22 September 2010

Better Brewing: Hoppy Beers (courtesy of Russian River)

Thanks to Andy for showing me this post on Brew Monkey from Russian River's brewer/owner Vinnie Cilurzo on ten ways to improve hoppy home brews.  I'd like to see explanations for the rationale behind some of these points, but Russian River has a lot of credibility when it comes to brewing ultra-hoppy beers, so I'm willing to take on faith these empirical discoveries.  I'm not sure how feasible the oxygen purging is for home brewers, but the water chemistry and crystal malt points are definitely interesting things to play around with.

Back to the Lab

Wow, it's been awhile since I've cataloged my adventures in brewing, drinking, and all things beer.  I haven't been brewing too much, but I've done my share of drinking the last couple months, attending the Oregon Brewer's Festival in Portland, OR and Stone Brewing Co.'s 14th Anniversary Celebration in Escondido, CA, as I've slowly been working my way through my own Brown Magic IPA and Isla Vista-licious Hefeweizen creations.  More on how the latter turned out later.  I had a lot of good beers at both places -- the Stone shindig in particular gave me the opportunity to try a lot of one-offs, barrel-aged, and generally rare beers which was a pretty interesting experience (hello red-wine-barrel aged IPA), as was meeting Stone CEO Greg Koch.

Some of my favorites over this summer have been:
  • Deschutes Brewery's "Fresh Squeezed IPA" - An IPA with great hop bitterness/aroma, still very crisp and refreshing.  To borrow terminology from winemakers, I'd call this a varietal beer, and in my opinion, sets the gold standard (sorry, Sierra Nevada) for how Citra hops can be showcased to good effect.
  • Ninkasi Brewing Co's "Maiden the Shade" - Even putting aside the fact I'm a sucker for a good pun, this is a solid brew.  In contrast to Deschutes' varietal IPA offering, this is a quintessential American hop-centric appelation, with seven different varieties of American hops.  A palate-scorcher, but one that's worth it.
  • Laurelwood Brewing Co's "Organic Deranger Imperial Red" - Just incredible malt and hop profiles that work well together.  I find it tough to balance a large crystal malt flavor, strong alcoholic warmth, and nice hop aroma, but these guys do it well.
  • BrewDog / Cambridge Brewing Co / Stone Brewing Co's "Juxtaposition Black Pilsner" - Simultaneously light and drinkable, with the roasted malt complexity and aggressively hopped aroma from something like Stone's "Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale."
  • Russian River Brewing Co's "Pliny the Elder" - Arguably the flagship offering from this brewery, I finally got the chance to try this double IPA at Stone's Anniversary celebration.  A true hop head's dream, and somehow more drinkable (I hesitate to say balanced at 100+ IBU) than Stone's Ruination IPA.

25 June 2010

New Weekly Column: What I'm Drinking

It's a challenge to my limited time and budget to provide regular updates on my brewing progress.  In an effort to blog about beer more often, I'm debuting a new weekly feature entitled, aptly, "What I'm Drinking."  Each week I'll describe and rate a new beer I've sampled.  For the inaugural edition, I'll be tasting Dogfish Head's Aprihop Ale.

The beer pours a light amber color with a light cream head.  At first sip, it is quite bitter -- to my tastebuds, even more bitter than I remember Dogfish's 60 Minute IPA tasting.  The malt profile is unremarkable, and the apricots lend a very subtle fruity sweetness that is only evident if the beer has had time to warm slightly.  Straight out of the fridge, it is non-existent.  The hop aroma is floral and a bit musky, in a good way.  After drinking, the bittering hops stick with you longer than any apricot flavors or aromatic hops.

Like most of Dogfish's brews, it comes in a four-pack of 12 oz bottles, and sells for about $9 here in Southern California.

Overall rating: 7/10

17 June 2010

Isla Vistalicious: Lemon-infused Hefeweizen

On a hot summer afternoon, what's better than dropping a lemon wedge in a nice, cold Hefeweizen?  Today, I brewed a five-gallon batch of Isla Vistalicious -- a lemon-zest-infused, American-style Hefe.

  • 6 lbs Norther Brewer Wheat Malt Syrup (65% wheat, 35% barley)
  • 1 lb Weyerman Pale Wheat (1.5 °L, crushed)
  • 1/2 lb Weyerman Carahell (11 °L, crushed)
  • 1/4 lb Weyerman Carawheat (45 °L, crushed)
  • 1 oz Ahtanum hops (5.7% alpha acid, pellet)
  • 1 oz Cascade hops (4.5-7% alpha acid, whole-leaf)
  • 3 lemons' (1 Meyer) zest, soaked in Vodka to cover
  • White Labs American Hefeweizen WLP320 Yeast (from starter)
  • Arrowhead Spring Water (sufficient for 5 gallons of brew)
  • 1 tsp Irish Moss
  • 1 tsp Gypsum
The specialty grains were steeped in approximately three gallons of spring water as it was brought from room temperature to 170 °F, which took about 45 minutes.  Once at temperature, the heat was turned off, and the grains steeped for 20 minutes.  Over the duration of the "mash," only about 5 °F was lost.  The spent grains were removed (and composted -- yay John!), and the wort was brought to a boil.

Once at a boil, the malt extract was stirred in, and the jug was soaked briefly in the wort to remove the last of the sticky extract.  The Ahtanum hops were added at the beginning of the 60-minute boil.

After 30 minutes of boil, the Irish Moss (for protein coagulation) and Gypsum (for proper water minerality to accentuate the hops profile) were added.

After 45 minutes of boil, the wort chiller was placed in the beer to properly sanitize it.

After 50 minutes of boil, the Cascade hops and lemon zest were added for the remaining ten minutes of boil.

The beer was moved to a cooler filled with salted ice water, and the wort chiller was hooked up to a pump also submerged in salted ice water.  This dual cooling method dropped the beer from boiling to 75 °F in less than 20 minutes.

The wort was filtered through a strainer into the primary fermenter.  Additional spring water was poured through the strainer filled with hops to reach five gallons of volume.

Finally, the yeast starter was pitched, the beer aerated by shaking the fermenter vigorously for a couple minutes, and it was capped with an airlock.

Brewer's Commentary:
I went with malt syrup instead of dry malt extract in this batch primarily because it is cheaper, and I expect the quality of flavor to be the same.  I've used this specialty grain steeping method many times before, but have never done an all-grain batch.  This was the most specialty grains I've ever tried in a brew, and the nylon bag steeping method appeared to handle this amount of grain as easily as smaller batches.  I tried several different malted grains (mostly wheat based) for a complex malt profile and a fairly light color.

The Ahtanum hops were chosen for their moderate bitterness and citrus-like character, which I believe will pair well with the lemon zest.  The Cascade hops add the distinctive aromas common to many Northwest beers, like Widmer's Hefeweizen.

The lemons were organic, spray free, and grown locally in Carpenteria.  I soaked the zest in a small amount of 80-proof vodka for about an hour before adding them to the beer to disinfect and to extract essential oils, then added the whole mixture.

I implemented two big changes to my brewing process from the Brown Magic brew.  First, I used a yeast starter culture, which will hopefully result in shorter fermentation lag times, and more full attenuation.  Second, fellow brewer Andy lent me his expertise and his wort chiller, which cut almost 2/3 of the time off my cool time, post-boil.  This should have several beneficial effects: less chance for spoilage as it cools, better control over hop aroma profile, and cold break to improve beer clarity.  I'm a wort chiller convert now, and will either continue to borrow Andy's chiller, or construct my own.

I am having difficulties with specific gravity measurement -- after cooling and diluting to five gallons of volume, I used a baster to extract sufficient wort for a specific gravity reading by hygrometer, but my reading was about 1.02 -- nonsensically low.  BeerSmith software indicates an OG of at least 1.04 to begin with, and I have used similar recipes in the past which certainly achieved more than 2% ABV.  Any suggestions for how to obtain accurate gravity measurements would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers!  I'll move this batch to the secondary fermenter next week, after I bottle the Brown Magic.  I will keep you all posted!

15 June 2010

American Hefeweizen Yeast Starter

Get excited -- a new batch of beer is imminent.  I took the first step this evening by making a yeast starter for the first time.  I'll boil the wort and pitch this starter on Wednesday.

There's two main reasons for doing a starter -- basically a small amount of sanitized unfermented malt to which the yeast is added a day or so prior to brewing.  First, it confirms the viability of the yeast, which can be an issue with shipped liquid yeasts like White Labs' product.  Second, it provides a larger quantity of yeast cells (approximately 200 billion compared to 30-60 billion, according to Northern Brewer) to be pitched into the wort, which should decrease the lag time before fermentation begins and aid the beer in achieving full attenuation.

The starter consisted of the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup Briess Dry Malt Extract Golden Light
  • 500 mL water 
  • White Labs Liquid Yeast "American Hefeweizen WLP320"

I picked the Briess Golden Light because it was light and mild -- I intend to use this extract as starter material for a variety of beers, and I don't want it to impart any off flavors to the beer to which it's added.  I mixed the extract and water in an Erlenmeyer flask (a generic borosilicate Pyrex knockoff) and boiled it for about 15 minutes directly on my gas range.  The advantage of this was the wort and flask were sanitized during the boil, but I had to watch it very carefully and regularly adjust the burner to prevent the starter from boiling over.

Next, I cooled the starter in a scaled-down version of the wort cooling method from my Brown Magic ale: a salted ice water bath.  As an aside, I couldn't resist checking the temperature of this bath right before adding the starter.  Indeed, the salt depressed the freezing point of the mixture enough to have it reach equilibrium at about 30 °F Have I mentioned how much I love my Polder instant-read thermometer?  I think it's incredible for brewing, cooking, whatever...hell, if I had a child, it'd be my first choice to check his temperature when he had a fever, but that's neither here nor there...

Finally, I added a sanitized rubber stopper and airlock to the starter.  My brew date is set for Wednesday, so stay tuned to see how the yeast starter improves the process!

03 June 2010

Island Brewing Company First Friday Cask Ale: Triple Dry-Hopped IPA

 It's been a busy week for me, so there hasn't been much action on the brewing front the last few days.  But here's some good news on the drinking front: Island Brewing Company (Carpenteria, CA) is adding a new triple dry-hopped IPA to their cask rotation tomorrow.  Definitely worth checking out!

Image © 2010 Island Brewing Co.

26 May 2010

Stone Brewing Co. 14th Anniversary Celebration

Forget Disneyland, Stone Brewing Co. may be the happiest place on Earth.  One of the most lauded breweries in the country is celebrating its 14th anniversary with a two-day beer tasting fete Aug 20 and 21.  Tickets go on sale this Friday.  There's a couple options for tasting the wares of about 40 different craft brewers on Saturday, as well as a special "Rare Beers" section which sounds intriguing.  I'm especially excited for the "Brewer's Reception" Friday night -- a chance to mingle and talk with craft brewers, while, again, partaking in the finest cold beverages they have to offer.  It's $130 for the whole shebang, which isn't cheap, but then it's about the same price as two days in Disneyland... you decide.  See you there!

Image © 2010 Stone Brewing Co.

25 May 2010

Santa Barbara Zoo Brew

Peanut butter and jelly.  Lemons and limes.  Beer and beasts.  Some duos are timeless and classic.  Next Saturday, the Santa Barbara Zoo is hosting an all-you-can-drink beer tasting at the zoo.  Even better, some of the proceeds go to wildlife preservation.  So have a beer, save an animal, not a bad way to spend a Saturday, eh?

24 May 2010

"Brown Magic" moved to Secondary Fermenter

After nine days in the primary fermenter, I was seeing basically no activity in the airlock, and a large amount of trub had settled out of the beer.  I decided it was time to move it to the secondary fermenter to let fermentation finish over the next couple weeks without adding off flavors from the piles of dead yeast cells.

I didn't take an initial specific gravity measurement, so I couldn't quantify how much it's fermented at this point.  I pulled a couple ounces off the siphon for a taste test, and there's no sweetness left, so most of those sugars are probably fermented.  I have mixed feelings about the flavor so far -- it's got a lot of coffee and roasted flavors coming through, with more hop bite than a typical stout, but still far less than what I would think of as an IPA.  I noticed little to no hops aroma from the finishing Cascade hops, although I'm hoping that's chalked up to the head cold I was suffering at the time.  I'm interested to see how it turns out at bottling time.

21 May 2010

Hop Reference Chart

Here's a stylish, handy reference from Zeke Shore for the levels of alpha acids and essential oils in a wide selection of hop varietals.  Not sure what the reference is for the essential oils, but the range of alpha acids appears to be pulled straight from Wikipedia's list of hop varieties.  Thanks to Tha Carter for finding this one.

20 May 2010

"Brown Magic" Dark IPA under way

Last Wednesday I started a five-gallon batch I'm calling "Brown Magic."  The intent is for it to be a dark IPA: the name is a contradiction, but I'm hoping the result will be delicious.  It is designed to be in the style of Stone's "Sublimely Self-Righteous" -- citrusy nose, roasty, coffee stout flavors, and a bitter IPA-level hop kick.  It's two of beer's extreme flavors, which when in balance, serve to complement each other.

All ingredients were purchased through Northern Brewer, and can be found on their website.

  • 6 lbs Muntons Dark Malt Extract (dry)
  • 1/2 lb Simpson's Extra Dark Crystal Malt (160 °L, crushed)
  • 1/2 lb Simpson's Chocolate Malt (375-450 °L, crushed)
  • 1/4 lb Simpson's Black Malt (500-600 °L, crushed) 
  • 1 oz Chinook hops (11.4% alpha-acid, pellet)
  • 1 oz Galena hops (12.8% alpha-acid, pellet)
  • 2 oz Cascade hops (4.5-7% alpha-acid, whole leaf)
  • White Labs Burton Ale Yeast
  • 5 gal Arrowhead Spring Water
  • 1 tsp Irish Moss
  • 1 tsp Gypsum

I brewed the day I received my ingredients.  The White Labs yeast is live, and shipped in liquid; if it's warmed for prolonged periods of time, it can die.  I felt a little trepidation when I saw the yeast was shipped without a cold pack of any kind, and I immediately decanted it into a boiled, cooled solution of about 1:4 sucrose:water.
Tap water in Santa Barbara is pretty hard, and has an unpleasant aftertaste.  I started this batch with 2.5 gal of bottled water in a kettle.  I added the crushed specialty grains (Dark Crystal, Chocolate, and Black Malts) to a nylon bag and steeped it in the water as I brought it up to 170 °F (about 45 min).  At this point, I turned the heat off and let the grains sit for 20 minutes -- a poor man's mash.  With no other insulation besides the lid of the kettle, temperature dropped about 5 °F over the 20 min mash.

After steeping, I removed the grain bag and added the dry malt extract, stirring to dissolve.  I brought the wort to a boil (approx. 30 min), and added the Chinook and Galena hops pellets.  These hops were chosen for their high alpha acid content -- since they are subjected to the full 60 min boil, most of their aroma and flavor will be stripped away, leaving just the bitterness the alpha acids provide.

Thirty minutes into the boil, I added the Irish Moss and Gypsum.  Irish Moss, actually the seaweed Chondrus crispus, acts as a coagulant to clarify the beer by bringing proteins out of colloidal dispersion.  Gypsum, basically Calcium sulfate, serves to add a specific amount of minerality or hardness to the water to accentuate the hops profile.  I haven't tested beer without these additions, since their effects should be minor, and since I've been satisfied with the results I've obtained.

At this point, I sanitized everything with which the finished wort would come in contact: primary fermenter and its lid, airlock, and metal strainer.  This was done by mixing food grade Iodophor with enough water to make an amber-colored solution, putting the strainer and airlock in the fermenter, swishing the Iodophor around for a few minutes, and then letting everything air dry.

Finally, it was hop time.  I divided the Cascade hops into 4 equal parts, and added them with 15, 10, 5, and 0 minutes left in the boil.  While I haven't had a bad experience with pellet hops, I deliberately chose the whole-leaf variety to make sure the essential oils hadn't been damaged or lost during processing.

After finishing the hour boil, the goal is to cool the wort to pitchable yeast temperature (80-90 °F) as quickly as possible.  This is needed for two reasons: first, to minimize the chance of bacterial contamination of the unfermented wort, and two, to increase the amount of protein coagulation as the wort cools.  I accomplished this by placing the entire kettle in a cooler filled with ice and salt water.  It took about 45 minutes to drop to 100 °F, at which point I strained the wort into the primary fermenter, and added another 3 gal of room-temperature bottled water to bring the total volume to 5 gal at a temperature low enough to pitch the yeast into the fermenter.  I swirled vigorously for about 1 min to aerate the wort (intially the yeast reproduces aerobically), then put the lid and airlock in place.

Finally, I stored the beer in a closet (dark, stable temperature).  Fermentation started about 20 hrs later, and the most vigorous bubbling and krausen formation occurred in the subsequent 48 hrs.  The next step is racking to a secondary fermenter, so stay tuned...