Week Forty One

IMG_5187 Obligatory “how did we get to week XX?” comment. Anyway, I’m planning to brew this week. I’m not sure if it will be Tuesday or Wednesday, but I will try to post about it on the same day.

I came to the realization after posting it last week that Hop Holiday was my last old batch to be covered on the blog. I still have quite a few tasting notes to get through, but if you’ve been following along, you now know about every batch of beer I’ve ever brewed.

If you didn’t guess from that last paragraph, most of the rest of this week will be filled in with tasting notes. I have a nice mix of old and new batches to cover, though, so stay tuned.


Glassware (Part I?)

20140420-101908.jpgGlassware is a needlessly complicated topic within the craft beer community. As I write this, I’m drinking an American Pale Ale from a stemmed Saint Bernardus glass. This is definitely improper glassware, but it inspired me to write this post and I’m happy about it.

I bought a Saint Bernardus gift pack yesterday. It came with four beers and this glass. I haven’t opened the beers yet, but I couldn’t wait to try the glass. I know it is not the proper glass for this beer, but I don’t care. I love beer glasses. Just ask my girlfriend.

But at the same time, I am skeptical of a lot of claims about them. They are cool. They are downright necessary to fully enjoy most beers. Collecting different shaped beer glasses is fun, but I don’t think that most of them make much difference.
The real difference is using a glass at all. Drinking beer from a bottle completely cuts your nose out of the experience and that is a huge mistake. Aroma accounts for a huge portion of taste. Some studies claim up to ninety percent of what you taste is actually determined by what you smell. I’m not sure if that number is correct, but I do know that drinking an stanky, dry hopped IPA from a bottle is doing you, the beer, the hops, the brewer, the hop farmer and the truck driver that delivered the beer to the store a huge disservice.

Some people have a vendetta against pint glasses, or shaker glasses, or whatever you want to call the thick, straight walled sixteen ounce beer glasses that most American bars serve their draft beer in. Personally, I have no problem with them. They have a wide enough mouth to let your nose in as you drink, they’re comfortable to hold, easy to clean and hard to break. The only issue I can think of has to do with the bars. It is not actually the glass’s fault that most bars present their drafts as a “pint” when they are closer to twelve ounces. The glasses hold sixteen ounces, if filled to the brim with no head. Yes, it is kind of a rip off, but you’re better off getting that head with your beer, anyway.
I would love to see German glassware make a bigger dent in American bars and breweries. Just about all of the popular German glasses have a very obvious mark showing the proper fill line. For half a liter, fill to this ridge, use additional space for beer foam. Excellent.

I love fancy, stemmed Belgian glasses, like the St. Bernardus glass I’m drinking from right now, but I think the majority of the change they bring on to beer is based on the experience. In my opinion, as long as you’re getting a whiff of the beer while you take a swig, not much else matters physically. The experience of holding a stemmed glass, or a giant handled maß or a tiny taster glass can make a huge difference in how you think about the beer you’re drinking and that is important, but… it’s all in your head.
Not that that is a bad thing. My point is, drink from the glass you like, but for gods’ sake, drink from a glass.

Hop Holiday: Christmas 2013 IPA

Last year I decided to make a Christmas themed IPA. What made it Christmas themed? It smelled like a Christmas tree. Not just piny, resinous hops, but pine sap, lemony scent. I got this by using a Belgian yeast strain and adding ginger in addition to Sorachi Ace hops.

Sorachi Ace hops are known for their spicy, lemony aroma. They are very unique and they play very well with Belgian yeast. This wasn’t a super-hop bomb, but it was 100% Sorachi hopped. These hops are so unique, I’m not really sure they would play well with many other varieties. The spicy ginger and phenolic yeast are much better compatriots. I cut the skin off of the ginger and and chopped it up, then put it in a hop bag during the boil. I think I should have added a bit more than I did, though.

The yeast I used was White Labs’ Belgian Golden Ale, aka Duvel yeast. This strain is slightly fruity, but mainly throw spicy phenols, although it is not as drastic as many other Belgian strains even in that regard. It is highly attenuative and brought this beer very dry. It worked very well in this case and I think it would be good for other Belgian IPAs as it will give a good “Belgian-y” edge without dominating too much and leave some room for the hops.

Now for the shocking part. This was an extract beer. My first extract batch since going all grain about six months before, and to date, my last one. There was a deal online to get a free five gallon pot when you ordered a recipe kit. I ended up breaking the recipe kit up and using all of the ingredients in different recipes. The steeping grains went into Mild Mannered Ale, the hops were split up between a couple different batches and the extract went into this.

In addition to the extract, I steeped a pound of Belgian Biscuit Malt and added a pound of sugar. The biscuit malt gives the beer, yes, a biscuity flavor along with a bit of toasty, nutty characteristics. The sugar, along with the yeast, helped make the beer very dry. My full recipe is below and I will have tasting notes (on a year old IPA, mind you) next week.

Hop Holiday
Style: Belgian IPA
Brew Date: October 2, 2013
Serve Date: November, 2013
OG: 1.070
Expected FG: 1.010
Approximate ABV: 7.8%
IBUs: 70

7 lb Light DME
1 lb Biscuit Malt
1 lb Cane Sugar

1.5 oz Sorachi Ace @ 60 min
.5 oz Sorachi Ace @ 10 min
1 oz Sorachi Ace @ 5 min
1 oz Sorachi Ace @ Flameout
1 oz Sorachi Ace Dry hop for 7 days

White Labs WLP 570 – Belgian Golden Ale (Duvel)

Elkland Amber Ale Tasting Notes

Original Post: Elkland Amber Ale
Style: American (Adjunct) Amber Ale
Brew Date: November 11, 2014
Tasting Date: November 26, 2014
ABV: 4.8%
IBUs: 19
Yes, the carbonation is right on track. This beer is still very young, and while it is meant to be drunk fresh, I was afraid it wouldn’t be fully carbonated. It was also bottled very quickly but it is quite clear, too.

The color is slightly lighter than I expected. It is amber, but not as deep as Elkland Amber Lager from last Summer. A solid copper with golden highlights and barely-off-white foam… it looks nice.

It also smells good. It is smells like sweet, creamy malt with just a faint hint of citrusy Cascade hops. The malt aroma is a bit bigger than I expected, actually. There is a lot of corn in this beer and withe color being a bit light, I wouldn’t expect such a full nose.

The first sip begins by backing up the aroma. It is sweet and malty up front, but dries out quick and is ushered out by a snappy hop bitterness. The extra hops, and possibly the move to all Cascade, is definitely noticeable and is very welcome. There still isn’t a ton of distinct hop character, but the bitterness definitely noticeable and it balances the Crystal Malt well.
This is just what I like in an amber ale or lager. I’m also a fan of the hoppier interpretations like Tröegs’ Hopback Amber Ale, but most lean on the maltier side and many lean too much on Crystal Malt for my preferences. The corn really helps dry this beer out and keep the Crystal from running amok.

If I was to make a change to this and brew it again, and I’m sure I will, I may cut back on the corn a little bit. It definitely helps the beer, but with the added bitterness in this version of the recipe, I don’t think as much is needed. I did cut back slightly from Elkland Amber Lager, from 26% to 21% of the grist. Next time I’d maybe take it down to about 15%. Mainly, I’d just be curious to see what kind of difference the change would make.
This is definitely a better beer than the lager I made before. My plan was to brew this in the Fall instead of the Summer and just do Elkland Golden Lager then, but I’m going to be seriously considering another batch of this for the warmer months. The amber color may look like a Fall beer, and this ale would be good all year around, but the crisp finish would be especially refreshing in Summer.

Look at that! My beer is empty. I look forward to comparing this to the Brett fermented version. And just drinking more of this version.

Old SMaSHy 2014 Barley Wine Tasting Notes

Original Post: Old SMaSHy 2014
Style: English Barleywine
Brew Date: August 13, 2014
Tasting Date: November 26, 2014
ABV: 11%
IBUs: 85
If you’ve never done it in such a high concentration, you will probably be surprised by how dark this 100% base malt beer is. Out of the light, it looks like a muddy maroon, close to brown. Held to the light, you can see orange highlights, but the middle of the glass is still much darker. When poured, it gave a small but dense head. It mostly died down pretty quickly, which is expected with a beer of this strength, but there are still bright white bubbles clinging around the edge of the glass.

Taking a whiff of the beer, I get dark, sweet fruit. Fruitcake. Plus some booze. Rum cake. Rum fruitcake. There are hints of vanilla and while they aren’t coming through strong, the earthy and spicy East Kent Goldings hops are putting up a valiant fight to stay in the game. They are noticeable, but I’m questioning whether the three ounce dry hop was necessary. Maybe I should have given them longer? Or done them in multiple additions? Anyway, time for a sip.
The hints of vanilla bloom into a full bouquet of beans. Soaking in booze. There is less fruitiness on the palate than in the nose, but the hops are still lurking. They bring some tea character towards the end of the sip as the vanilla starts to fade. Then, as I swallow, the bitterness from the hops comes in. Despite higher hopping rates, I can’t say that the hop character is much stronger than I remember it from last year’s batch, but the bitterness is definitely a lot more firm here. It helps a lot in the clean up after swallowing.

The terminal gravity of this year’s batch was significantly lower than 2013, but it does not seem any drier. With this concentration of malt, it just doesn’t seem to matter. I look forward to trying them back to back (though at 10.5 and 11%, it will take some advance planning), but these beers definitely have the same character. The higher bitterness in the finish on the 2014 version is the only immediately noticeable change. I may go back to the original hopping rate late in the boil and in the dry hop and just keep the extra bittering charge next year because I really don’t think it made much difference.

To be safe, though, I’m going to give the beer a chance to warm up a bit now before finishing these tasting notes off.


It’s been a little over twenty minutes, lets see how my half a glass of barley wine is doing. The glass is still cool, but there is a noticeable change in the aroma. The malt smells more bready and less fruity.
The flavors are still all there, but they have melded more. Instead of an initial hit of vanilla followed by hop bitterness, they both come on from the start along with a complex meddling of other characters. The tea like hop is edging more towards tobacco. The bitterness is much more prevalent. Overall, though, it is all the same the notes just rearranged. I would say it may actually seem slightly more harsh at the start now, but it also cleans up more thoroughly at the end.

I have a couple sips left, but I don’t think I have much else to say right now, so I’m going to end the tasting notes. I am actually very excited to do a vertical tasting and compare this back to back with the 2013 version to see how well my memory is holding up. Check back for that post soon.

Batch Update

IMG_4944I have seven batches to update on today. Before that, though, how about a quick check in with some older beers? Moist is almost gone. It has gone over really well and I’ve decided that I love Red Wheat. No more White Wheat for me, maybe. Tart Cider has not carbonated has well as I hoped, but the flavor is great. We’ll see how that progresses. Triple Valor, on the other hand has finally carbonated and is quite good. The cherry flavor from the Chimay is very distinct, though and I’m not sure what I think about it. I’ll be trying a different yeast for my next Tripel, whenever that happens. This year’s batch of Sweet Cider is almost gone, though I’m saving a growler for Thanksgiving. The Sour Cherry Sour has recently been embraced by Amy. I am happy for this because I’m still not crazy about it. Now on to the real updates.

batch095 – Old SMaSHy Barley Wine
After putting it off for a while, I finally bottled this on October 26. It had been dry hopped five days prior with three ounces of East Kent Goldings hops. When I last wrote about it, I said that I was debating adding a conditioning yeast after the delayed carbonation of Triple Valor, but ultimately I decided not to. This WLP007 yeast is a champ. It fermented the beer down to 1.016, giving it an ABV of 11% and then got it carbonated in two weeks. This may be my new house ale yeast. The beer tastes great and I was pretty surprised by how quickly it got there. Look for tasting notes soon and a vertical tasting with last year’s batch somewhere down the road.
batch099 – Yellow Cat Candy Apple Cider
This yeast did not work nearly as quickly. I mixed up this batch on October 23 with Lavlin D-47 and it took longer than expected to ferment, but it seems to have done a nice job. the fermentation dropped off just under 1.01, leaving a bit of body and sweetness. I checked that gravity when I added two cinnamon sticks and three vanilla beans last week. I’m hoping that no back sweetening will be necessary and I can bottle this later this week or early next week. In fact, I’m going to go take a small sample now to see how it’s going…

Okay, the gravity is at 1.008, right about where it was last time and now there is some serious cinnamon and vanilla aroma coming off of my sample. Time to give it a taste. This stuff is good, there is a little bit of heat, but it fades behind the vanilla and caramel. The cinnamon is very present but it is softened by the vanilla, it is more rounded as opposed to sharp and spicy. The cider isn’t quite as clear as I’d like, but I think it’s ready to bottle. Carbonation will hide the alcohol even more and this should be a great Winter treat at 9.4% ABV.

batch100 – Quadruple Grim
I bottled the Quad a little bit ahead of schedule on November 20. It was long done fermenting and there was more head space in the carboy than I liked, as I didn’t end up doing a full five gallon batch, so I decided it would be better off in bottles. I’m very excited to drink this beer soon. It finished at 1.025, a little higher than I expected but the sample tasted good and the fermentation had stopped for quite a while. That still puts it around 10.4% ABV.
batch101 – Night Work
This stuff turned out great. The Chouffe yeast fermented extremely quickly and I’m very happy with the results. This is another strain I look forward to playing more with. I bottled on November 11 and it was carbonated very quickly. I’ve already drank several and I really like them. The ABV ended up around 4.8%.

batch102 – Elkland Amber Ale
I bottled this on November 16. The final gravity was a bit lower than expected, putting the ABV at 4.8%. I have already tried a couple and they tasted great, though they weren’t fully carbonated. They should be good to go by Thanksgiving on Thursday, though. I think they will go over well with my family.

batch104 – Brettland Amber Ale
The brettanomyces fermented version is still sitting in the carboy. I’m not sure if it is done fermenting or not. The bulk of activity has been done for a good while, but there are still some bubbles on top of the beer. I plan to start taking gravity readings, which I haven’t done since pitching the yeast, in the next few days when I get set a new set of equipment for it. I would probably be fine to use my regular stuff, but I plan to do more brett beers, so I figure I may as well spend a little bit of money to be safe. I’m going to take a gravity sample, wait about five days and take another. If it hasn’t changed, I’ll plan to brew my next brett beer as soon as possible, then bottle this one on brew day and put the new one right on top of this yeast cake. Hopefully this will all happen over the holidays at some point.
batch105 – Swell Time
Yes, I just posted about this beer yesterday, but the fermentation has already halted. I just took a gravity sample after finishing the one for the cider above and it has reached terminal gravity. I’m not going to have time today, but I hope to rack this beer off of the huge pile of cranberries tomorrow. Hopefully it will clear a little bit, at least and then I will bottle it sometime next week. The gravity sample tastes great, though. The big ginger addition, which I was a little nervous about, was a good idea. I will be covering Hop Holiday later this week, but here is a preview: I didn’t put enough ginger in it. The cinnamon and nutmeg come through only slightly in this, but I’m fine with that. Behind the cranberry, spice and sour, the ginger isn’t immediately identifiable, not being as common as the other spices but it really mixes things up. I’m very excited for a carbonated version of this beer.

Swell Time Sour Cranberry Spiced Holiday Ale

IMG_5061Whew, that’s a mouth full. This recipe has gone through a few incarnations before landing on the one I ultimately went with. The original idea was just a cranberry Berliner Weisse, using my standard Berlin(er Weisse) recipe and adding cranberries as I have with raspberries and cherries in the past. I planned to make it for Thanksgiving, but the scheduling didn’t pan out.

The beer was pushed back to Christmas and the recipe changed quite a bit to reflect that. First of all, I decided to raise the gravity a bit, which meant moving back to my normal mash tun instead of the brew in a bag mash that I normally do for Berliner Weisse. I also decided to switch to Red Wheat instead of white because I really liked the flavor I got from it in Moist and I was going for a darker color anyway. The next addition to the grain bill was Acidulated Malt.

Sometimes just called Acid Malt, this stuff is used by German brewers to adjust the pH of the mash without using additives that would go against the Reinheitsgebot. It has more recently been used by some brewers to boost the acidity of sour beers or even to imitate sour beers without going through sour fermentations. These uses require a lot more of the malt than was originally intended by German brewers. I went with a pound, which considering my five gallon batch size is more than would be used for minor pH adjustments, but not enough to make the beer noticeably sour on its own. I want to play with Acid Malt more in the future and this was a first experiment just to see what would happen, but I was also hoping that maybe I could get sour a little quicker than with my Berliner Weisses.

I ended up waiting just as long though, mainly for scheduling reasons again. I made a lacto starter last Thursday, the thirteenth, then did my mash on Monday, the seventeenth. I added the lacto starter along with a pound of cranberries.
Those cranberries were very old. They’d been in the freezer for a long time and never got used for anything. I added them for a few reasons. First, just to get rid of them. Second, to help chill the wort. And third, to see if they would do anything. Normally, I just freeze fruit before adding it to my beer. Freezing fruit breaks cell walls and allows the juicy goodness to get out and flavor the beer. The relatively thick skins on the cranberries didn’t seem to allow this to happen, though.

I decided for the main cranberry addition that I would heat the berries to break them down, as I have done when making cranberry relish or sauce in the past. So, on Thursday, the twentieth, I added four pounds of cranberries to a pot on the stove with enough water to keep them from scorching on the bottom and heated them for about twenty minutes over medium heat, stirring periodically along the way. By the end of this time, the berries had just about all popped and there was a lot more liquid than there had been in the beginning. It was a thick, red, juicy mixture. This will definitely have a lot bigger impact on the beer than the frozen cranberries. I put it in the fridge until Saturday.
Saturday is when I moved on to the next step in the brewing process: the boil. In my Berliner Weisse beers, I boiled only for a few minutes and only to kill the lactobacillus. This time, I boiled for fifteen minutes, still short but long enough to add more ingredients.

I added hops, nutmeg, ginger, a cinnamon stick and Irish Moss at the beginning of the fifteen minute boil along with my wort chiller. Before the boil, I scooped out the old cranberries and as much of the grain from the lacto starter as I could with a wire mesh strainer and took a gravity sample.
I was surprised to see that the gravity was down to just barely above 1.00. With an original gravity of 1.045, that meant the beer was already about 5.5% ABV. After the boil, I added some Cranberry Honey and Wildflower Honey, taking the gravity back up to 1.028. Then I added the beer to a carboy which already held the cranberries, then added ale yeast which I harvested from Elkland Amber Ale.

The plan from here is to let the beer ferment for about five to seven days, then rack it off of the fruit and give it another five to seven days to clear somewhat. This is still going to be a cloudy beer, I’m sure, if I had more time I would let it sit for much longer and get it clearer but I’m already way behind. I want to have at least a couple weeks to enjoy this before Christmas. I will try to list the recipe below, but with the strange process on this one, I hope no one will try to repeat it without reading all this first.
Swell Time
Style: Sour/Spiced/Fruit Beer
Brew Date: November, 2014
Serve Date: December, 2014
OG: 1.073 (adjusted)
Expected FG: 1.010
Approximate ABV: 7+%
IBUs: 8

Mash at 154º:
50% Red Wheat Malt
42% Pale Malt
8% Acidulated Malt

Ferment with Lactobacillus for about five days.

15 minute boil with:
1 oz EKG
.5 oz ground ginger
1 tsp Irish Moss
.5 tsp Nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick

After the boil:
4 lb cranberries
2.5 lb wildflower honey
12 oz cranberry honey