiced Beer
  • 22A - Classic Rauchbier
  • 22B - Other Smoked Beer
  • 22C - Wood-Aged Beer

Typing out the above list was humbling in that there are multiple beers listed that are common place and ones I should have brewed already.  But my intent is to use this list as motivation and harness the humbling/restless feelings to help me brew in new territories.

If you have never done it yourself, list out what styles you have never brewed and you'll likely be surprised.  Additionally, if you see one of your personal favorite styles on my list, please let me know - the more motivation the better!



"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink.  If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen."
-Charles Bukowskoi
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