Labeling Day

IMG_4282I’ve been writing about my labels for the last month or so, now let’s get down to actually labeling the bottles.

I have tried the sticker sheets you can buy at the homebrew store and they are nice and easy to apply, but they’re also expensive and much more hassle to get off. Keep in mind the work involved not just in getting your bottles labeled, but in later cleaning them for re-use.

The simplest and most effective method I have found probably also the most obvious. Other than special circumstances when I’ll splurge on different types of paper, I just use regular copier paper printed from my ink jet printer. Amy then cuts the labels out for me. She does a much better job and also claims to somehow enjoy the chore. Once they’re cut out, I glue them in place with Elmer’s School Glue. That is the secret, in my opinion. Elmer’s is cheap, easy to find and most importantly, it stays secure until you apply any type of cleaning agent, all of which will easily remove it.

I squirt a couple swirls of glue on the back of a bunch of labels, laid out on a stool in front of my spot on the couch and then spread the glue with a Q-Tip on each of them before sticking the labels onto the bottles. You have a few seconds to squirm the label around if you don’t place it exactly how you want it at first.
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The glue dries pretty quick, but I usually let them sit out over night just in case. You could probably put them into whatever container you’re storing them in with in ten or fifteen minutes if you need to.

This may seem too simple to warrant a post, but sometimes things are so obvious they just get overlooked. This is a fast and easy way to make your bottled beer look nice and it is easy to clean up for the next batch.

Night Work Brew Day

IMG_4774First, about the name: I debated on a name for this beer for a long time. Much longer than normal. Initially, my plan was just to add fruit to Quadruple Grim and label as such. As brew day kept getting pushed back, I kept tinkering with the recipe and entire idea for the beer.

My initial inspiration was Tröegs’ Mad Elf. A holiday classic in my area. It is a quad brewed with cherries and honey. One idea was to use raspberries instead of cherries and straight sugar instead of honey. Then I decided to add some cherry juice as well. Then I decided to skip the sugar. Then I decided to take a step back towards Mad Elf by using Chouffe yeast instead of the Westmalle I originally planned.

Wait, I was supposed to be talking about the name. Right. This is supposed to be my Christmas beer but I did a lot planning for it leading up to Halloween. I have not been in a Christmasy mood. I’ve been watching a ton of movies based on Stephen King books that I’ve read over the last year. A huge number of those movies are based on stories from his first short story collection, Night Shift. I’m also looking at the likelihood that I’ll be working night shift myself for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Instead of just calling it Night Shift, though, I landed on Night Work, which sounds Halloween-y, but can also be a reference to Santa’s annual trip around the globe. See? Festive.

Anyway, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post about Quadruple Grim, check that out to see how the bulk of the brew day went. I will skip right to where this diverges from that beer now. I devoted the bulk of the wort to the quad and decided to add a bit of water to this one to bring the gravity down, for one to help differentiate the beers and also to hopefully help it get ready to drink quicker. I’m a little down to the wire for a Christmas beer right now, as in my family, Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving (no earlier, but that still comes up quick).

The main difference for this beer is, of course, the fruit. I bought four pounds of fresh raspberries towards the end of the Summer, just before they went out of season when they were on sale and let them get slightly overripe then squished them into freezer bags and hid them in the back of the freezer to wait for this brew day. I also bought two quarts of black cherry juice. I poured them into a glass container and stuck that in the freezer twenty four hours before brew day.

After the boil, I chilled the wort just enough for it to be safe to add it to my plastic bucket fermenter, then I added enough wort on top of the frozen raspberries and cherry juice to take it all to three gallons. The frozen fruit chilled the wort further than I planned on. It ended up being much too cold, in fact. I topped it up to four gallons with warm water, but it was still to cold to pitch the yeast, so I stuck it next the heater and gave it a couple hours to get to a more appropriate temperature before pitching.

As I mentioned, I used Chouffe yeast, packaged as WLP 550 – Belgian Ale. I’ve never used this yeast before but it is said to be very versatile, good for a wide variety of Belgian beers. I chose it because I’ve heard it is similar to what Tröegs uses for Mad Elf. It is very spicy and that is what I’m looking for. The fruit itself will provide plenty of fruitiness, I need spice for balance.

With the added water, I ended up settling on a much lower gravity, but I think it was a good decision. I have enough strong beers for this Winter between Triple Valor, Quadruple Grim, Old SMaSHy and, of course PROOF. This should be a good hearty dark beer, livened up by fruit with a modest ABV. I’m very excited.

Night Work
Style: Belgian Brown Ale with Fruit
Brew Date: October 28, 2014
Serve Date: Winter 2014/2015
OG: 1.045
Expected FG: 1.010
Approximate ABV: 4.6%
IBUs: 20ish

Fermentables:
60% German Pilsner
24% American Munich
10% English Dark Crystal 150L
6% Flaked Wheat
4 lb of “frozen fresh” raspberries and half a gallon of Dark Cherry Juice

Hops (approximately 7 gallon boil, some wort used for different beer)
2 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min

Yeast:
White Labs WLP 500 – Belgian Ale (Chouffe)

Quadruple Grim Brew Day

Quads are a style I was a bit confused about until fairly recently. Most of that confusion comes from the fact that they go by multiple names. Quad or Quadruple is used interchangeably by most people with Belgian Dark Strong Ale OR Belgian Strong Dark Ale. There is a lot of room to play in this style, as Dubbel and Tripel are the more common sister styles. You can think of a Quad as a souped up Dubbel, or you can take it in another direction. A lot of American craft brewers seem to like to add fruit, two examples local to my area being Tröegs’ Mad Elf with cherries and Spring House’s Cosmic Monster with a couple different types of berries. For this Quad, I’m staying away from fruit and staying fairly traditional, albeit with some ingredient choices that may seem odd.
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I’ve been planning this beer for a long time, and yet I feel like this is one of my looser brew days. I’m brewing two different beers from the same mash, the second being Night Work which I’ll write about tomorrow, and the volumes and gravities I’m going for are fairly elastic.

I originally planned to make a full five gallons of each and have them both be similarly strong, pushing 10% ABV. With a ten gallon mash tun and dented ten gallon brew kettle, though that just isn’t realistic. I’ve decided that the volumes could be a little lower and I don’t mind Night Work’s gravity dropping, but I want this to be a full powered quad.

I am mid mash as I write this and here is the plan: I will pull the first gallon and a half or so and sit it aside, then continue to drain the mash tun. I’ll see how much I get and what the gravity is before deciding how much water to sparge with. My mash tun is packed to the top with twenty five pounds of grains and as much water as I could fit.

Again, this isn’t how I normally do things, but I’m shooting for a little bit of a moving goal today. Also, it’s been close to two months since I last brewed and I’m more anxious than normal to play around on this brew day. I’m hoping to get at least eight gallons in the kettle to start the boil, but the gravity will have to warrant it. I don’t have a set number in mind but certainly won’t let it get under 1.065ish for pre-boil OG.

Getting back to that first gallon and a half, though, it will boost the gravity. Instead of buying candi syrup, I’m going to use the method I did for PROOF of boiling a bit of the wort separately from the rest so that it will get extra caramelization. I’m going to step it up even more, though by adding two pounds of sugar to this part of the wort. I’ll add the sugar and start the heat on the stovetop while the rest of the mash is draining, which will give it about an extra hour of boiling over the main wort’s ninety minutes.
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I’ll be keeping an eye on it and adding a bit of water if it gets too thick. I’m looking for something a little bit syrupy, but not as unmanageable as the caramel syrup I made for Yellow Cat Candy Apple Cider. I will pull off and chill the wort for Night Work after the boil and add this syrup to what is left, which will be the Quad.

Okay, I need to tend to the wort. I’ll come back to write more about the recipe and update on how the brew day is going once I get to the boil.

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I’m close to ten minutes into the boil now. I ended up with a little less wort than I planned on, but I want to keep the gravity high and I’m willing to lose volume for that. For the quad at least. Night Work will be going through some changes that I’ll cover tomorrow.

My pre boil volume was a little over seven gallons. I’m not sure of the exact gravity, but the runnings were getting pretty thin so I decided to cut it off. The wort is a nice dark brown color. It is a little bit darker than I expected but definitely in the right range. I planned on the syrup darkening things up but it won’t have much work to do in that arena.

I aroma coming off the brew kettle, still without any hops added, is great. There is some coffee and toffee, it is sweet and roasty. Great combination. How I got this wort was with a fairly simple but maybe slightly off kilter grain bill.

Generally, most Belgian beers use Pilsner and Munich for the base malts. That is true for this beer, but I used German Pilsner, as I usually do. Belgian Pilsner is readily available but I like the lighter, crisper maltiness of German malts, even in this dark, heavy beer. I used American Munich malt because I wanted that little bit extra maltiness, but not some of the heavier characteristics that come with European sourced Munich malts. I made that decision based on the specialty malt that I’m most hoping to showcase here.

It is probably the most off kilter addition to the grain bill but I’m excited to try English Dark Crystal (150L). I have never used this malt and only discovered it last month at the Lancaster Brewers Club’s crystal malt experiment. If you haven’t read my post about that meeting, the idea was to brew a bunch of beers with identical recipes except that each had a different type of crystal malt. The one with this, while not anywhere near the Pale Ale style that most of the beers were supposed to be, was one of my favorites. It was much fruitier than the other dark crystal beers, including the one with Special B which was my originally planned crystal malt. Prune was the distinct character that I got and while English malt are not common in Belgian beers, this character seemed perfect for my Quad.

Aside from that, I also used a bit of flaked wheat to help give the strong, dry beer more body and better head retention.

I’m also using another English ingredient. East Kent Golding hops. Again, English hops aren’t the norm, but this beer is only getting one bittering addition, just enough to balance the other flavors and I have some EKG left from the pound bag I bought for Old SMaSHy. They should provide a good, clean bitterness and all of their trademark flavor and aroma will be boiled away in the hour that they spend in the kettle.

For yeast, I decided to go with White Labs’ 530 – Abbey Ale, which is the Westmalle strain. I originally planned to use this for the beers that became bCloud and Triple Valor but reconsidered and used WLP500, the Chimay strain instead. I kind of regret that now. The Chimay strain is said to be easier to work with, fermenting anything you throw at it to appropriate dryness. It is also much fruitier as opposed to the spicier, more phenolic profile of this yeast.

This strain originates from Wetmalle, but they share it with some other Belgian and Trappist brewers, including the lauded Westvleteren. I hope to achieve the trademark “Abbey” character and if the yeast does stall out, I can always re-pitch something else to finish the job after this yeast has given it’s flavor.

Anyway, it is now the end of the brew day and I ended up with four gallons of very high gravity, very dark and aromatic wort. I’m excited to see how this beer turns out and I look forward to it warming many cold Winter nights.
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Quadruple Grim
Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale/Quad
Brew Date: October 28, 2014
Serve Date: Winter 2014/2015
OG: 1.104
Expected FG: 1.020
Approximate ABV: 11%
IBUs: 29

Fermentables:
60% German Pilsner
24% American Munich
10% English Dark Crystal 150L
6% Flaked Wheat
+ 2 lb of Cane Sugar, caramelized with a portion of the wort

Hops (approximately 7 gallon boil, some wort used for different beer)
2 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min

Yeast:
White Labs WLP 530 – Abbey Ale (Westmalle)

‘Merican Wit Tasting Notes

Original Post: ‘Merican Wit
Style: Americanized Wit Beer
Brew Date: July 3, 2013
Tasting Date: October 25, 2014
ABV: 5.3%
IBUs: 39

MericanWitLabelThis was one of my favorite beers when it was fresh. I haven’t had one in a long time but there are two or three more in the basement. Lets see how it’s held up.

Woo. Okay. Way over carbonated. Some gushing. I managed to get most of the beer into the glass, but I had to do a little bit of clean up before returning to write this. What I got is very clear, with what appears to be a couple of dry hop leaf floaters. It has a pure white, fluffy head. Other than those floaters, it looks pretty nice. Although, this is one time that the clarity is actually a bit out of style. Not that this is a classic wit beer to begin with, but I’d still like to see the classic wheat-y haze.

Taking a sniff, I get earthy, yeast derived aromas. The hops are gone and this is not as fruity as I expect with a wit, but it smells very good. My first sip is very dry. It tastes great though it barely resembles a wit. This tastes like a classic Belgian Saison.

IMG_4701There is some fruitiness in the taste that wasn’t detectable in the aroma, but it is still earthy saison fermentation character that dominates. The fruity, citrusy, dank fresh hop character is gone, but this is still much more bitter than a standard wit, again pushing it towards a saison. Some general dankness is still present, but the clarity and distinctness is gone and the other hop flavors have completely faded.

This is still a really good beer, though it is much different from what I remember. A lot of that can be explained by the age. The hops are faded, the beer has dried out, but the fermentation character is not what I remember or would expect from this yeast.

I wanted to re-brew this beer this past Summer, but it just didn’t happen. I’m thinking for next Summer I’d like to do a classic wit and another beer using Centennial and Citra hops. I love that combination and they are sorely missed here. That was expected, but what wasn’t expected was the fact that this is still a very enjoyable beer. So enjoyable, in fact, that my glass is empty.

Week Thirty Six

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Despite the lack of theme, there is a lot going on this week.  First of all: I’M BREWING ON TUESDAY!  I made two batches of cider last week, but it’s been about six weeks since I brewed Moist, my last batch of beer and it feels like forever.

The drought finally ends on Tuesday, when I’ll be brewing two batches of beer.  I’ll post about those beers on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Wednesday night, I’ll be attending my second Lancaster Brewers club meeting.  This month is their Pumpkin Beer contest.  I’ll be entering last year’s Plumpkin Ale Saison.  I’ll post the results and other details about the evening on Friday.  It is Halloween and all of my other pumpkin beer posts were in July, so it only seems appropriate.

I’ll fill in the rest of the week with a post about an old batch and some tasting notes.  We are coming ever closer to the end of daily posts and I am almost caught up with all of my old batches.  I’ll also be hitting my 250th post this week.  I won’t deny that I’m excited to get a break soon.  I’m much more excited to finally brew again on Tuesday, though.

Yellow Cat Sweet Cider (2014) Tasting Notes

Original Post: Yellow Cat Sweet Cider
Style: Sweet Cider
Brew Date: October 18, 2014
Tasting Date: October 23, 2014
ABV: 4.1%
IBUs: N/A
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It is Thursday and I am in the process of pasteurizing the rest of this batch as I write this. I started fermenting this on Saturday. It still amazes me how quick the turnaround on this stuff is. If you haven’t read the original post and/or done the math, the final gravity on this cider was 1.045. That may sound crazy high, but remember that the original cider was 1.055. I didn’t want to venture too far away from that and when I tasted a sample after work this afternoon, I knew it was time to bottle. Okay, on to the actual tasting notes.

This stuff looks just like the original cider, aside from some sparse bubbles. It is tan or light brown and cloudy as a mud puddle. Just right for what this stuff is supposed to be. If it gets clear, you’ve waited too long. Drink it fresh.

While I wouldn’t mind more carbonation, the bit of natural carbonation here just continues the theme of rustic, natural, no frills sweet cider.

The aroma is just about indistinguishable from the unfermented cider. There may be a faint hint of cinnamon in the background, but it is an afterthought and there is no fermentation character or alcohol detectable. Just apples.

The flavor is not a whole lot different. Kauffman’s makes a great cider and they get all the credit on this one. This recipe just gets out of the way and allows the cider to shine. Yes, there is some cinnamon, but I think without it, there would be some sense of fermentation character or hints of alcohol. The cinnamon covers that all up and fits into the Autumn in a glass theme perfectly. It is far from overpowering and comes in late, then washes away quickly.

Autumn. And Apples. And apples in Autumn. This tastes like apples that have been smashed, skin and all into a cloudy liquid. In fact, that is exactly what happened. I always think of apple cider as a Fall treat, but most hard cider does not fit that mood for me. The sweet commercial stuff tastes more Summery than anything to me. My own and other homebrewed spiced versions usually taste like colder weather drinks, often Christmasy. This does not. And that is why I make it every year. It is extremely seasonal and the extremely short preparation time lends itself to that perfectly. It doesn’t take much advanced planning to have stuff ready in time for a Halloween party. Or Thanksgiving day. Or a Saturday raking leaves.

I always think this will be too sweet, and it is very sweet, but it tastes natural and it is balanced by the tartness of the apples and slight spice of the cinnamon. It just works. If you have a good local cider, give this recipe a try.

Stovetop Pasteurization

I make a batch of Yellow Cat Sweet Cider every year and it always needs to be pasteurized. If you want sweet, carbonated cider in bottles without artificial sweeteners, it is pretty much your only option. While it can be a bit of a pain, this process is pretty simple.
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In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about, I’ll explain the reasons for this chore. For this recipe specifically, I bottle cider while it is still fermenting. I want to maintain a low alcohol content and the natural sweetness of the cider but I also want the cider to carbonate. The continued fermentation carbonates the cider very quickly, but if it was allowed to continue past that point, the bottles would explode causing a serious safety issue and a huge mess AND a waste of some tasty cider. Pasteurizing uses heat to kill the yeast once it has completed the task you want it for and before it can create bottle bombs.

I also used this to stop the onslaught of infection in Hogun’s Mace Porter. Whatever wild yeast got into that beer carbonated it very quickly and probably would have dried it out to an extremely thin and sour mess. I was able to salvage it through pasteurization, though. Now, to get started.

You will need a pot. If you’re a homebrewer and not just a cider maker, your brew kettle will work fine. I usually use my canning pot because it has a wider base, allowing for more bottles. This time, I used that and a five gallon stainless steel pot I have to cut the time I needed to spend on the process.

Fill your pot or pots with enough water to submerge your bottles to the fill line. Remember that the bottles will displace quite a bit of water and the pot won’t need to be as full before hand as a result. With the water in place, it is time to bring in the stovetop portion of stovetop pasteurization.

Heat the water on the stove top to 180º. You can go slightly higher, but make sure you don’t hit 200º. If the water is too hot, it could cause heat shock and shatter the bottles when you stick them in. Once you’ve hit the target temperature, turn off the heat and REMOVE the pot from the burner. Even if it is turned off, the burner will still be hot and could shatter your bottles.

With your water at 180º and your pot off the stove, you can start adding the bottles to be pasteurized. Do not put too many in at a time. They shouldn’t be touching. Beyond that, you can use your judgement. When all the bottles are in, cover the pot and leave it alone for ten to fifteen minutes. I usually give larger bottles a bit more time. I did a couple quart bottles and a couple growlers this time and I decided to leave the growlers for last and just leave them in the pots overnight.

After that time, you can carefully remove the bottles. They will, of course, be hot. Use proper precautions. Sit them aside to cool off, still not touching. You can now start reheating the water for the next set of bottles. By the time that set is done, if you’re using twelve ounce bottles, the first set should be cool enough to be handled and put away, but be careful anyway. You can repeat this process as many times as necessary.
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When you remove the bottles, they should be very cloudy. The yeast, if it was before, will no longer be settled at the bottom of the bottle. Everything will be mixed up, but don’t worry, it’ll settle back out and now your bottles will maintain the carbonation they had when pasteurized. You may still want to keep them separate from other bottles for a week or so just to be safe, but if the time and temperature were right, they should be fine.