Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Lager

Pumpkin beer.  You probably have an opinion on it.  People either love it or hate it.  If you love it, you are either on the pumpkin pie spice crowd or actual pumpkin side.  It's a divisive style.  Every year I brew one, taste it and swear the style off.  Then the next year comes around and Fall hits and all of a sudden I cave and brew one.  Every.  Single. Year.  I've done a straight pumpkin beer with spices.  I then added graham crackers to the mash along with lactose and vanilla.  Last year I tried pumpkin pie spices to a stout.  They're all very average.  And for some reason I'm stupid enough to try it again.

This year I am of course changing up my recipe.  There's a guy on Reddit who has apparently honed in on a recipe over the past 10+ years that he describes as a cross between Punkin and Pumking.  He uses real pie pumpkins in the mash and then actually "dry pumpkins" after fermentation to give a gourd-y character.  I decided to basically copy his recipe, his spice mix, and his pie pumpkin process.  The only exception is I'm doing it as a lager instead of an ale.  I had to change something up, didnt I!?

Ichabod Crane

3 Gallons
74% efficiency

5 lb Maris Otter (83%)
0.5 lb Victory (8%) - I had to sub this because the homebrew shop didn't have Biscuit
0.5 lb Munich (8%)

0.4 oz Tettnang (60 min)

Wyeast 2124 (1 L starter, decanted, then 1.5 L starter)

OG 1.055 | FG 1.015 | IBU 12 | ABV 5.5%

Mashed at 156F to try to get some sweetness.  Boiled for 60 minutes.  2 mL lactic acid to get the mash pH to 5.35.

Pumpkin Spices/Process:

Baked 1 medium pie pumpkin (cubed in 1inch cubes) for 60 minutes at 375F (tossing every 15 mins).  Then I mixed some brown sugar (~1/4 c) with some water and spice mix (~1 tsp, see below) and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes until browned. This went into the mash.

2 tsp of spice mix (below) at 15 mins left in the boil.

When fermentation is done, bake another pie pumpkin in the oven, then candy on the stove with molasses and maple sugar, then add to secondary.

Spice Mix:

1 T cinnamon
1 t ginger
1 t nutmeg
1/4 t cloves

10/20/15: Brewed.  OG 1.052.  Put in fermentation chamber to cool down to 50F.

10/21/15: Pitched yeast.  Following the quick lager method that you can find online.  12 after yeast pitch, added O2 for 60 sec.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Imperial Stout/Milk Stout Partigyle

My all time favorite stouts come from Cigar City in Tampa, FL.  There is a mouthfeel and sweetness in Marshal Zhukov, Hunahpu and a variety of their El Catador offerings that is consistent across all of their bigger stouts and I don't find it in many other commercial RIS.  Apparently many other homebrewers feel the same way because there is an extensive thread trying to clone Hunahpu on HomeBrewTalk.  Of course this is the internet and everyone seems to know a guy who knows a guy who talked to Wayne Wambles (head brewer at CCB) and got the recipe.  Recipes on the internet have to be taken with a grain of salt.  Take this from here, that from there, combine them, put your own twist on them and then brew up something that you hope is in the spirit of the original beer.  That's all I'm going for here, a big, thick, chewy imperial stout.  I don't expect it to taste like Marshal Zhukov, but if it's in the ballpark I'm good.

With my recipe design, one key thing that I think helps CCB's stouts get this character is a high percentage of non-base malts.  There actually are some emails and interviews with Wayne where he talks about this.  Oh and there is this sheet of paper under the bar in the tasting room at CCB which is supposedly the first recipe for Hunahpu.  As you can see there are a lot of malts, a lot of roasted malts at that, and it's a fairly complicated recipe.  So from this, from my theory about base malt being <50% of the recipe and from some select bits of info from online, I pieced my recipe together for a big RIS.

Aside from the recipe, another thing I read about online was that breweries with these big, thick, chewy stouts sometimes only use the first runnings.  I thought this would be a good time to try this and while I was at it, also do my first partigyle.  For those who don't know, a partigyle is where you take off the first runnings, use that to make a beer, then sparge and use the second runnings to make another beer.  With my first runnings beer being a RIS, I thought I would do a milk stout for my second runnings beer and just add some lactose during the boil.  This brew day was intense because I had to do two separate mashes because my tun was too small, then two separate boils, but I finished it in around 5 hours and ended up with about 1.5 gallons of RIS and 2.5 gallons of milk stout.

Imperial Stout/Milk Stout Partigyle

4 gallons
74% efficiency

7 lb Maris Otter (50%)
2.5 lb Munich (18%)
1 lb Roasted Barley (7%)
1 lb Chocolate Malt (7%)
0.5 lb C60 (4%)
0.5 lb C120 (4%)
0.5 lb Black Patent (4%)

2 oz Chinook (60 mins)

Wyeast 1056 - 2 1.5 L starters, fermented at 64F.  Mashed at 154F.

These values are theoretical if I wasn't doing a partigyle.  Look at the notes for actual numbers.

OG 1.089 | FG 1.031 | ABV 8.3% | IBU 83

No water adjustments needed.

9/20/15: Brewday.  Split mash, added baking soda because mash pH was low.  Ran off 0.75 from each first runnings.  Ended up with 1.5 gal of RIS OG 1.101 and 2.5 gallons of milk stout OG 1.068 (0.4 lb lactose added).

9/26/15: RIS gravity down to 1.026.  Milk stout down to 1.022.

10/19/15: Both gravities stable at about the same as last time.  The RIS is viscous, a little hot in alcohol, maybe too much roasted barley.  Milk stout is nice and sweet.  Bottled.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Quest for a Good Hoppy Beer

It's a common theme that I talk about a lot on this blog, my quest to brew a good hoppy beer.  I've probably brewed 15+ hoppy beers and every one I brew falls off quickly or lacks a certain hop quality that I find in commercial beers.  My last 3 brews have turned into muddled, dark colored beers so quickly that I considered stopping brewing hoppy beers.  Instead, after being talked off the ledge by my fiance, I decided to dive into why my beers are failing and tried to fix it.

There is a NHC seminar talk that was given at the 2015 conference by the homebrewing master of IPAs, Kelsey McNair.  His IPA, Hop Fu! has won NHC Gold 3 times and Silver twice, which is unfathomable in the competition's biggest category.  Needless to say, this guy knows his stuff.  His seminar focused on a few things that I thought were important: recipe development, water, and packaging.  Recipe wise, my hoppy beers tend to be 90%+ base malt and back loaded hop schedules, so I think I'm ok there.  I've talked about how I treat my water, and it's in line with what he does, but I adjusted a few numbers to hit his recommendations exactly.  The last part, packaging, seemed to me to be a huge focus of his and something I've never given a ton of thought to, so I decided to start there.

I've heard time and time again that a lot of people have their hoppy beers improve when they start kegging so it got me thinking.  I may not be able to keg, but I can certainly improve my bottling process to mimic a kegging setup.  If my beer tastes good in the fermenter and not so good 2 weeks later after bottling, something must be happening during bottling, right?  Hooray for process of elimination.

First off, what does a homebrew kegging setup look like?  Good brewers will have a keg purged with CO2, they will then rack the beer in a closed system from fermentation vessel to the keg, then seal it up and add CO2 to carbonate.  See where I'm going here?  There is little to no O2 exposure of the beer.  Oxygen is a killer to hoppy beers.  So much so that commercial breweries measure O2 pick up in the parts per million level with dissolved oxygen meters.  A place such as Modern Times Brewing has spent a lot of money to get this number as low as possible.

So, what does a bottling setup look like for a homebrewer? Typically we rack the beer into a bottling bucket open to the air, add a cooled corn sugar mixture that I base off a priming sugar calculator, stir, then use a bottling want to get the beer into bottles and capped.  Lots of room for O2 pickup in a normal bottling setup.

My hoppy beers were so heavily loaded with hops on the back end that I felt oxygenation was (one of) the culprits in why my beer tasted so mediocre.  I set out trying to mimic the closed loop kegging set up.

Here's my finished beer.  A pale ale with Citra and Nelson.  As you can see I brew 2.5-3 gallon batches which leaves some headspace in the fermenter which could be an oxygen issue.  Never fear!  I picked up a portable CO2 dispenser which I use to add CO2 to the headspace when I sample and dry hop (which only happened once in this batch, I sampled and dry hopped at the same time).

This is the CO2 dispenser I picked up.  This little device will be used throughout this process to purge anything and everything with CO2.

Above is my bottling bucket which has a very tight seal.  The hole on the lid with the gasket will be used to insert tubing to add CO2, then immediately filled with my siphon tubing to rack the beer.  Before the lid was put on, I added my priming sugar solution and just assumed that as the beer was added it would mix evenly.

The first step was to purge the siphon with CO2, then purge the bucket with CO2 and rack the beer through the hole on top.  I need to say that I added a very small pin-hole on the lid as well to let air escape.  As I was racking in, air was constantly coming out of this tiny hole which led me to believe I had a good seal.

My bottling station above my dishwasher is shown on the left.  Before I filled any of the bottles I purged them with CO2 just as another crazy attempt to eliminate O2 pickup.  Once I finished filling the bottle, I immediately put an O2 absorbing cap on them and capped them.

My bottling was done and I felt that I had eliminated O2 as best as I could with such a jerry-rigged system.  I made sure once I finished bottling them that I put them in my fermentation fridge at ~62F to condition, then straight to the regular fridge to cold condition.  Keeping hoppy beers out of any kind of warmth will also help the hops to not fade as quickly.

Two weeks after bottling, I popped my first one and it's brightly hoppy and I'm pretty dang happy with it.  It's not commercial quality, but it's fine for a homebrew.  I'm pretty happy I didn't swear off brewing hoppy beers.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Scrappy Hound House Pale Ale #3

It's no secret that I hate homebrewing hoppy beers.  I'm convinced that it's very, very difficult to brew good hoppy beers at home if you don't keg, and even then I'm still skeptical that they're ever at a near-commercial level.  I have yet to have a good hoppy homebrew from anybody.  Regardless, I still foolishly brew them because it's one of my fiance's favorite styles and, well, I'm just stubborn.

Most of my hoppy beers fall flat.  They're muted and kind of blah even when they're young.  I've tried water adjustments, yeast, hops, and just about everything else I can think of.  This time I did a few things.  First off, I found a talk from this year's NHC by Kelsey McNair who, if you don't know, has won something like 3 NHC gold medals for his IPA, Hop Fu!.  He's going pro and this talk was about how to brew the perfect hoppy beer.  I specifically focused on two things, the water profile he recommends and eliminating O2 which I think might be hurting my beers.  The water profile was easy to hit with salts but eliminating O2 as much as possible took some thinking.  I am planning on a post soon with my new (and probably crazy and unnecessary) method, but I did buy this portable CO2 cartridge dispenser to help me to purge headspace with CO2 when I sampled and bottled.

This recipe I came up with is pretty simple and focuses on two awesome hops, Citra and Nelson.  I was hoping for a juicy pale ale that's crushable and really bright.  I used late hopping, a hop stand and some super fresh hops from Farmhouse Supply to really drive the aroma.  I like the idea of wheat in the grain bill to provide some softness.  I'm not optimistic because I have yet to brew a great hoppy beer, but hopefully I'll be surprised!

Pale Ale #3

3 Gallons
74% Efficiency

5 lb 2 Row
1 lb White wheat

0.5 oz Chinook (15 min)
0.5 oz Nelson (Flameout)
0.5 oz Citra (Flameout)
0.5 oz Nelson (180F)
0.5 oz Citra (180F)
1 oz Nelson (Dry Hop)
1 oz Citra (Dry Hop)

US05 at 66F ambient.  Mashed at 150F.

OG 1.054 | FG 1.011 | ABV 5.8% | IBU 59

Ca 127 | Mg 2 | Na 0 | Cl 44 | SO4 227 | HCO3 38

8/15/15:  Brewed.  OG 1.049.

8/20/15: Sampled for gravity, purged headspace with CO2 cartridge and added Nelson and Citra dryhop.

8/26/15: Bottled with new O2 free bottling system.

Friday, August 28, 2015

More Quick Sours!

It's been awhile since I've posted but that doesn't mean I haven't been brewing.  I've been consistently been at it and now that I've got some time I plan to catch up on the blog.

I was running low on berliners/quick sours, so I fired up a 3 gallon batch with the intention of splitting it 3 ways.  I followed the kettle sour method I've been using for years to make a pretty low gravity (~4%) beer that's nicely tart and clean.

For this batch, once it fermented out, I chose to split 2 gallons on fruit and 1 gallon as a gose experiment.

The first gallon was split on pineapple for an upcoming competition in my area that I actually took first and second BOS in last year (humblebrag).  This pineapple berliner might not be the most overwhelmingly crazy fruited berliner that I do, but it scored a 43 on Dr. Homebrew and a buddy took my tips on this beer to the final round of NHC in the fruit beer category.  I think that 1 chopped pineapple/gallon is perfect for this style.  The key to a BJCP competition fruit beer is balance with the base style and at this rate, the pineapple is there, but it's definitely a berliner first and foremost.  It's a really elegant blend.  I have high hopes for this at the competition.

I split another gallon onto peach puree.  These local peaches went on sale for 50 cents a pound so I snatched up 10 pounds.  ( let them get really ripe, then took the pits out and pureed them in a food processor and froze them in 2 pound increments.  I put one gallon onto 2 lbs of pureed peach.  When it came time to rack off the fruit, it was an absolute mess.  I left behind a lot of sludge and I'm not sure how well the peach flavor is going to present itself.  

The last gallon I made into a Margarita gose.  I highly salted it (6 g sea salt/gallon) and then added the zest of 2 limes in secondary.  I took a sample to see how it was coming and I was BLOWN away.  The flavor is absolutely nailed.  I haven't been this excited with a beer in awhile.  At bottling the flavor was still there so I'm really excited to try it properly carbed.

I always love making berliners because they're so easy to make (mash one day which takes an hour, then boil the next day for 15 mins, and they are low OG so they ferment quickly) and fun to experiment with.  I actually have a 5 gallon batch planned for this upcoming beer fest which I plan on fruiting (tropical fruit: dragonfruit, passionfruit, mango, guava) and serving during the people's choice portion of the fest.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saison Notes

I wanted to post these here for posterity.  They are notes from the king of saisons, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead.  He gave these notes back in 2007, so they might be a little outdated, but they serve as a fantastic outline of general saison brewing.  In particular I take away the sulfate levels as well as the acidification of the sparge water, which I've never done, but will most definitely be doing when I do my 4th iteration of my saison.

Yeast/Fermentation: A great saison begins with the brewer's choice of yeast. A likely candidate is the Dupont culture (WLP 565, WY3724). This will always produce the peppery/estery/earthy characteristic that seems to define the style. Many brewers have reported difficulties achieving desired levels of attenuation while using this strain and are thus forced to finish the fermentation with a second strain of yeast. I have never encountered this dilemma but highly suggest that when using this strain it is necessary to maintain a very warm fermentation temperature - in the range of 75° to 90° F (24° to 32° C) and to use a yeast nutrient. Due to this occasional lack of attenuation, it may be more advisable to choose a more predictable and reliable yeast strain. Chouffe (WLP550, WY3522), Fantome (WY3725), Blaugies (WY3726) or any myriad of the wit/wheat yeasts (WLP400, WY 3463) available from White Labs and Wyeast are capable choices. The Blaugies strain (WY3726) is reputedly less finicky than the Dupont strain and has a very similar flavor profile (likely due to the relationship between the two breweries at Blaugies' startup). If choosing the Chouffe yeast, beware the "flavor bomb." Higher temperatures with this yeast can result in excessive phenolic/ester development. Pay particular attention to the suggested temperature profiles - but don't be afraid to experiment. Being cautious and living by the rules doesn't breed an inspired saison!

Primary: 1-3 weeks

Secondary: 2 weeks

Bottle Conditioning: 2-3 weeks, minimum

Cellar Indefinitely - three-year-old bottles still taste brilliant!

Water: Depending upon the profile of your water source, you may want to try and boost your sulfate levels into the range of 100 to 200 ppm through the addition of calcium sulfate (gypsum, CaSO4). This will benefit the perceived dryness of the final product and accentuate the hop character. If the pH of your source water is much above 6, you may choose to treat with food grade acid (lactic or phosphoric) to bring the pH of mash and sparge water into the 5.2-5.4 range

Grist: Feel inspired. Begin with a base of Pilsen malt. 2 row pale will work if you don't have access to Pilsen malt. This should contribute at least 50% of extract value. Try adding in Munich, Vienna, wheat, spelt, oat, or rye malt. Candy sugar, dextrose, and other sugars (1-10%) will add fermentability to the wort and boost attenuation

Mash: Infusion mash, unless you have the ability/desire to step. Mash temperature should be guided by your desired end result - the lower the temperature, the higher the level of attenuation and fermentability. Try mashing somewhere in the 146° to 152° F (64° to 67° C) range. Adjust as necessary

Boil/Hopping: 90 minute boil. 20-40 ibus. Noble hops are preferable. Try Styrian Golding, East Kent Golding, Hallertauer, Saaz, or try adding an American twist to your saison by using Mount Hood, Amarillo, or any other spicy variety. It's all up to the chef. Add bittering hops at 60 minutes (20-30 ibus); add remaining bitterness in the last 15-20 minutes of the boil. Finishing addition at the end of the boil should be in the range of 1-2 ounces per 5-gallon batch

Spicing: Star anise, coriander, lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, peppercorns, orange peel, ginger, figs, cumin, dates, etc. Minimal

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Scrappy Hound House Saison #3

Round 3!  My first and second attempts at a delicious saison went surprisingly well.  I really enjoyed each iteration and felt that there was nothing wrong with the two beers, but they could also be improved on.  In this version, I'm sticking to the same general grain bill, but with a little big more emphasis on wheat.

My big change from the past two versions is that I'm introducing a new yeast this time.  In the past I've used French Saison Wyeast 3711 and although I love how vicious that yeast rips through a beer (down to sub 1.005 in no time), the flavor profile isn't exactly what I'm looking for.  I got in touch with the 2014 saison winner and he uses a split of 3711 and the Belgian saison strain, Wyeast 3724.  I had heard stories about the Belgian strain being finnicky, so I had shied away from it, but I think that with some 3711 in there, it'll have no problem ripping through the wort.  I aimed to pitch the yeasts in a 50/50 ratio (I built up starters, and eyeballed how much I pitched), so hopefully we'll get the Belgian profile with the fermenting capabilities of the French strain (in a perfect world).  Oh, and as far as the last batch where I messed with the water profile, I'm keeping it pretty plain this batch, but I am adding some NaCl to see what that does.

Additionally, as much as I love plain saisons, my Fiance isn't the biggest fan, and since she's mainly the other one who drinks these beers, I'm going to split this batch.  I'm thinking that I'll do 1 gallon straight, 1 gallon on some fruit (she suggested Mango, might do Apricots since they're in season) and I think we're going to sour a gallon and maybe pitch some brett.  All in due time.

Scrappy Hound House Saison #3

3 gallons
74% efficiency
60 min boil

3 lb Belgian Pils (67%)
1 lb White Wheat (22%)
0.5 lb Vienna (11%)

0.75 oz Tettnang (60 min)

Wyeast 3724/Wyeast 3711 (50/50) @ 65F ambient.  Mash at 148F.

OG 1.042 | FG 1.006 | ABV 4.7% | IBU 26

Ca 41 | Mg 2 | Na 56 | Cl 87 | SO4 80 | HCO3 38

6/21/15: Brewday.  OG 1.040.  3+ gallons into fermenter.  Cooled overnight and pitched in morning.

6/22/15: Visible fermentation by night.  

7/1/15: Down to 1.001.  Temperature bumped to 70F

7/11/15: Bottled 1 gallon.  

7/19/15: Added 2 packages Goya Mango puree to 1 gallon, dry hopped another with 1 oz. Nelson.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

German Pilsner

Ruh roh.  As if I didn't have enough things to work on in my brewing skill set, I decided I needed to tackle lager brewing.  I recently gave up on hoppy beers (spoiler alert, that beer is drinkable but mediocre at best) and have enough sour beer in the house to kill someone, so I didn't know what to brew for a summer drinker.  I had a bit of a falling out with my kolsch last time I brewed it, so I didnt want to do that.  I nixed a wheat, thought about a blonde/golden but then started reading about quick lagers (Tasty McDole first brought this to my attention on the Brewing Network) and thought, why not?  

So I'm leaving ales behind for a batch and jumping into lagers.  I think this comes from the desire to have a super crushable beer for the summer.  Oh and it doesn't hurt that I had Firestone Walker Pivo Pils for the first time and fell in love.  Now I'm off to create something in a similar vein.

I want this beer to be crisp, lower ABV, and slightly hoppy.  Something you could put away a few of.  I'll be following the following quick lager profile:

-Pitch massive starter into 50F wort.
-Bump the temperature up 5F every 12 hours once 50% attenuation is hit until you reach ~68F.
-Diacetyl rest
-Cold crash, gelatin fine, bottle.

I'm expecting this to take a few weeks.  I'm not in a rush so I have no problem with this taking longer, but I would like to see how fast I can turn around a decent beer for future reference.  

German Pilsner

2.5 Gallons
74% efficiency
90 minute boil

4.5 lb Best Malz Pilsner
0.25 lb Carapils

0.5 oz Tettnang (60 min)
0.5 oz Spalter Select (15 min)
1 oz Tettnang (Flameout)
0.5 oz Spalter Select (Flameout)

Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager @50F.  Mashed at 148F.

OG 1.050 | FG 1.010 | ABV 5.2% | IBU 29

Ca 70 | Mg 2 | Na 0 | Cl 90 | SO4 26 | HCO3 38

5/17/15: Brewday.  Pitched 2L starter next morning after cold crash.  OG 1.049.  Mash pH 5.35.

5/21/15: Gravity down to 1.024.  Bumped ambient up to 58F.

5/22/15: Bumped ambient to 68F.

5/26/15: Gravity down to 1.007.  Began ramp down to <50F to gelatin fine/lager.

6/1/15: Gravity down to 1.004.  Lagering at 40F.

6/11/15: Bottled

Friday, May 8, 2015

Scrappy Hound House IPA #1

Homebrewed IPAs.  My nemesis.  I've brewed quite a few, I've tasted quite a few, and they're always lacking something from top tier commercial examples.  It's a brightness, a cleanness, something that I can't ever achieve in a homebrew setup.  It's happened so much that I'm convinced you can't homebrew a top tier commercial quality IPA (and you DEFINITELY can't if you bottle condition).  

That being said, I'm an idiot and stubborn and tried to brew one.  I was shooting for a Hill Farmstead style IPA.  High mineral content, back loaded hops to produce a very light bitterness, and a smooth drinking experience.  I also took a page out of Noble Ale Work's Shower series which I believe are 100% golden promise malt, or at least they lean heavily on it.

This might be my last hoppy beer for awhile.  I'm tired of being disappointed, these beers aren't cheap and there are a ton of locally available hoppy beers that will quench my thirst.  

IPA #1

3 gallons
74% efficiency
60 minute boil

7 lb Golden Promise (100%)

0.5 oz Chinook (60 min)
0.25 oz Citra (15 min)
0.25 oz Amarillo (15 min)
0.25 oz Centennial (15 min)
1.75 oz Citra (Whirlpool)
0.75 oz Amarillo (Whirlpool)
0.75 oz Centennial (Whirlpool)
1 oz Citra (Dry Hop)
1 oz Amarillo (Dry Hop)
1 oz Centennial (Dry Hop)

Wyeast 1318 @ 66F.  Mashed at 150F.

OG 1.063 | FG 1.011 | ABV 6.9% | IBU 58

Ca 176 | Mg 2 | Na 62 | Cl 110 | SO4 254 | HCO3 203

4/18/15: Brewed

4/29/15: Gravity down to 1.018.  Cold crashed and added gelatin.

5/4/15: Dryhopped

5/10/15: Bottled.  FG 1.011.  6% ABV.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 NHC First Round Results

I entered my first NHC this year.  I finally got my results and scoresheets back and found out that I sent one beer through to the final round.  I'm happy, but kicking myself because I think with a few tweaks or changes I could have done better.  I guess that's why you should do a few competitions to fine tune your beers before a big competition like NHC.

My thoughts on the results:

Russian Imperial Stout - 13 F - Second place, 41.5/50  The notes on this were great to see, especially because I designed this beer specifically for competitions.  That gives me confidence that I can brew competition worthy beers (I see this as a different skill set to brewing good beers).  It scored well in most categories, probably worst in the aroma section.  I was happy to see this advance, but I'll need a little luck to medal with this as I'd have to imagine 41.5 isn't going to get it done.

Golden Brett - 16E - DNP - 29/50.  I knew this beer wouldn't do well.  Thinking back now, I wonder why I even entered it.  I think because I'm so proud of this beer as just a normal drinking beer, that I hoped somehow it would translate to competitions.  That just wasn't meant to happen though as this beer doesn't fit in a category and the comments showed that.  I got "the brett overwhelms the beer", "hard to judge", "blend well together, very pleasant".  At least I don't have to save 3 bottles for the final round!

Passionfruit Berliner - 20 - DNP - 30.5.  This probably surprised me most of all.  I purposefully sent my passionfruit version over my raspberry version after a taste test because the raspberry was very fruit forward and my understanding of the fruit beer category was that you want the base beer to be present, and the fruit to compliment it.  Boy was I wrong because I was dinged for a lack of fruit character.  "A nice berliner, wish there was more fruit character"  and "no detectable passionfruit, base beer style well done".  I was very disappointed in how this scored.

Gose - 23 - DNP - 32.5.  When I entered this in the specialty beer category I said a gose style beer (historic) with sea salt and coriander added.  A good gose is basically a tart, salty beer to me.  Coriander is traditionally added, but I can't normally pick it out as a flavor component because the sourness and salt are so forward.  See Westbrook's Gose for a good example.  Naming coriander as an ingredient was my downfall.  I should know better that once you name an ingredient you damn well better be able to taste it.  The coriander is a light, orange-y background note, not an upfront flavor.  The judges murdered me for this saying, "very good version of style..not enough coriander to detect...salt level was great" and "really refreshing beer..lacks coriander flavor"

I'm looking forward to the Final Round in June, but I'm not holding out any hopes that my RIS medals.  I do think that I'm going to spend the next year fine tuning these recipes, adding a few others (saison), entering some smaller competitions and taking another shot at a NHC medal in 2016.

Monday, March 23, 2015


As I said in my 2015 Brewing Goals post, I was going to focus on a few styles (saison, hoppy beers, sours) and I have done almost exclusively that so far this year.  As much as I love re-brewing the same beers with little tweaks and making them better/honing in on them, every so often you need to switch things up.

I decided I wanted to brew a porter for a couple of reasons.  1) A stout/porter/dark beer is a nice change of pace from saisons/hoppy/sours.  2) Some of my favorite beers that I've had (and some I haven't had, but desperately want) are porters ie: Funky Buddha Last Snow, Angry Chair German Chocolate Cake, Hill Farmstead Everett.  3) Porter is a great style to serve as a base for different treatments (Last Snow has coffee, coconut, white chocolate, German Chocolate Cake has cacao nibs, coconut and vanilla) and if you've read a little of my blog, you'll notice I love splitting a batch 3 ways to get different beers.  

Now, I've read countless arguments about porter vs stout and it seems like nobody knows what differentiates the two styles.  Personally, I don't really care about putting this beer into a style category as I don't aim to enter this in competitions.  Initially I was shooting for a lower ABV, sweeter, lighter (brown to dark brown) beer with little roast character (which is what pops into my head when someone describes a porter).  In researching recipes, I think I actually drifted away from that in an effort to get something like Hill Farmstead's Everett.  I think the beer I ended up with will be a little roastier (maybe too much roasted malt?), but should end up with a higher finishing gravity to add some sweetness and hopefully a little bit of syrupy-ness, which I actually like.  Either way, I think this beer will get tweaked a few times because I'd love to have a good porter in my back pocket.


3 gallons
74% Efficiency
60 minute boil

5.5 lb 2 Row
0.75 lb Chocolate Malt
0.75 lb C60
0.75 lb Roast Barley

0.25 oz Chinook (60 min)
0.5 oz Chinook (15 min)

Wyeast 1318 @64F.  Mashed at 154F.

OG 1.066 | FG 1.022 | ABV 6.0% | IBU 33

Ca 237 | Mg 2 | Na 87 | Cl 219 | SO4 253 | HCO3 269

3/21/15: Brewday.  OG 1.063 (Ended up with > 3 gal).  Seriously dark.  Mash pH high (5.6), added lactic to lower.

3/22/15: Cooled overnight to pitching temp, added decanted 1L starter.  Fermentation was visible within hours.

3/24/15: Down to 1.026.

4/8/15: Racked 1 gallon onto 12 oz of frozen raspberries.  Racked 1 gallon onto 49 g toasted unsweetened coconut.

4/14/15: Bottled the 2 variants and the plain batch.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dark Funky Saison

Things got a little weird on Sunday.  I brewed up a dark funky saison type beer.  Why?  I'm not entirely sure.  I'm a little inspired by Hill Farmstead's Edith when I had it recently, but I think this is mostly for curiosity's sake.  This also isn't technically a saison, I'm not using a saison yeast, but I don't know what else to call it.  Dark Brett Ale?  Farmhouse Dark Ale?  Who knows, let's just hope I in a few months I get to call it "Delicious".

I have a 3 gallon better bottle which I have dedicated to shorter term sour/funky beers.  I have my solera, which is for long term sours, but I wanted to pump out stuff a little quicker to satisfy my sour thirst.  The last beer I did turned out beautifully, so I went with another (hopefully) brett bomb.  I am planning on fermenting this solely with BSI Brett Drie and Hill Farmstead dregs from Nordic Saison that I have been growing up for the past few weeks.

Dark Funky Saison

3 gallons
75% Efficiency
60 minute boil

4 lb Belgian Pils (71%)
1.5 lb White Wheat (27%)
0.12 lb Chocolate (2%)

0.5 oz Tettnang (60 min)
0.5 oz Tettnang (15 min)

BSI Brett Drie and Hill Farmstead Dregs at 66F ambient.  Mashed at 148F.

OG 1.051 | FG 1.011 | ABV 5.4% | IBU 24

Ca 130 | Mg 2 | Na 66 | Cl 116 | SO4 134 | HCO3 213

3/8/15: Brewday.  OG 1.050.  Mash pH 5.4.  It's a little chocolately, so I'm not sure how this will turn out.

3/10/15: Had to switch to a blowoff tube, this thing is fermenting like crazy.

3/16/15: Gravity to 1.011.  Taste is very nice, color is a very unappetizing light brown.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Scrappy Hound House Pale Ale #2

I can't make a good hoppy beer to save my life.  I've brewed probably 10 different IPA/Pale/Hoppy whatevers and they all suck.  Muted aroma/flavor, malt forward, just generally blah.  I'm not even being super critical like I normally am when I compare my homebrew to commercial beers and feel underwhelmed.  I'm comparing my hoppy beers to mediocre versions of commercial beers and they still suck.  

With that being said, I'm not giving up.  I'm on a quest to make an explosive hoppy beer and I'm going to do it.  I might not do it for 20 years, but I'll get there eventually.  I last brewed my Scrappy Hound House Pale Ale #1 a month or two ago and the result was typical for my hoppy beers.  Uninspired and blah.  So I blew that recipe up, read and read and read about brewing hoppy beers and I think I've got it figured out (hahahahahha).

I took out the crystal.  Upped the amount of hops.  Got some fresh, uber dank, reliable flavor combo hops.  I went over water profiles for hoppy beers again (hellooooo sulfates!).  I made sure to get my mash pH low (5.2).  I changed the yeast to what apparently is the Hill Farmstead strain.  Then I hyped myself up and convinced myself this is the time I brew an awesome hoppy beer (either that or I set myself up to cry in the corner when I taste this and it sucks like usual).  

Pale Ale #2

3 Gallons
74% efficiency
60 minute boil

4.5 lb 2 Row (82%)
0.5 lb Maris Otter (9%)
0.5 lb White Wheat (9%)

0.25 oz Chinook (FWH)
0.5 oz Citra (15 min)
0.25 oz Amarillo (15 min)
0.5 oz Citra (Hop Stand, 180F for 20 min)
0.25 oz Amarillo (Hop Stand, 180F for 20 min)
1 oz Citra (Dry Hop)
0.5 oz Amarillo (Dry Hop)

Wyeast 1318 @ 64F ambient.  Mashed at 154F

OG 1.051 | FG 1.011 | ABV 5.2% | IBU 53

Ca 194 | Mg 1 | Na 27 | Cl 120 | SO4 279 | HCO3 108

3/3/15: Brewday.  Mash pH 5.3.  1.5 L starter of WY1318.  50 seconds of O2.  OG 1.051.

3/7/15: Gravity down to 1.017

3/16/15: Gravity at 1.011.  Dry hopped.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

National Homebrew Competition 2015

It's time for NHC, the National Homebrew Competition, the largest homebrew contest in the country.  It happens once a year and takes place in two rounds.  The first round being across the country at judging centers in different cities and the final round taking place at the National Homebrewer Conference, this year in San Diego in June.  I've never entered before, but I decided I wanted to have somewhat of a goal to brew for and thought I'd test my beers at the biggest competition of them all.

Let me first say that I'm honestly not a huge fan of homebrew competitions.  They're about brewing to style, not brewing the best beer possible.  Sometimes those two things coincide, but a lot of times my favorite examples of the style wouldn't fare well in a sanctioned competition (homebrew and commercial beers alike).  There is also the problem of judge bias, the placement of your beer in the flight (if your beer is tasted last, judges might be tired or palate fatigued at that point), my belief that judges aren't necessarily always the most qualified, honestly there are a hundred things wrong with competitions.  Humans have so many things going on that they can't be expected to accurately and fairly taste and score things.

With all that being said, I am still entering 4 beers.  Hypocritical?  Stupid?  Stubborn?  Maybe, but I'm trying to not let the results affect me.  If I win (long shot) I'll certainly be happy but I know that my beer might not have been the best one there or even the best to style, but for some reason the wind was blowing right and I came out on top.  The same goes for if I lose, at least I'll get some feedback!

The beers are as follows (and I tried to give an accurate assessment of what I think about them, and I'll update this when results come back in a few weeks):

Category 13F - Russian Imperial Stout - The Depths

This recipe was taken from past NHC winning recipes and brewed specifically for competition.  It's tasty.  A bit boozy.  Maybe a little sweet?  Or there's this odd sweet character to it.  I like it, but I honestly have no idea how it'll score.  I can see it getting anything from a 30 to a high score.  I'd guess it'll do something like a 34 but I have no basis for that.

Category 16E - Belgian Specialty Ale - Transfunk'd

I absolutely love this beer.  I think it's fantastic and commercial quality.  The aroma is so funky and the taste backs it up.  There's a little something on the back end, but I would buy this in the store.  With that being said, it's probably not going to do well in competition.  There is no category for it and no real base style to the beer.  It's out there but unfortunately not a competition beer.  

Category 20 - Fruit Beer - Pucker Up Passionfruit

Passionfruit berliner.  I taste tested this against my raspberry berliner and this won because it's more subtle.  The raspberry one is delicious, but it overpowers the berliner backbone, and therefore won't do as well in competition.  I make good fruited berliners if I may say so myself, so I think this beer will score the best.  If I get docked it'll be because the passionfruit is too much, but I think it's nicely subtle.  I also worry the carbonation levels might be too high and shipping will mess with it.  Crossing my fingers.

Category 23 - Specialty Beer - Here Gose Nothin'

Gose with coriander and sea salt.  I actually rebrewed this specifically for the competition.  I toned down the salt a little and I hope that puts it more in line.  It's tart, crisp, salty and quaffable.  I think this beer has a high floor and a high ceiling, so it could do well.

If you can't tell, I can make a crisp, lightly tart beer in my sleep at this point and that's why I'm confident in those.  Also, those beers fit in specific styles that I know can score well and if I do place it'll be because of those (with the RIS being a dark horse).  

The box has been shipped so it's out of my hands.  I really look forward to results and even more so, the next year of dialing in a few other styles for next year when I might be a little more prepared for competition brewing. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Solera Fill #2

It's about that time to pull a few gallons off of my "solera", and bottle it up.  I did my first pull a few months ago and they are great beers to have around.  I blended those so they're not intensely sour (the solera is very sour, almost harshly so), but hit the spot when the sour itch starts.

On this next pull I wanted to fruit one gallon and I ended deciding on a mixed berry blend from my grocery store.  This frozen bag has cherries, blueberries, dark raspberries and blackberries.  I think the darker fruit blend will play well with the solera which at the point I can best describe as a dark red/brown type of sour.

The second gallon that I pulled isn't going to have any fruit but rather I added some oak and come bottling time I will dry hop it with a big, juicy hop like Citra or Amarillo.  I added ~7 white oak cubes that I pre boiled.  I'm hoping a nice oak character will mellow out some of the sour of the beer in the next month or so.

Of course I couldn't just pull off beer, I had to brew some to add back as well.  I used The Rare Barrel's recipe for their base red beer to maintain the color/style that the solera already was.

Solera Refill

2 gallons
74% efficiency
30 minute boil

3 lb 2 Row (69%)
0.75 lb Wheat (17%)
0.187 lb Aromatic (4%)
0.187 lb Flaked Oats (4%)
0.187 lb C60 (4%)
0.0625 lb Black Malt (1%)

0.5 oz Tettnang (30 min)

No primary yeast, this went straight back into the solera to ferment.

2/21/15: Brewday.  Pulled 2 gallons off onto fruit and oak.  Refilled solera.

?????: The 2 gallons on fruit and oak ended up turning into nail polish.  Too much oxygen pickup when transferrring.  I ended up bottling the entire solera because I was afraid of it turning into nail polish as well.  I've had a few bottles and they're great.  Very sour up front, but it dissipates quickly and doesn't linger in the back of the throat like some sours do.  Drinkable.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Saison Brewing Salt Experiment Results

If you've read my blog recently, you know that my goal at the start of this year was to brew up a killer saison.  I went through my first iteration a few months ago and it turned out tasty, but I still feel I can definitely improve on it.  Now, I'm a huge proponent of paying attention to your ion levels/mash pH and I believe you can't brew great beer without great water.  So I felt the next step I should take to improve this beer was to delve deeper into water chemistry.  (Beware: Some serious geeking out below)

We've all read about the recommended range that each ion has.  For reference here are the levels pulled from Water: A comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Palmer and Kaminski)

Chloride: 0-100 ppm
Sulfate: 0-250 ppm
Calcium: 50-150 ppm
Sodium: 0-50 ppm
Bicarbonate sort of aka alkalinity: <100 ppm

Following these ranges you see descriptors of what higher levels taste like

Chloride: "Levels greater than 250 ppm....tastes pasty or salty...> 300 ppm can have negative effects on clarification, body and colloidal stability"

Sulfate: "At concentrations over 400 ppm however, the resulting bitterness can become astringent and unpleasant"

Calcium: "essentially flavor neutral, but it can reduce the somewhat sour flavor perception of magnesium...minerally"

Sodium: "can contribute a salty taste at concentrations of 150 to 200ppm...may taste harsh and sour in excess, especially when > 250 ppm"

Bicarbonate: I can't find definitive info about levels, but this is closely tied into alkalinity which is really what water chemistry is about.

So I read all this and thought, well, now I need to test this.  I can read all about what tastes like what at what concentration, but until I really taste it, I can't know how it will turn out.  To me, this is all theoretical and I needed a practical example.  

Commence the experiment which is outlined here but for those who want a summary: rebrew my saison from before with a slight tweak in grain bill, ferment out with Wyeast 3711, then split it 3 ways and dose each split with CaSO4, NaHCO3 or CaCl2, respectively, at bottling.  Most importantly, dose it high enough that it's in excess so we can test these threshold numbers.

Those numbers to be exact:

Post boil into the fermenter (after adding salts to adjust my mash pH)
Ca 80 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 55 | SO4 95 | HCO3 134

First gallon 1.5 g CaSO4 added (final pH into bottles 3.9)
Ca 197 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 55 | SO4 375 | HCO3 134

Second gallon 1.6 g NaHCO3 added (final pH into bottles 4.4)
Ca 80 | Mg 1 | Na 162 | Cl 55 | SO4 95 | HCO3 441

Third gallon 1.1 g CaCl2 added (final pH into bottles 3.9)
Ca 185 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 241 | SO4 95 | HCO3 134

2 weeks in the bottles and it was time for a taste test.  I poured the beers into glasses marked on the bottom, had my SO mix them up, then we tasted them.

My tasting notes below are somewhat sparse, but that's for a reason.  The beers were, overall, extremely similar.  I was expecting a huge difference in these beers.  I'm pushing the upper limits of ion concentrations in beer from what I've read and I expected a similar taste disparity.  What I found was that my SO, who drinks a ton of beer, couldn't taste a difference.  After tasting through all three beers for 30 minutes, I found that there were subtle differences, but nothing huge or groundbreaking.  I would have been happy with any of these beers.  This biggest difference is the slightly elevated bitterness note in beer 3, coming from what I assume to be the elevated sulfate.

Beer 1 (CaCl2)

Taste is slightly sour, a slight harshness on the back end.  Somewhat lingering in the finish.

Beer 2 (NaHCO3)

Fruity up front.  Slightly dry and chalky in the finish. 

Beer 3 (CaSO4)

Fell off on back end.  Rounded.  More bitter than others.  

I know the sample size of this experiment = 1 and it's tough to draw meaningful conclusions from one experiment with no replication but the most significant thing I take away from this is to not be afraid of your water chemistry, especially if you end up high or low.  I'm going to go ahead and say can't taste the difference in a beer that has 40 ppm Ca versus a beer that has 50 ppm Ca, for example, and you might not even be able to taste the difference in a wider range either.  

In the future I need to push the upper boundaries even further to find a meaningful taste threshold for these ions.  I might also blend some of these beers to see if elevated levels of everything does anything to the overall taste.  Many more thoughts going on in my head with regards to water chemistry and the like.