Brew Day: Black Double IPA (Irrational Gaze)

Another hoppy beer, another brew day marred with issues with our plate chiller, oh the joy. It seems whenever we make anything with aggressive amounts of hops our plate chiller seems to get clogged very early in the cooling process. We did a hopstand at for 30 minutes to try and draw everything to the middle but it still did not work. It’s starting to get frustrating, if it continues we may end up buying a hop spider. Maybe building one would be a better idea.

Anyway, Josh has wanted to do a black IPA for quite some time and we finally got it started this past weekend. Pretty standard  West Coast IPA grain bill with some added Carafa Special III malt for … the DARKNESS! We ended up overshooting our OG by a few points, but it’s ok because we pitched a healthy amount of yeast and added a lot of hops.

Mash:
75 minutes @ 149F

Boil:
90 minutes

Grain Bill:
14#                                         2-Row
1#                                           C-60
.5#                                          Carafa Special III

Hops:
Warrior                                90 Minute
Amarillo                              30 Minute, Hopstand
Centennial                          30 Minute, 15 minute, Hopstand
Cascade                               15 minute, Hopstand

Yeast:
WLP090                              San Diego Super Yeast

Extra:
Yeast energizer                15 minutes
Whirlfloc tablet               15 minutes

eOG: 1.071 – 1.076          aOG: 1.081
eFG: 1.018 – 1.012
eABV: 6.9%  – 7.6%

It was nearly 100F outside when finally got to mashing in this beer. We put a few things together before we started brewing so that contributed to our late start time. We mashed in at 149F with brewing salts for a double IPA. We mashed in, spraged (with our new method) that has taken our efficiency to new heights. We collected 7.4 gallons of wort and started our boil.

We used Warrior hops to bitter this beer, it’s pretty much the quintessential bittering hop for IPA/IIPAs, at least in our opinion.  Since this was 90 minute boil we waited until 30 minutes for our next hop addition. This was a half ounce of Amarillo and a half ounce of Centennial.

Next we started to do our late additions. We added .5 oz of Cascade, 1 ounce of Centennial at 15 minutes and 1 oz Amarillo, 1 oz Cascade, and .5 oz of Centennial during the hop stand. We let the hopstand run for 30 minutes at 200F and whirlpooled once it concluded.

This is where we started to have some issues though. The plate chiller clogged up after collecting about a gallon so we were in scramble mode. We ended up disconnecting the plate chiller and using our good old fashioned immersion chiller. It’s been a long time, old friend. We ran our recirculation pump with ice water to the immersion chiller and it actually brought the temp down to 66F in 20 minutes, which isn’t terrible.

We took a gravity reading and overshot our gravity by about .004 points, which is ok. We pitched a very healthy amount of yeast, and it’s high attenuating at that. The beer itself is currently fermenting away in our freshly built fermentation fridge. That was actually pretty simple as well. We are going to make a collar for it eventually.

Since we are about halfway through the year Josh & I mapped out brews for the rest of the year. We want to do 10 so we can hit our target number of brews for the year. So far we have mapped out:

  • Stout *
  • Porter *
  • Dry Hop Naked (dry hopped blonde)*
  • SMaSH Series II: 2-Row & African Queen
  • Gose*
  • Pale Ale with Denali Hops
  • Hoppy Pilsner
  • Grant Us Eyes (NEIPA w/ Nelson + Mosaic)*
  • Brown Eye Woke (Coffee + Vanilla Brown Ale)*
  • Black Kolsch

Anything with a * indicates we have brewed it once before. I think this is a solid list of beers to round out the year. Cheers.

Brew Day: Funky Dark Saison

I was one of the lucky ones to get my hands on Bootleg Biology’s yeast “The Mad Fermentationist” blend. I immediately began to think about what kind of base beer would work with this unique blend.  The blend itself is a combo of Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, and Lactobacillus with characteristics of a Saison (peppers, clove, and citrus). Apparently if you ferment at around 80F you get stone fruit and cherry notes as well, so that’s what we are aiming for with beer.

We came with an idea to make a Funky Dark Saison tentatively named “Cookie Cutter Hooded Executioner.” We think that the combination of dark malts with the natural stone fruit/cherry phenols from the yeast would work really well with together. We had originally planned to just use Horizon hops for a more classic Saison character, but I was able to get some African Queen hops from my LHBS without having to support AB-InBEV. So that was definitely a win for us.

Grain Bill________________________________________________________
30%        Maris Otter
30%        Dark Munich
30%        Vienna
8%          Wheat
1.5%      Special B
.4%         Acid Malt
1 lb         Flaked  Oats
.5 Lb       D180 Candi Syrup

Hops_____________________________________________________________
1 oz        African Queen (45 minute addition)
1 oz        African Queen (Dry Hop—haven’t decided if we want to do this quite yet)

Yeast_____________________________________________________________
1 pkg       Bootleg Biology “The Mad Fementationist Blend”

Extra_____________________________________________________________
1 tsp        Yeast Nutrient

Brewing Information_______________________________________________
Mash:     75 minutes @ 153F
Sparge:  10 minutes @ 168F
Boil:        75 Minutes

Expected OG: 1.058 – 1.061
Expected FG: 1.010 – 1.006
Expected ABV: 6.2% – 7.2%
Actual OG: 1.060
We started this brew day relatively late because we had to bottle Smeagol’s Precious: Blueberries. There was a small bit of a sulfuric aroma coming from the fermenter even after primary had finished. I was hoping that extra time on the blueberries would get the smell out, which thankfully, it did. That beer has an amazing color and tastes like a perfect “lawnmower beer,” I’m happy with the pre-carbonated version.

We started mash in at 163F, with a 10 degree drop after we transfer the water to the tun. We transferred our strike water to the mash tun at 153.4F and left it to mash in for 75 minutes. Once the 75 minutes was up we started our sparge. For this brew, we finally got a chance to use our gravity table we recently put together, so we experimented a bit with the sprage. Instead of batch sparging as we normally do we did a fly sparge and had a constant stream of strike water flowing on top of the grain bed. We kept the grain bed submerged until we were out of water and ended up with 7 gallons of wort. As an aside, we were both pretty psyched to use the gravity table. It seemed like it made the process much more efficient and moving around was a lot easier. This was definitely a much-needed upgrade.

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Our gravity tables maiden voyage

Overall the wort boiled for 75 minutes and in those 75 minutes we; added 1 oz African Queen hops at 40 minutes, added a half pound of D180 Belgian Candy Syrup at 30 minutes, and a yeast energizer at 15 minutes. When it was finally done boiling we were in awe with the color. The wort was a deep ruby red, it looked phenomenal. From the kettle it smelled like caramel, cherries, and tobacco—it hit every note we wanted it to.

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Mashing out into the brew kettle–beautiful color

We cooled the wort down from 216F to 78F in 10 minutes. We collected 4.8 gallons of wort during the transfer from the kettle to the carboy. We hit the upper end up of our expected OG at 1.060. We pitched the yeast at 78F and hit it with a bit of oxygen (30 seconds) and put it away until bottling day. I intend to sample it after 2 weeks to see where it’s at, but I think I’m going to let this one sit for about a month before we bottle it. The blend of yeast used has a lot of unique characters, and I’d like them all to be on display for this one.

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OG 1.060, picture taken before wort was cooled down completely

We haven’t decided if we want to dry hop this with some more of the African Queen hops. I only have 3 ounces of it left and I would like to use them in a SMaSH Pale Ale, mostly late hop additions. I’ll wait until after primary finishes and an initial tasting to see if we want to go that route.

This was our first brew day in a little over a month and a half, we had both been chomping at the bit to get back in the swing of things. Everything went amazingly smooth, I don’t think we could have asked for a better brew day to get things rolling again. Up next on our agenda:

  • Fermentation Chamber
  • Keezer/Kegerator
  • Black West Coast IPA: “Temporary Lapse of Reason”

Smeagol’s Precious: Blueberries

Our previous brew, which I did not chronicle for reasons I will soon get into, was for a “brett” IPA (fermented with WLP644) that we brewed back in 2015. I chose not to document the brew day because it just so happen to be the brew day from hell. Murphy’s law was absolutely in full affect that day. Some of our issues included; a stuck sparge, plate chiller getting clogged THREE times (!!), forgetting to take a gravity reading, and last but not least about 1 gallon of trub in the fermenter. Initial sample tasted… pretty great! We bottled it when we brewed this next beer.

Wheat beers are admittedly not my favorite style, they just aren’t very exciting. We have made in the past two wheat beers; Smeagol’s Precious: Oranges. We tried it with cara-cara oranges which came from our good friend Smeagol’s (Denys) backyard and with cuties. I gave most of mine to friends and let them be the judge. They were both pretty successful, everyone really liked them. I had a preference to the cara-cara oranges because the cuties version seemed a bit too sweet for me.

We decided to brew it for a third time to have it for the summer and for our trip to Hawaii. We both agreed to switch it up, we didn’t want to do oranges again. It was between strawberries and blueberries, and because we haven’t much success with strawberries we decided to use blueberries. I think 6-7 lbs of pureed blueberries should be enough. We will be adding it once primary fermentation has ended.

Grain Bill:
45%       2-Row
45%       White Wheat
5%         Munich
5%         Flaked Wheat
Rice Hulls

Hops:
2 oz Hallertauer Blanc
1 oz at 60 minutes
1 oz at 30 minutes

Yeast:
1 pkg US-05

Extra:
1 tsp Yeast energizer
7lbs pureed blueberries after primary fermentation
1 whirlfloc tablet

Mash:
60 minutes at 154F

Sparge:
10 minutes at 168F

Boil:
60 Minute

Expected:
OG: 1.047                          FG: 1.010                         ABV: 4.84%

Actual:
OG: 1.046                          FG:                                   ABV:

We were hoping for a better brew day this time around and the beer gods rewarded us with just that. Our mash went off without a hitch and we hit our target temps right on the nose. Our mash out temp was 153.6F and our sparge temp was 168F. We collected 7.3 gallons of sweet wort and started our boil. We undershot our 7.5 gallon wort expectancy by .2 gallons, but it wasn’t enough to where it really made a difference. Pre-boil gravity was at 1.035.

There really wasn’t anything particularly interesting about this brew day, other than the fact that it went off without a hitch. While we were brewing this batch we started talking about certain things we’d like to start doing. One of them was vorlaufing, as previously noted clarity is not something that we have really been concerned with. Now though, as we are getting more and more experienced (and we have a hoppy pilsner on the horizon) we would really like to establish some clarity with our new brews. Granted, we didn’t do it for this wheat, next brew day will be different.

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Adding 1 oz hops to the boil

At the 30 minute mark we added the second ounce of hops to the boil and patiently waited for the 45 minute mark. Once that arrived we added our whirlfloc tablet and yeast energizer. We then started to prep our plate chiller and ice bath. I guess the one thing extraordinary that happen on this batch was that our plate chiller, in one pass, cooled our wort down from 199F to 58F in about 10 minutes. This is absolutely insane. When we checked the temp we both thought our thermometer was off, but it turns out it wasn’t. I’ve never seen that type of efficiency on the plate chiller and after the disaster that was last week… it was a nice surprise.

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Wort running from the kettle to the plate chiller.

We collected 4.4 gallons of wort and cut it off, trying to minimize the amount of hop and grain residue in the fermenter. We took a gravity reading and it was 1.046, .001 off our target gravity. Pitched one packet of Safale US05 yeast, attached a blow-off tube and tucked this batch away in the depths until it’s time to add the blueberries.

It can’t be stated how easy this brew day was. Nothing went wrong and things actually exceeded expectations. We unfortunately don’t have any of the old batch of Smeagol’s Precious: Oranges to do a side by side, but since this is blueberries it isn’t the end of the world. We had also thought of taking a gallon of this and adding vanilla and cinnamon, like a blueberry pie. Maybe.

Battle of the Wokest

Stupid post title aside, this is actually kind of an important post. We have a problem sometimes with not saving beers to do side by side comparisons from one batch to the next. Granted, not all styles age very gracefully so you have to pick and choose which to save and which to consume fresh, but I digress.

I saved a bottle of Brown Eye Woke batch 1 for specifically this purpose. I want to see how it’s holding up to the test of time (7 months) and how similar or different batch 2 may be. We used a different type of coffee but the grain bill was exactly the same. Moving forward, let’s get started!

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Batch 1 on the left, batch 2 on the right

Appearance: You can see right away the batch 2 is much lighter. I touched upon this a bit in my previous post when going over the brew day. I’m still not sure why the difference, I’m assuming a specialty grain was either given in a smaller quantity or given the wrong one entirely. A much bigger head on the batch 1 bottle, which is strange — both were carbonated at the same volume. I think a good color would be somewhere in between the two. We will make the necessary adjustments.

Aroma: I’ll just go ahead and throw this out there now. Batch 1 has completely fallen off. Very light coffee smell with a slightly metallic twang at the end. Batch 2 on the other had smells great! Heavy coffee with an amaretto like nuttiness rounding it out. I get some decent malt character as well, a slight roasted chocolate smell.

Body: Pretty similar between the two of these. Batch 2 has the better body, but that could be due to the higher carbonation level of Batch 1. Very similar though, very drinkable but not exactly thin. I’d say for a brown the body is right where it needs to be — medium.

Taste: Same grain bill, same yeast, different coffee. Things should be pretty similar right? Not really. Batch 1 is noticeably worse at this stage. The coffee has completely fallen off and the aftertaste went from a hazelnut/walnut finish to a iron like flavor. Very disappointing ending to my favorite batch from last year. Batch 2 though… even better than batch 1 was fresh. Intense coffee taste on the front with a roasted malt backbone to round it out. It has a sweet-amaretto like flavor in there as well. Much more complex than the first batch and already better.

Overall: I’m curious to see how batch 2 ages considering batch 1 tanked pretty hard in a relatively short amount of time. If batch 2 suffers the same fate we may have refine how we add our coffee. I know coffee tends to fade over time, but this is a relatively fast drop off. We normally dry bean, but maybe cold brew is the correct way to go.

Batch 2 is the clear winner right now, but in reality I think the real winner was us. Getting to compare and contrast previous iterations of the beer we’ve created is pretty special.

We will make sure to do a batch 2 vs. batch 3 comparison when the time comes.

 

 

SMaSH Series Volume I: Golden Promise & Belma

One thing both Josh and I vowed to do this year was take a more simplistic approach to brewing. Running before you’re able to walk is a mistake that is made pretty frequently in many aspects of life; brewing notwithstanding. We admitted to each other that some of the risks we took were definitely out of the realm of our experience threshold. This isn’t a bad thing – we gather useful information for future brews and learned a lot about process and maintenance of living cells. With that being said, 2017 is focusing on rebrewing old recipes. In addition to trying to tweak and better old recipes we are also starting our first “series,” we call it: The SMaSH series.

SMaSH stands for Single Malt and Single Hop. It’s a very basic grist that is also very useful when it comes to identifying grain profiles as well as hop profiles. Getting a better grasp on base malt flavors (and in some case specialty malt) flavors is not only an excellent step in the right direction of designing recipes but also in comprehending which of these grains complement one another best. For our first entry in the SMaSH series, we used Golden Promise malt and Belma hops for a pale ale.

I’m going to talk a bit about the malt and hops we used for this batch, just to kind of get a scope of what I expect this beer to taste like when it’s completed. This is obviously in a vacuum, and it will obviously be a little more nuanced once it is done fermenting. Golden Promise is a Scottish malt, one of my favorite base malts for pale beers. It is sweet, malty, and even has a little bit of biscuit flavor at the end. It is like a less intense version of Maris Otter (which is also a favorite of mine). A very mild base malt that lets the hop character shine. Belma hops are hops that I personally have never used before. I first got word of them when another local brewer used them in a saison. He said they gave his beer a nice bright citrus flavor with some hints of berries; specifically blueberries and strawberry. This seems like a cool hop to play with in clean ales.

When all is said and done I would like this beer to be crisp, lightly malty, with aromatics of stone fruit and citrus and a nice berry finish. I think given the ingredients (or lack thereof) this is very reasonable goal for this ale.

Grain:
10 lbs                     Golden Promise

Hops:
4 oz                        Belma Hops

Hop Additions:
.5 oz                       60 minute
.5 oz                       30 minute
1  oz                       15 minute
1  oz                       Flameout
1  oz                       Dry Hop (3 days)

Yeast:
1 packet               Safale US-05

Mash Temp:
152F                       60 minute

Boil:
60 Minutes

Expected OG:    1.048 – 1.050
Expected FG:     1.014 – 1.010
Expected ABV:  4.71% – 5.24%

Actual OG:          1.048

This was a very standard brew day, it was over as quickly as it started. After our last batch, we forgot to get our propane tank refilled so we had to do that before we got started, but everything else was smooth sailing. Mash was stable at 152F for 59.5 minutes (it was 151.9F for the last 30 seconds of the mash, because we had to move it inside). Mashed out at 168F and collected 7 gallons of wort.

We tried a few different things with this batch that I’d like to point out. We played around with water chemistry for the first time. Shoutout to Ty at www.watersbrewer.com, if you haven’t taken the plunge into constructing your water this is a very solid place to start and build that foundation. He sells prepackaged brewing salts for distilled or reverse osmosis water.

Once the boil started and the hop break subsided we added our first addition of hops. We only added half an ounce at first wort because we wanted to get as much aromatics/taste from the hops with as little bitterness as possible. The whole point of this is to get as much data and information from each ingredient in this beer. The less bitterness present in this beer the better, in my opinion.

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I never get tired of looking at a hot break

We added our hop additions as normal at the 60 minute, 30 minute, 15 minute, and 1 minute (flameout) times. We also added a whirlfloc tablet for the first time. Clarity of the wort/beer isn’t something I’ve really been concerned with but for this beer we figured we’d give it a go. No real motivation behind other than to experiment a little bit with an inexpensive batch. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up preferring to use whirlfloc tablets from now on! We also added a bit of yeast energizer because it doesn’t hurt to do it.

Our plate chiller wasn’t as efficient this time, for whatever reason. It may have been because it was a bit hotter outside on this brew day. We got the wort from 196F to 88F in about 5 minutes using the same method; recirculated ice water. The process is always smooth, but hopefully we can figure out a way to better get the temperature down for the next batch. We ended up just putting the carboy in the chest freezer for about 2 hours to get in down to pitching temperature (66F). It worked out well enough.

20170304_130437
Plate chiller to caryboy

We took a gravity reading with the rest of the leftover sweet wort from the kettle. I was shocked when I saw it read 1.032. I thought there was no way we only hit 55% efficiency with this batch. That is absolutely impossible. The more I was thinking about what went wrong the further away I was from the actual answer. It hit me after a while that we didn’t adjust the hydrometer reading based off of the temperature of the wort. We took the gravity reading while the wort was still at 150F, duh! So using the online adjuster tool with our hydrometer calibrated at 66F it adjusted to 1.048, which is 75% efficiency. We were happy with that.

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Gravity reading without the calibration/temperature adjustment

Overall I know we can improve with our efficiency, maybe not with the cooler mash tun that we are currently using but definitely once we upgrade. The SS Brewtech insulated mash tun is going to be ours soon and it is going to be amazing. With that said, I will end this with a picture of a beautiful cold break.

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Fantastic looking cold break!

We are both really looking forward to the end result of this beer. The SMaSH concept is such a simple one, but it is extremely important. I look forward to making more experiments with this in mind. I have a few hops on my mind for the next in the SMaSH series: El Dorado, Equinox, J17, Southern Passion, or possibly Mouteka.

It’s Competition Time!

One of our goals for 2017 was to get our beer entered, and preferably win, in homebrewing competitions. We took our first step in attaining that goal by entering the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). The NHC is put together by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and it’s the biggest competition in the US. We are both excited and terrified at this concept. This is going to be very constructive no matter what happens. A non-bias critique from certified judges will certainly help going forward.

We decided to enter our Coffee & Vanilla Brown, “Brown Eye Woke.” I have entered this into the category 19C American Brown, but I may change it to 13B British Brown. I haven’t decided yet but both categories are fairly similar.

Grain Bill:

8 pounds                            Pale 2-Row Malt
.75 pounds                          Brown Malt
.75 pounds                          Biscuit Malt
.75 pounds                          Special Roast Malt
.75 pounds                          Victory Malt

Hops:

2 oz                                        Kent Golding      (15 minute and 45 minute additions)

Yeast:

WLP005                                British Ale Yeast

Estimated
OG                 1.050
FG                  1.010

Actual
OG                 1.050
FG

We have been hitting about 70-75% efficiency lately, which is a big step above the 66-69% we were used to getting recently. We hit our OG right on the nose as well as our pre-boil and post-boil volume. We might actually know what we’re doing!

We mashed in at 152F for 60 minutes and mashed out at 151.8F. Not bad for a cooler mash tun. As a bit of an aside we plan on upgrading to the SS Brewtech 10 gallon mash tun very shortly, but I digress. We spraged at 168F with a 10 minute rest and collected 7 gallons of wort.  Going off tangent, again, after I threw the spent grains away I started to feel like I should do something with them. So starting next brew day I’m going to start making dog treats with the spent grains.

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It was a beautiful day Sunday, too beautiful to not brew.

One thing I noticed right away with this second batch was the color of the wort. It didn’t seem to be very dark… it actually looked pale/orange in all honesty. We were a bit taken back by it, and I initially thought they may have given us the wrong grain bill. We decided to press on and mash as we usually do. After the sparge, the color got a little bit darker, but the SRM was clearly different. I’ll touch more on this later.

Moving on, we brought the wort to a boil for 60 minutes with hop additions of .75 ounces for 45 minutes and 1.25 ounces for 15 minutes. Kent Golding hops are pretty non-intrusive hops and the honey and “earthy” component they add to beers meshes really well with this style. I love watching the hot break happen, it’s such an awesome reaction (fuck yeah, science)

.

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Hot break about to… break

 

We recently brewed Dry Hop Naked, our dry hopped honey blonde, again. We had some issues with our new plate chiller. We didn’t have time to do a test run, so we kind of learned on the fly. Results were best described as… mixed. Although the plate chiller took the temperature from 185F to 78F in about 8 minutes, so it definitely did its job. We decided to step things up a bit and save even more water this time around.

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Using the new plate chiller with recirculated ice water. Perfection.

About a month ago we made a carboy washer with a bucket, submersible pump, and some PVC pipe. We toyed with the idea of using our pump to recirculate ice water through the plate chiller. This would not only cut down on wasting water but also streamline the process so we can chill twice instead of once.

It worked insanely well! We used the gravity method to get the wort form the kettle to the chiller into another kettle. We got the temp from 183F to 77F in about eight minutes. Once that was done we transferred from the kettle to the carboy and put it in the fridge, got it down to ~66F and pitched our yeast. It was an incredibly smooth brew day, and it was one of our most efficient ones at that. Hit our target OG on the nose, got everything done in about three hours, and we were able to relax for the rest of the day.

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One thing I still don’t quite understand though is the difference in color. The grain bill is 100% exactly the same from batch one to two.  I’m really stumped on this one… I hope it doesn’t affect the flavor of the finished product, either. After the cold break and pitching the yeast, the color did get darker, but still not as dark as the previous batch. Maybe it’s all mental and I’m imagining things. I have some batch one bottles still so I will definitely do a little side by side when time permits.

2016: A Beer in Review

2016 has certainly been… something, there is no denying that. Rather than dwell on what was without a doubt one of the most tumultuous year I’ve ever been a part of, I’d rather focus on the positives. What is a bigger positive than beer? There really isn’t any. This really was a great year for us in terms of brewing (not to mention drinking). Our general knowledge, understanding, processes, and ability to create all jumped up exponentially over the course of this year. We did about 20 batches this year, and we are itching to do more.

There were definitely some dudes this year and we weren’t without our issues (infection, carbonation). These issues are to be expected though and as long as you continue to improve and not make the same mistakes twice they can be more of positive than a negative. Without a doubt we did some beers that were probably (read: definitely) above our level of expertise… with very mixed results. I’m not upset with the fact that they didn’t come out perfect, that’s the beauty of this. A bad beer is very easy to remake and improve upon, it isn’t a terrible thing. The only way to get better is to fail, I strongly believe that. We’ve shown some pretty remarkable improvement this year, and I expect us to continue to trend upwards. I’d like to reflect on some of our better beers.

  1. Dry Hop Naked: A blonde dry hopped with Comet and Citra hops. The perfect mix between a light easy drinker and hoppy. The dry hop gave it the aroma of peach and mango while the beer itself was light on stonefruit and dry. Easily one of our best. We used Wyeast 1318 (London II) to ferment this and it was a huge success.
  2. Unnamed Robust Porter: There is actually a name for this, but everyone hates it… so back to the drawing board for that one. Really easy drinker this one was; roasted coffee and chocolate dominated the nose and the body followed with the same. It also had a nice biscuit flavor at the end. It finished a little high (1.024 from 1.066, FG was supposed to be 1.018) but it wasn’t overly sweet. The body was great for a porter, too.
  3. Gose: Fairly easy beer to make, but always delicious. I made a write-up about it on this blog, so I won’t get big into details. We’ve brewed this several times since our first attempt in March and it is always refreshing. We will continue to make improvements to it. We always kettle sour it, but maybe we can do a long term project next. We also added apricots to a part of this, it was phenomenal.
  4. The Gathering Storm/Grant Us Eyes: I put these two together because they are the same base malt recipe, with different hops. It’s our take(s) on a NEIPA, the newest haze craze sweeping the West Coast. TGS was hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Simcoe and was also amazing. Passion fruit, Mango, and Grapefruit up front with a nice backend of pure dank. We used WLP090 for this one, which wasn’t the best choice (the beer dropped pretty clear) but it made little to no difference. Hopefully next time we can use the correct yeast so the beer can improve. For GuE we used a hop bill of Nelson and Mosaic. White wine and grapes is the perfect way to describe this beer. It was very balanced (not too bitter, not too malty) and always left you wanting more. Excited to revisit these next year.
  5. Brown Eye Woke: American Brown ale with Coffee and Vanilla. This is probably the best beer we made this year. We used Madagascar vanilla beans and Cloud Ripper (Modern Times) coffee for this one. The aroma is pure roasted coffee, there’s also some nutty type of smell that can be described as almonds. That isn’t a bad smell, in fact it really enhances the overall aroma of the beer. Upfront this beer is almost purely coffee with the nut-roast-chocolate (?) flavor coming behind it. There isn’t much vanilla here, but you can get a faint hint of it as the taste dies down. Maybe next time double down on the vanilla.

These are what I would consider our best beers this year – we do have a few beers that are not fully carbonated yet (Berliner Weiss, BW w/ raspeberries and blueberries, Saison w/ 6 strains of brettanomyces , peaches, and strawberries). So this list is subject to change!

We can’t list our best beer without going over our worst ones, either.

  1. One With the Shadows: A Russian Imperial Stout that just never worked from the get go. OG of 1.099 and a FG of… 1.065? What? Not enough aeration on the wort pre-pitch and maybe the starter wasn’t big enough, but it crapped out, and it crapped out quick. I even tried to pitch a second starter to get it moving, it did no good. After 2 months we decided to bottle it and needless to say, bottles exploded and walls were coated. It’s a shame, really. The beer itself tasted pretty solid. We are going to attempt this one again sometime soon.
  2. Impeached: A blonde ale fermented with 100% Brettanomyces (Brett bruxellensis and drei) and refermented on fresh peaches. Where to start on this one? Completely oxidized with no real flavor. All the initial samples of this beer were very positive. I assume our old bottling process had something to do with this. It took nearly 8 months to fully carbonate (I’m still not sure why?) and when it finally did there wasn’t much to it. It smelled great, like overripe peaches with some mild funk. The taste was a different story though… cardboard and mineral water pretty much dominated. Highly disappointing, but we are going to give it a go again next year.
  3. 2/16: Our first long term sour project. We brewed this in February of 2016 (hence the name) and just bottled it a few days ago. Smell is nice and funky with a sharp lactic bite, not a bad one either. The taste is pretty rough though; Tetrahydropyridine all over the place. Initially it tastes like a nice, complex sour. It is quickly dominated by biscuit-cracker-cheerios, aka THP. This is pretty disappointing considering we waited nearly 10 months for this to age. However, the taste was from the sample and I know that THP can be cleaned up by brett with time, so there is still hope. I had to include it because I’m severely disappointed.
  4. Yo, Homeboy: I want to preface this by saying that this isn’t a bad beer in anyway shape or form, but it didn’t come out how we intended. We had made a recipe for a Pliny the Elder clone with a few tweaks here and there. We were spot on with our gravity readings, IBU, SRM, and wort volume. Everything was going well until it was time to pitch the yeast. Our first choice of yeast (WLP090) was not available at the time so we went with a recommendation. The yeast itself was more of a lager yeast. It fermented at an insane pace for two days and blew the top off of our carboy twice (!). All the hop flavor dissipated and left us with what was essentially a lager. It was crystal clear and extremely light. Did I mention this beer was nearly 10%?

We plan on doing most of, if not all, of these on the list so we expect improvements to be made.  I think of the beers mentioned Yo, Homeboy has the potential to be the best. Everything about that beer until the final product was top notch. I fully expect that to be rebrewed several times in the foreseeable future.

You can’t have a retrospective without listing some goals for the next, because if you aren’t getting better you’re getting worse.

  • Continue to refine our brewing processes and recipes
  • Enter (and preferably win) in Homebrew Competitions
  • Create a better space for our brewing equipment
  • Have four (4) beers that always in rotation (constants)
  • Play more with water chemistry and begin the addition of adding oak to beers

These are very basic, yet can prove to be very effective goals for the upcoming year. We will strive for consistency, which is without a doubt a key component to creating something “living.” Josh and I both are both looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us. Ideas are flowing and it’s nigh time to execute them. Beer.

We have a problem… a Ghost Problem

For better or for worse Pumpkin ales of all sorts are a staple of the fall season. They come in many varieties; sours, stouts, ambers, IPA, etc. Whether or not they are good pumpkin beers is an entirely subjective matter. Personally I have had enough pumpkin beers to know that there is a solid foundation to make some really tasty pumpkin beers.

We have been throwing around an idea for a stout for a little over a year now, it was originally supposed to be a Halloween beer but we never got around to brewing it on time. We decided that even though the season (for all intents and purposes) was over we would still go through with making our pumpkin beer. This one has a bit of a twist on the traditional styles though. This would be a smoked pumpkin stout with vanilla beans. There is most definitely going to be a lot going on here, but we feel the flavors will meld together with time.

We decided to call this; Ghost Problems: A Spooky Stout

10 lbs     Maris Otter
1 lb         C-40
1 lb         Chocolate Malt
8 oz        Roasted Barley
2 lbs       Peachwood Smoked Malt

3 oz        Crystal Hops

1.5 lbs   Roasted Pumpkin

1 TB        Pumpkin Spice (Allspice, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg)

Original Gravity:      1.060           Final Gravity:            1.012

ABV: 6.28%

Actual OG:                 1.056           Efficiency: 60%

We had a few options in regards to adding the pumpkin to the beer. We could’ve done a mash infusion, boil, or add it to the secondary. Of the options we were presented with, I liked the idea of boiling it the most. Mash was a close second on the list – but the idea of a stuck sparge and messy mash tun didn’t necessarily get me excited.

I had originally planned for the mash to be at 163F but decided that was probably a bit too high, so I changed it to 153F, which is a pretty safe temperature. We did a single infusion mash with a batch sparge (strike water heated to 170F and rest for 15 minutes). You immediately smell the light smokiness of the peachwood smoked malt we used, but it wasn’t overbearing. It was definitely there, but it was very subtle; exactly what we wanted.

We ended up with more wort than originally anticipated, but with a 90 minute boil it wasn’t the end of the world, but still had a slightly lower OG because of it.

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Hot break about to pop

We did two hop additions, one at 30 minutes of ¾ ounces and another at 75 minutes of 2 ¼ ounces. When it came time to add the pumpkin at 70 minutes, rather than throw the pumpkin inside the kettle we added it our hop bag and set it aside. With 10 minutes left in the boil we added a yeast energizer and our pumpkin spice. The pumpkin spice was a mixture of; allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. It smelled awesome going into the boil and left a lingering aroma of pie.

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Nice rolling boil with all additions of hops, pumpkin, and pumpkin spices!

The addition of the spices and the pumpkin made the wort have a pretty great looking orange hue. The color combined with the rolling boil was almost hypnotic to look at, and the smell only added to the mesmeric allure. We chilled it down to 66F, hit it with 120 seconds of pure O2 (thank you, diffusion stone) and added two packs of WLP007. Within 12 hours it was bubbling away like crazy. We used a blow-off tube for this one, but it might not have been necessary, oddly enough.

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Wort going into the carboy

We are going to add vanilla beans once primary fermentation has completed. I may also add a bit more spices depending on how much they come out. Based on the sample it wasn’t spice heavy, and we could maybe use a bit more. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it though.

Josh and I are both really excited for this beer, not only because we’ve been talking about it for over a year now, but also because the sample was very promising. If it all goes well this may be something we brew every year for the holidays.

Cheers.

Souring with Probiotics

Over the past five years or so the craft beer industry has experienced an exponential growth spurt like we haven’t seen before.  The evolution of the beer scene has caused not only consumers but brewers alike to constantly search for the next best beer. Whether it’s a specific style or a certain ingredient; the quest for the perfect beer wages forward even though this is undoubtedly an unattainable goal.  While that goal may never be achieved, there are styles of beer that are sought after more than their counterparts. As I’m writing this the most sought after style of beers are without a semblance of doubt: sours.

Sour beers are in such high demand that breweries and home brewers alike are trying to find the newest, quickest, and efficient ways to create them. Brewing a sour beer is normally a testament to patience, the average turnaround on a sour beer is normally 6-9 months. There are other ways to go about this (sour worting[i], sour mash[ii]) but those techniques are not foolproof and you can end up with a myriad of problems ranging from butyric acid (cheese), diacetyl (butter), or acetic acid (vinegar).

Let’s talk a bit about what makes a beer sour, the rod shaped bacteria is called “lactobacillus[iii].” In addition to beer, this bacterium is also used to ferment cheese, yogurt, and wine amongst many other products. In order to create a sour beer the pH of the wort (unfermented beer) must drop from the 5.2 – 5.7 area to 3.4 – 3.1. In order to do this you must keep the wort at a temperature between 90°F and 120°F for anywhere between 24-72 hours on average. There are many different strains of lactobacillus and the more strains you use per beer the more complex flavors you will get. Some strains will create sour apple flavors, some will create lemon, and others will create both and add depth to your beer.

Brewing with bacteria and other unpredictable organisms is a very delicate process and with many breweries offering sour programs upon startup they do not have time for batch inconsistencies or long turnaround times. That leads to the purpose of this article – a quick souring process that doesn’t possess a small margin for error. What I mean by this is; by simply following instructions you should be able to create a sour beer without running a risk for off flavors and smells. After joining the Facebook group “Milk the Funk[iv]” I was turned onto a method of souring using probiotics (Milk the Funk is a group of commercial and home-brewers that specialize in the use of alternative sources of yeast [bacteria, wild yeast]).  They recommend two different types of probiotics for their souring: Lawsons and Goodbelly[v]. I was able to acquire “Goodbelly pomegranate blackberry probiotic shot,” which is exactly what it sounds like; a probiotic drink flavored with pomegranate and blackberry. The group suggested mango, but I was unable to locate the mango flavor[vi].

After absorbing as much knowledge as I could possibly retain I felt I was ready to take the plunge into brewing this. I had once before brewed a sour, or attempted to brew a sour, but it was riddled with butyric acid and tasted more like an elote then it did a gose. Naturally I was a bit hesitant to brew this same style, but that is half the fun when it comes to brewing – understanding your failure and improving upon it.

Two days before the brew day I created a 1000ML starter with light DME[vii] with an OG[viii] of 1.040. I then brought it down to 95 degrees and pitched in two shots of the Goodbelly probiotic. The Goodbelly probiotic contains one strain of lactobacillus; plantarum. So while this won’t give the most complex tasting sour in the world, it will create a very light, lemony-tart tasting beer. Perfect for a style such as a gose[ix], which is very crisp, refreshing, and of course delicious. Once the lactobacillus was pitched I held the temperate for 48 hours at a constant 98°F. We will get back to that later, on to the brew itself.

The grain bill was very simple; 50% wheat and 50% pilsner malt was used to create this. It was mashed[x] for 60 minutes at 145°F. Once the mash concluded it was time to sparge[xi]. In total 5.1 gallons of wort was collected from the grain and it had an OG of 1.036. The wort was brought to a quick boil (15 minutes) and then an addition of .75 ounces of Sea Salt and 1.0 ounces of Coriander were added. Once the wort was transferred to a carboy[xii] it was cooled to 100°F and the lactobacillus starter that was created 48 hours beforehand was pitched[xiii]. I allowed the wort and bacteria to work together for 48 hours before I pitched in the saccharomyces[xiv].

A starter of White Labs 644[xv] was pitched after a 1000ML starter was made 24 hours prior. After two weeks the FG [xvi] stabilized at 1.006 and its final ABV percentage was 3.94%[xvii]. A sample was taken prior to bottling and it was a very accurate representation of what a traditional gose should taste like. We were very happy with the results, but it still needed to be bottled and naturally carbonated. We bottled 4 gallons and siphoned the extra gallon into a smaller carboy where it will rest on apricots for 2 weeks before bottling.

It has been roughly 11 days since we bottled and I opened up the first carbonated bottle and was blown away by the beer. It was everything you look for in a gose; it was noticeably wheaty with lemony-tart bite followed by a subtle salty finish. All in all, it tasted fantastic. As stated before, with just the one strain of lactobacillus used you aren’t going to get the most complex flavors, but you don’t always need that. This is straight forward and very refreshing, the perfect summer beer.

Overall I’m very satisfied (if you couldn’t tell) with the results from the Goodbelly probiotic (lactobacillus plantarum) and will definitely be using this method in the future. I already sourced the Mango version of the drink to see if it really does alter the flavor or aroma any less, because with the pomegranate blackberry there is not one discernible flavor or smell. We have already brewed a long term sour (that has been aging for about 4 months now), but when we want to create something quick and tasty this will absolutely be the go-to-method.

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[i] http://www.milkthefunk.com/wiki/Sour_Worting
[ii] http://www.milkthefunk.com/wiki/Sour_Mashing
[iii] http://www.milkthefunk.com/wiki/Lactobacillus
[iv] https://www.facebook.com/groups/MilkTheFunk/
[v] http://www.goodbelly.com/
[vi] Mango was suggested because it has the least amount of an effect on taste and smell.
[vii] Dry Malt Extract
[viii] OG refers to Original Gravity – the depth and density of the wort pre-fermentation
[ix] http://www.germanbeerinstitute.com/Gose.html
[x] Mashing is the brewer's term for the hot water steeping process which hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars. There are several key enzyme groups that take part in the conversion of the grain starches to sugars.
[xi] Sparging, also called lautering is a step at the end of the mashing process where hot water is run through the grain bed to extract any leftover fermentable sugars.
[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carboy
[xiii] Sour beers do not have to be boiled, when creating a traditional beer they must be boiled for a minimum of 60 minutes. No hops used in making this beer, also unique to sour beers.
[xiv] It is known as the brewer's yeast or baker's yeast. They are unicellular and saprophytic fungi. One example is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used in making wine, bread, and beer.
[xv] https://www.whitelabs.com/yeast/wlp644-saccharomyces-bruxellensis-trois
[xvi] FG refers to Final Gravity – the depth and density of the wort post-fermentation
[xvii] ABV is calculated by this equation (OG – FG) * 131.25

Funky Buddha – Maple Bacon Coffee Porter

Funky Buddha – Maple Bacon Coffee Porter

Batch: 2015

Another day, another adjunct porter from Funky Buddha – though this is not really a problem, because their adjunct porters are delicious. Maple Bacon Coffee Porter (MBCP) is such a celebrated beer they even have a MBCP festival in January. The beers description makes it sound like a decadent “breakfast” beer with notes of sticky maple syrup and intense fragrances of coffee. Indeed, it is, Funky Buddha knocked this one out of the park.

As soon as the bottle is opened the fierce aroma of maple syrup coats the room, with some subtle notes of coffee and smoke lingering around. I’d be perfectly content to just smell this beer, rather than drink it. The beer pours a dark brown, not quite black, while a tan head permeates at the top. The head sticks around for a while and there is minimal lacing around the sides of the glass. Carbonation level on this beer is what’s to be expected in a porter. While the body of this beer isn’t “thick and viscous” it’s par the course for a porter, some of the adjuncts add a bit to it though, giving it a creamy mouthfeel.

The taste on this beer follows the nose, almost 100%. Rich and sticky notes of maple syrup dominate up front while the coffee and smokiness of the bacon round it out. Creamy body with an almost chocolate undertone really makes for a fantastic beer. As the beer warms up the maple really starts to shine, but at the same time it also completely dominates the flavor. The smoke flavor sticks around but is barely noticeable and the coffee fades into obscurity. That isn’t to say that the maple bomb it becomes isn’t enjoyable, but I think the beer is best consumed right out of the fridge which is a rare thing for porters/stouts. Another thing to note, is that this beer is not sickly sweet, like some, myself included, would have originally thought.

Overall, not quite as good as Last Snow but still a very delicious beer. I feel Funky Buddha really nailed the flavor profile they were going for and it never becomes overbearing or a chore to finish. I’ve been stuck on a bit of a maple beer binge and this definitely stacks up with the better of them. I feel that it’s even better than “See the Stars,” but that’s another subject for another time.

4.0/5

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