Week Forty Two?

IMG_5321This is it. I’ve been threatening (promising?) that my daily posts were coming to an end for the last several weeks, and now we’re here. This is my two hundred eighty eighth post in as many days and my last for a little bit.

I have covered every batch of beer that I’ve brewed in the last four years and done tasting notes on as many of them as I still have around. That was my goal in starting this blog and now that I’ve accomplished it, it is time for the blog to change course.

I’m going to take a few weeks off and come back with a new format in the new year. I have some time off work over the holidays, so, of course I plan to brew a few batches. I don’t want to get behind, so I’ll still make brew day posts for them, but that will be it until I work out the kinks in the new format.

I’ll return in January, first to outline what the new format will be and then to update on all my current and upcoming batches, then launch into the new blog. When I started this blog, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was going to become and it has evolved through necessity as I forced myself to post seven days a week. In phase two, I’ll take what I’ve learned and put in a lot more planning to make the blog more consistent and hopefully all around better. I’m hoping to post two or three times a week in the new year, but the main goal will just be to raise the quality of the content here.

I’ve written over one hundred seventy one thousand words on this blog this year and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stuck with it, but I definitely think it is time to try to take more pride in the individual posts.

Before I get to the new format, I’ll be brewing my second Brett beer and starting this Winter’s series of lagers… and maybe one or two more batches, so check back for write ups on those brew days over the holidays and come back in the new year to see what I have planned for phase two. For now, I’m signing off to catch my breath. Thanks to everyone who has been following along since I started this blog on February 24, whether you’ve read all 288 posts, skimmed them or just picked the ones that interested you, I appreciate it.

7 O’Clock Special Bitter Tasting Notes

Original Post: 7 O’Clock Best Bitter
Style: Special/Best Bitter
Brew Date: June 18, 2013
Tasting Date: December 6, 2014
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 37
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I don’t have fond memories of this beer. There are a few more bottles in the basement, but I’ve had no desire to drink them. Let’s find out if my poor opinion is justified.

The beer is over carbonated. It wasn’t a gusher, but it poured about three quarters of a glass of foam. As it finally died down and I filled more of the glass with liquid, it became obvious that it was thick with yeast. The color is bright orange, but the overall appearance is not nearly as appealing as it would be if it wasn’t so cloudy.

The aroma of the beer is very strong and actually pretty nice. I got some citrus notes just from pouring. Getting in closer, the aroma gets a bit earthier. I was surprised by the citrus aroma, which was distinctly American. That smell stays, but takes a back seat to the earthy English hops with notes of tobacco. There is also some oxidized, cardboard aroma evident, but considering the age of the beer, that is to be expected.

On the first sip, the tobacco-like hops come through first but there is some caramel malt sweetness as well, balanced by bitterness. The malt and the bitterness are pleasant, but I just don’t like the hop flavor.

The carbonation is crisp and sharp. Between that and the moderate, but not overwhelming bitterness, the beer cleans up pretty thoroughly.
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Everything else is fine, but it really just comes down to the fact that I don’t like the hop character of this beer. I don’t know how to describe it other than tobacco, but with hints of citrus. It is sort of the worst of British and American hops combined. The earthy British flavor and the harsh American character are combined into a dirt sandwich.

The cloudy, yeasty over carbonation is the only real problem with the brewing of this beer that I can find. But I really don’t like it. The citrus and harshness makes it too American to really feel like a Bitter, the sweetness and British maltiness means it can’t be an American IPA and that tobacco flavor… well, I just don’t like that.

Hop Holiday IPA Tasting Notes

Original Post: Hop Holiday 2013 Christmas IPA
Style: Belgian IPA
Brew Date: November, 2013
Tasting Date: December 4, 2014
ABV: 7.8%
IBUs: 70

IMG_5231A year old IPA is never a good look, but a year old Belgian IPA at least has something going on beyond the hops. I drank one of these recently and was surprised by how much I still enjoyed it. Let’s see if that holds true today.

The color is orange, bordering on amber and there is a big, pillowy white head. The beer is very clear, though I can’t seem to illustrate that with these pictures.

In the aroma I get hints of lemon, a little bit of ginger and the big highlight is pine sap. Yes, pine sap. It is piney, but in a totally different way than American IPA hop bombs. I don’t know how else to describe it other than sap. It smells like freshly cut pine trees. Or, as you may think of them, Christmas trees.

The sappy goodness comes out even more in the first sip. There is some serious bitterness behind it and the ginger comes through more now. I remember being disappointed by how little ginger came out when the beer was fresh but I guess the hops have faded more than it initially seems because it is more obvious now.

I am surprised how little this beer seems to have changed overall, though. I was sort of torn on this beer initially. My goal was a ginger spiked piney IPA with some Belgian fermentation character. How I ended up with a fresh-cut-Christmas-tree-sap bomb, I’m not sure but it ultimately proved to be pretty appropriate for a Christmas beer.

This is definitely not for everyone, as I said, I wasn’t even sure it was for me at first. It really grew on my, though. It is so immediately identifiably unique, too which is making me feel nostalgic for the holidays last year.

I could definitely see “cleaning product” being the complaint on this one. Pine Sol is not an invalid comparison here. It almost seems like it is artificially flavored because the fresh pine character is just too perfect and distinct.

The alcohol content shows itself a bit in the finish, but the sap sticks around and keeps it from being a problem. At 7.8% ABV, this is definitely pushing the limits of a single IPA, but it is so strongly flavored that I think another couple percent could be tacked on without changing the character too much. Not that I think that would be a good idea.

IMG_5233I really like this as a once a year specialty beer. I could see myself getting excited to get my pint of it every December if it was an annual offering at a local brew pub. I kind of want to revisit it for this reason, but at the same time… I’m not sure if that translates to wanting two cases of it at the house.

This beer is unique and interesting but it is definitely not endlessly drinkable. And as a hoppy beer, it shouldn’t be a good candidate for extended aging, which makes it maybe not the best choice for a homebrewer like myself. Most of my homebrew fits into one of those two categories. I either want an easy drinking, low alcohol beer that I can mow through quickly, or a big complex beer that I can age for a couple years and just drink one of every now and then (often preceded or followed by several beers from earlier category).

I’m still not completely sure what to think of this beer. I may need to brew up another batch next year just to figure it out.

Night Work Belgian Brown Ale Tasting Notes

Original Post: Night Work Brew Day
Style: American Belgian Brown Ale with Raspberries and Cherry Juice
Brew Date: October 28, 2014
Tasting Date: December 4, 2014
ABV: 4.8%
IBUs: 20
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This beer definitely fits the “brown ale” tag, but there are hints of red both in the highlights and also in the foam. There is definitely some fruit influence immediately obvious.

Getting past vision and on to smell, the fruit becomes more clear. There is definitely some raspberry. The cherry isn’t identifiable at first, but there is something more going on than just the raspberry. It smells sweet. It smells great, really. Some of the fruit on the nose seems like it could be fermentation character. I haven’t used this yeast before so I’m not sure what the aroma might have been without the fruit. I would definitely like to try this White Labs’ Belgian Ale, aka Chouffe yeast again, though.

Taking a sip, the cherry comes out a lot more. The raspberry is still there, and they are somewhat neck and neck at this point, but I think the cherry asserts itself a bit more early in the sip. The fruits almost compete, but it is definitely in a good way. They don’t get muddled, but they do keep things from being one dimensional.

The slightly roasty, somewhat chocolatey and very fruity Caramel malt keeps things from being two dimensional. The low gravity is fairly obvious and the mouth feel is a bit thin, but there is a lot going on here. The malts definitely play second fiddle to the fruit, but they do make it obvious that this is, in fact, a beer.
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The cherry really takes over at the end and lingers in the aftertaste when everything else is gone. The finish is my only problem here. It is very thin and ends with cherry and carbonation. The flavor is great but the mouthfeel is a bit lacking.

That keeps this from being upper echelon, but I’m still very happy with this beer. It is interesting and complex, but also light and easy to drink. I think it could actually work better over the Summer, but on this cold post-night-shift December morning, I still finished the bottle already.

Day of the Red Brew Day

IMG_5217Originally, this was going to be called Dawn of the Red, like the Imperial Amber Ale I made last year, but I decided that the recipe is different enough to warrant this being a sequel. Day of the Red is a Red IPA. I am taking a different approach from what I would normally do with an IPA, going further into the “Red” part.

The grain bill of this beer is basically the same as an Irish Red Ale, just a little souped up to take it into IPA level gravity. The mash temperature, at 154º, is higher than I would normally do for an IPA, again more like an Irish Red Ale.
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After the mash, though, comes a first wort hop with an ounce of Chinook. Then there are a few Cascade additions through out the boil and more Cascades along with Palisades at flameout. This is, of course where the IPA comes in.

I wanted to keep the hop profile more in line with the classics, after experimenting with newer hop varieties a lot over the Summer. I will rarely make an IPA without using Chinook for bittering. It is, in my experience one of the only hops that will manage to give some of its characteristic piny flavor to a beer even when boiled for long periods. Cascade is one of my favorite hop varieties and is certainly a classic for IPAs, but I rarely use it in these beers, basically because it is so common in commercial IPAs. I thought it was time to try my hand at a mostly Cascade IPA, though and I also thought the famous citrus/pine balance of this hop would work well with this maltier than normal IPA.
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Palisade is a hop that I have no previous experience with. It is said to be mostly floral but with earthy tones reminiscent of British hop varieties. I couldn’t resist trying a new (to me) hop in an IPA, but I didn’t want the super fruity hops I’ve been experimenting with lately. This is supposed to be a fairly mellow hop and the British influence seemed appropriate for an Irish Red Ale inspired IPA.

Probably the strangest part of this recipe will come after primary fermentation. Along with a dry hop charge of an ounce each of Cascade and Palisade, I will also add a plank of American Oak the fermenter. I got this idea after reading about Russian River’s Blind Pig IPA, which I can’t find where I live but which also adds oak with its dry hops. One beer I was able to try recently which finally cemented the idea was a special cask of Bube’s Brewery’s wet hopped pale ale with oak added to the cask. It was delicious, I preferred it by a large margin to the regular version of the beer, which was also quite good.
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Old Strong 2012 is the only previous experience I’ve had with oak. In that beer, I added chips to secondary. The oak chips were soaked in whiskey and the beer was aged with them for several months. This time, I got an oak spiral which I plan to sanitize with a quick stint in the oven before adding it along with the dry hops to be in contact with the beer for only about a week before packaging.

I am once again using White Labs’ 007 – Dry English Ale yeast for this batch. I have been very happy since starting to use this yeast. It gives a fairly neutral flavor in my experience, closer to a lot of American ale strains than the very estery English strains I like for bitters and milds. I am interested to see how dry this beer will be because, as the name suggests, this yeast can ferment pretty low. I usually do all I can to encourage this in my IPAs, but I want to maintain a bit more maltiness, thus the grain bill and higher mash temperature. If the yeast goes crazy though, I won’t be upset. Anyway, my recipe is below.
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Day of the Red
Style: Red IPA
Brew Date: December 3, 2014
Serve Date: January, 2014
OG: 1.061
Expected FG: 1.014
Approximate ABV: 6%
IBUs: 75

Fermentables:
87% British Pale Malt
12% British Crystal 60L Malt
1% British Roasted Barley

Hops:
1 oz. Chinook @ First Wort Hop
1 oz. Cascade @ 45 min
1 oz. Cascade @ 10 min
2 oz. Cascade @ Flameout (15 min hop stand)
1 oz. Palisade @ Flameout (15 min hop stand)
1 oz. Cascade @ Dry Hop (about 5 days)
1 oz. Palisade @ Dry Hop (about 5 days)

Other:
1 Medium Roast American Oak Spiral added with dry hop

Yeast:
WLP007 – Dry English Ale Yeast

Quadruple Grim Tasting Notes

IMG_5195 This is some dark beer. Not quite Maggie Moo dark, but a little darker than I expected, especially comparing it to Night Work (made with the same wort to begin with). It looks black. Held to the light… it still mostly looks black, but I guess there is some brown and maybe even tan around the edges. The head is not quite as dark. It is tan, but again, not as dark as my cocoa cream stout from earlier this year. It is also not as robust. The head died down quick, but this is over 10% ABV and recently bottled, so it does not surprise me.

That alcohol shows up early in the aroma, too. There is some dark, bitter chocolate on the nose, but also a bit more solvent-y alcohol than I’d like. I remember this from Old SMaSHy (2013)’s younger days and it cleaned up over time. I think this character is (slightly) more at home in this Abbey style beer than in that one, though.

And taking a sip, the alcohol is much better hidden. There is no solvent on the palate. Okay, maybe a little in the finish, but there is so much else going on, it fits in well. The bitter chocolate comes out first and fits wonderfully with the thick, velvety texture of this beer. Despite the chocolate being bitter, there is some sweetness here, but it comes through as more fruity. I get all kinds of dark fruit. There is prune, but there is also sweeter fruit. Plums, dark grapes, currants, maybe even some apricot in the finish. The bitterness, and it is all from roasted malts as the hopping is minimal, comes through at the finish a cuts all that fruit off early, though.

I opened this beer already at room temperature and I think that is how it is best, but I’m curious how much of this fruit would come through if it were colder. I think it would be very muted and only the roasty bitterness and some sweetness would come out.

It is hard to tell what comes from the malt and what comes from the fermentation. I can tell, though that I’m a big fan of this yeast. This is the Westmalle strain and it is my first time using it. I tried Chimay’s strain for Triple Valor because it is said to be more reliable, but now I am regretting that. That beer finished much drier but took forever to carbonate and the fermentation is a bit more one dimensional. There is a ton of delicious cherry flavor. That is it, though. This beer has much more depth. And while the alcohol comes out strong on the nose of this beer, the higher ABV (10.4% vs. 9.4%, I believe) is better hidden on the palate.

I have to say, I’m extremely happy with this beer. And I was nervous. The original gravity was higher than I planned, then the final gravity was much higher than I planned and I thought that the yeast had crapped out. When I opened this bottle and found it carbonated, I was ecstatic but still kind of expected a sweet, sticky mess. The depth here is surprising and gratifying. This is a very simple recipe but it comes together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This batch ended up smaller than I the standard five gallons, but in my nervousness, I was almost relieved. I’m already grieving for the loss of volume though. I guess I need to make the thirty or so bottles I have count and try to fit a re-brew in sooner than planned. Luckily, this is definitely not a session beer. It is a sipping, savoring, maybe-have-two-if-you-have-no-plans kind of beer and in that way, it works perfectly.

Remnants Ale Tasting Notes

IMG_5190 First of all, I hope this is actually Remnants. This batch was an afterthought and never got the attention it deserved, leaving many of its bottles unlabeled. I don’t have many unlabeled bottles, but the first one I tried was definitely not Remnants (still not sure what I drank that night), this one looks right.

It is deep red, verging on brownish orange out of the light, but never too dark. There was a big pillowy white head when I poured the beer into my Duvel glass. Most of it collapsed pretty quick, but the laser etched glass is keeping a nice stream of bubbles coming to the surface and giving the beer a lively look.

It smells deeply malty with hints of alcohol. I remember this being much hoppier, but that was a long time ago. I think this is the real deal. Let’s see.

Yes. This is it. The elusive Remnants Ale. The malt character of this beer is strange. It is interesting but muddled. Something I’m glad to try but would probably get grating over time. The beer was made from second runnings of an English Bitter with DME added, including a ton of Wheat DME. The wheat and the British malts don’t exactly mesh. It is interesting to mash them together, but you learn pretty quickly why it isn’t the norm.

I don’t remember the full grain bill of 7 O’Clock bitter, but I get Crystal Malt notes, definite Maris Otter character and then the grainy wheat. Despite not showing much alcohol, this tastes like a big beer. Barley wine would be my first guess about the style. I remember that I finished the beer with Champagne yeast and the final gravity was very low, but I wouldn’t guess that. The body feel full.

The one thing that keeps this away from the English beer it mostly resembles is related to the yeast, though. The fermentation character is minimal. It is very clean and, as I already mentioned, the alcohol content (7% ABV), doesn’t show.
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This stuff was pretty bitter to begin with, but the hops weren’t too exaggerated. The character hops here were all delicate German varieties and they made their presence known initially, but after some time in the bottle, they have faded almost completely.

For a thrown together mess of an unplanned beer experiment, this is a decent mess of a beer. It is definitely not something I would repeat on purpose, but it cleaned out the freezer and got rid of some unwanted DME and produced a… drinkable beer. I am starting to build up quite a backlog of hops in the freezer again. I may have to do a Remnants II, but next time I won’t be working with extract so I will either have to buy grains and plan more, or use the second runnings of a bigger beer. We’ll see if any of that is in the cards.