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.