NOT Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey Porter… Brown Ale

IMG_0163To start with, I haven’t kept up with my plan for the blog this year so far. I brewed this beer on Saturday, February 7 and Sunday, February 8. I will catch up before my next batch, but I am writing this after brew day. This brew has been unconventional since the start, though so it seems appropriate that the blog is unconventional.

The start of this recipe was in an aborted plan to brew a traditional Irish Red Ale as a companion to Day of the Red. The plan was to use the same grain bill with a more standard hopping rate and no oak. When I went to buy the grains, the British crystal malt from that recipe was sold out. I realized this after already measuring out the Maris Otter and roasted barley.

As I waited for the opportunity to buy the rest of the ingredients, I had second thoughts about the beer. I like Day of the Red a lot, but I don’t think a less hopped version was necessary, with Elkland Amber Ale and Mount Hoodie already in the works. Red ales and amber ales (and lagers) aren’t the same, but they’re similar enough that I don’t need four variations on the theme this close together. What could I do with a whole lot of Maris Otter and a little bit of roasted barley, though?

How about a porter?

But that would require a lot more specialty malts. And I have a self imposed ban on strong beers since I brewed a barley wine, a tripel, a quad and PROOF in fairly quick succession and still have quite a bit of each of them.

How about a double batch of porter?

But I didn’t want ten gallons of the same beer. I needed to come up with an idea to differentiate the two five gallon carboys. With Day of the Red still on my mind, my favorite previous batch of porter, CVP (Cherry Vanilla Porter) also came into the thought process.

How about a bourbon barrel vanilla porter?

Maybe that would be too much, especially with my requirement for a lower gravity beer. Oh well, it sounded like a challenge. Could I make a 6% ABV or lower porter with bourbon, oak and vanilla beans that maintained some balance and drinkability mainly from a complex grain bill?

IMG_0168Turns out, maybe not. Not because the beer is turning out bad, though. Not at all (as far as I can tell so far). Just because this beer turned out much lighter in color than I intended.

It has, based on my sample when I racked it and added the bourbon, oak and vanilla beans, a lot of character and complexity, it just looks much more like a brown ale than a porter. The problem is that I overestimated the color contribution of the roasted barley. I think I forgot to take into account the switch from a five gallon batch to ten.

I normally try to avoid roasted barley in my porter recipes because I think that it is one of the vague distinctions between stout and porter. I have most often used Chocolate malt for the majority of the color. Munich and Crystal malts are my other go to choices to fill out a porter grain bill. I kept them this time, but I knew I’d need more color and I wanted additional depth of character to compliment the bourbon, oak and vanilla.

Brown malt was the direction I decided to go. In my limited experience with the grain, I’ve found it contributes a strong, coffee like aroma with hints of smoke and a dry, biscuity graininess. There is a lot going on and it can be overpowering. I’ve heard that given time, the flavors will blend more with the rest of the malt, though I still found it to be the dominant character in my Old Old Man Old Ale, which aged for several months before bottling.

With the relatively low alcohol content and all of the additional flavors, I needed something to kick back. I also thought the subtle smokiness would work well with the oak and bourbon. So I was liberal with my brown malt.

To add these flavors, I started soaking a medium toast American oak spiral in 8 ounces Old Gran Dad 100 Proof Bonded Whiskey in my extra hydrometer flask a week before brew day. I let it continue to soak until a week after brew day, when I dumped it into a carboy before racking the beer on top of it for secondary. I also sanitized two vanilla beans, chopped them up and added them to the carboy. That was two weeks ago.

I just took another sample and both of these beers are turning out great. The plain batch is about ready to bottle. The bourbon, oak and vanilla version is going to sit for another couple weeks. In my small samples, the regular one really tastes like a standard brown ale. There is lots of coffee aroma without the bitter roasted character in the flavor. The special version shows a ton of vanilla character with some smooth whiskey aroma but no burn and just a subtle hint of oak.

I could not be happier with that version. The other version, I have to be honest, I’m a bit surprised about. I’m excited to try the finished product, but I haven’t been this surprised by a batch in a long time. Had I planned this to be a brown ale, it would be perfect. Considering that my plan was for a porter, it is a little disconcerting. My original plan was to call the oaked version Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey. Since the beer didn’t turn out to be ebony, I had to come up with something else. My new idea is to call the regular version Busybodies and the other version Idle Minds. Here is the recipe.

IMG_0228Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey Busybodies, Idle Minds
Style: Robust Porter Brown Ale
OG: 1.060
Type: FG: 1.015
ABV: 6%
IBU’s: 32
Batch Size: 10 Gal
Boil Time: 60 minutes

Grains & Adjuncts
Amount Percentage Name
14.00 lbs 60.42 % Pale Malt, Maris Otter
5.00 lbs 21.58 % Munich Malt – 20L
3.00 lbs 12.95 % Brown Malt
1.00 lbs 4.32 % Crisp Crystal Dark 77L
0.17 lbs 0.73 % Roasted Barley

Amount IBU’s Name Time AA %
2.00 ozs 28.13 Cascade 60 mins 6.90
1.00 ozs 3.70 Goldings, East Kent 10 mins 5.00

Amount Name Laboratory / ID
1.0 pkg Safale US-05 Fermentis US-05

Additions (to half)
Amount Name Time Stage
4.00 oz Bourbon 3 weeks Secondary
2.00 each Vanilla 3 weeks Secondary
1.00 oz Oak “Beer Stick” 3 weeks Secondary


One Year

IMG_0261Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I think I did enough looking back when I ended my daily posts to last a good long while, but I did want to acknowledge the anniversary for my own records.

I am behind. I brewed a couple weeks ago and have yet to post about it. The good thing about not posting every day is that I have time to edit my posts and get them to a point that I actually like them. The downside is that without a deadline, I am probably overthinking things. I will get that recipe post up this week, though.

Tasting notes are still coming as a weekly feature, but I want to bank several of them beforehand to make sure that once I start, I can actually stick to the schedule. That will probably take another couple weeks. I have plenty of beers to cover.

There are some other posts I’ve been thinking about, not directly tied to any of my batches. I haven’t started writing of them, but I’m hoping to get some of these ideas down soon. I feel like I’ve spent the last few months posting “stay tuned, more content coming soon!” But really, stay tuned, more content coming soon!

Legend Recognize Legend Raspberry Hard Lemonade

IMG_0182Yes, I have returned to hard lemonade. No shame in my brew game. This time, I brewed the lemonade for one of my favorite hip hop super producers, Lazerbeak of the legendary Doomtree crew. I’m going to see Doomtree on their All Hands Tour in Philly on Friday and I plan to bring a twelve pack of this stuff to share with them. I’ve been planning this ever since I missed their Philly stop on the No Kings Tour a few years ago due to work.

Lazerbeak is not only the super producer, he is also more or less in charge of public relations for the band because of his weekly Tuesday’s With Lazerbeak blog on It is from that blog that I know that he’s a long time devotee of Mike’s Hard Raspberry Lemonade. With all due modesty, I must admit that I’ve always thought that I could do better with a homebrewed raspberry hard lemonade. Well, I’m finally putting my private opinion to the test with this fine alcoholic beverage.
On brew day, I mixed six pounds of sugar with five gallons of water to get an OG of 1.050. I added six cups of lemon juice. Last time I posted about one of my batches of hard lemonade, I mentioned that I was considering waiting until after fermentation to add the lemon juice. I decided to just add some instead. The lemon juice drops the pH of the liquid below the optimal range for the yeast, making fermentation more difficult. If the fermentation does work out, it seems to blow out a lot of the flavor, anyway. I didn’t want to totally shock the yeast afterwards, as I planned to carbonate this stuff. That is how I came to this decision.

Since even the smaller amount of lemon juice made for a less than ideal situation for fermentation, I decided the use the staggered yeast nutrient method I previously used on Amy and Mitch’s Third Anniversary Mead. I added the nutrient, energizer and two packets of wine yeast and then set the fermenter somewhere warm (under my desk), and let the fermentation run its course.
Once the active fermentation died down, I checked the gravity. It was down to .995 so I added fifty ounces of frozen raspberries, ten cups of Splenda and six more cups of lemon juice. That was the low end of how much Splenda and lemon juice I thought it would take. I decided to add this stuff with the fruit, a week before bottling, so that I would have more time to taste test. I find that after a couple samples, my palate is pretty shot and blending becomes inconsistent.

As soon as I sampled the lemonade, I knew it needed more Splenda and more lemon juice, but I waited. A week later, I racked the lemonade off the raspberries and onto four more cups of Splenda and six more cups of lemon juice, plus a four ounce bottle of Brewer’s Best Raspberry Flavoring.

I was afraid that I’d overdone the Splenda, but I gave Amy a sample and she said it was still too tart. I took this into consideration and added some clearing agent before tucking the carboy away for a another couple days before bottling.
Once the clearing agent had done its work, I racked the lemonade again, onto two more cups of Splenda this time, and started bottling. I used my usual sugar cube method to bottle condition. I wasn’t sure if the lemonade would carbonate, between the acidity and clearing agent. Even if it doesn’t, the extra sugar in this already sweet concoction won’t hurt. I have already opened a couple bottles and gotten a light pop, about a week after bottling, so I’m hopeful that some crisp carbonation will form soon and make this even more refreshing.

I’m very happy with how this turned out. It is not my style and I struggled with the decision to add as much Splenda and lemon juice as I did because it just sounds like too much. I’m glad that I broke up the additions and that I enlisted Amy to show me the need to sweeten the deal that last little bit.

Now the bad news. Lazerbeak is not actually coming along with the rest of Doomtree on the All Hands Tour. I was excited to interact with him via Twitter after being disappointed by this news. He told me that I should entrust the lemonade to his fellow International Touring DJ, Paper Tiger. Lazerbeak is flying out for the show in New York next week and Paper Tiger is apparently the man to trust in keeping the rest of the group from drinking all of the hard lemonade before Beak arrives.

I will try to update on the situation after I have given my package of Legend Recognize Legend to the band and hopefully gotten some kind of feedback. For now, the simplified recipe, summing up all additions into total numbers is below. I’m not sure how much, if any difference the drawn out process above changed the final character.

Legend Recognize Legend
5 gallons water
6 pounds cane sugar
18 cups lemon juice
16 cups Splenda
50 oz frozen raspberries
4 oz raspberry flavoring
2 packets wine yeast + nutrient and energizer

OG: 1.050
FG: .995
ABV: 6% (adjusted for added lemon juice)

Sheriff Cluster’s Salvation Pre-Prohibition American Pilsner

IMG_20130415_192841I’ve been wanting to brew something like this for a long time. My only other Pilsner was a Czech style brew from my first year of lager brewing. I wanted to make a German style Pils last year but ran out of time. While enjoying last year’s batch of Elkland Golden Lager last Summer, I realized that while I use Cluster hops in that beer every year, I don’t really know what they taste or smell like.

I have used these hops several times but it has always been in very low hopped beers. Clusters are the original American hop variety. I’ve heard that they are the only variety that grew wild in America before other hops were brought over from Europe or created through breeding. I’m not sure if that is completely true, but they were certainly one of the first hops that were used in early American brewing.

While they aren’t nearly as popular as they once were, they are still used by a lot of brewers. Yuengling uses them here on the East coast and Anchor utilizes them in the West. These are both brewers that have been around for a long time and have a reputation for brewing classic American beers, so it should not be a surprise that they use the classic American hop.

As I said, I don’t know from experience what kind of character these hops have. I can tell you from the package that they are known to be “pungent and spicy.” Smelling them as I opened the bag, that seems accurate. I have heard people accuse them of being too harsh. I have heard that about a lot of varieties, though and they all seem to have their admirers.

I’ve read so many times that Nugget hops are too harsh for anything but bittering additions. The only thing I’ve read more of is rave reviews of Tröegs’ Nugget Nectar, which uses Nugget in the hopback and dry hop. Others claim Simcoe is unusable while it is the highlight hop in some of the most acclaimed IPA’s on the planet.

Anyway, my main goal with this beer is to shine a spotlight on Cluster hops. My original plan was to brew a very traditional American Pilsner with all Cluster hops. As I researched what a traditional recipe would entail, I decided to change it up a bit. Basically, it should be six row pale malt and a very large portion of corn with a moderate hopping rate (of either Cluster or a Noble variety).

I’ve been wanting to try out Briess Pilsner Malt since I realized that it was a thing and my local homebrew store carried. I used some in this year’s Mount Hoodie, but there is a lot of other specialty grain in that beer, which makes it hard to tell much about the base grain (and it still isn’t ready to drink, anyway). Popular wisdom seems to be to use at least twenty percent corn, but I wanted to bump that down to give the Pilsner Malt more room to shine.

This is pretty similar to the grist of a Light American Lager, such as Elkland Golden Lager. That was another reason I wanted to use less corn, to differentiate it a bit more from that beer. I do add Munich Malt to that one and I decided to add Victory to this.

Victory is an American toasted malt, similar to Belgian Biscuit or British Amber malts. I find that it adds a dry, grainy character. I only used half a pound to keep the color down and still keep the focus on the Plisner Malt.

This is my first time using flaked corn without adding six row barley. In the past, it was necessary to use six row when using adjuncts like corn because the corn does not have the enzymes required to convert it’s starch to sugar. Six row malt has more of these enzymes than two row, but modern malting has increased the enzymes in two row base malts to a level that most people seem to agree is sufficient for a moderate amount of adjuncts to be used. Two row barely is generally considered to have a better flavor than six row.

I’m trying this out this time, and if it works I may switch to all two row in future adjunct brews. To be safe, though, I upped my grist size and assumed a low level of efficiency, just in case. If it converts, I figure that early American brewers were likely to have made higher gravity Pilsners just because of their primitive equipment and inconsistent ingredients.

This beer will be fermented on the cake left from Mount Hoodie. For that beer, which was only a two and a half gallon batch, I bought two “past prime” vials of White Labs 802 – Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast. I haven’t used this yeast before, and I’ve never bought discounted, past prime yeast before, either. The yeast was still at least somewhat viable and I figured with two vials in a small, low gravity batch, it would work well. That fermentation was a bit slow to start, but then seemed to do well.

I left the beer on the yeast cake much longer than I normally would, as I initially intended to brew this Pilsner much sooner. Rather than try to wash the yeast, I decided to just let Mount Hoodie sit on it until brew day for this beer. It was only a few extra weeks, so I don’t think it will be an issue.

After the initial fermentation, I plan to rack this beer, give it another few weeks and then dry hop it. I have heard mixed reports of how often commercial Pilsners are dry hopped, but it seems to be a rare but not completely unheard of practice. I want the Cluster hops to really shine, though, so I’m going to refresh them just before bottling.

As for the name, it is inspired by the classic Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon comic book, Preacher. Volume seven of the comic, titled Salvation, chronicles the main character, Jesse Custer’s adventure as he becomes sheriff of a small town in Texas called Salvation. It is a section of this epic comic that could seem like a one off, side story, but it ultimately is very important to the evolution of the character. The name obviously fits and classic “old” American theme fits, too. This was one of my favorite stories in the acclaimed comic, so this seemingly strange name actually feels somewhat obvious to me.

My recipe is below.

Sheriff Cluster’s Salvation
Style: Classic American Pilsner
OG: 1.050
FG: 1.011
ABV: 5.11 %
IBU’s: 38.67

Grains & Adjuncts
Amount Percentage Name Gravity
10.00 lbs 80.00 % Briess Pilsen 1.037
2.00 lbs 16.00 % Corn, Flaked 1.037
0.50 lbs 4.00 % Briess Victory Malt 1.034

Amount IBU’s Name Time AA %
1.00 ozs 24.75 Cluster 60 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 8.98 Cluster 10 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 4.94 Cluster 5 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 0.00 Cluster 0 mins 7.00

Amount Name Laboratory / ID
1.0 pkg Czech Budejovice Lager White Labs 0802

Amount Name Time Stage
1.00 oz Irish Moss 15 mins Boil

Mash Profile
Medium Body Infusion In 60 min @ 154.0°F
Add 15.62 qt ( 1.25 qt/lb ) water @ 166.0°F
Sparge 16.19 qt of 170.0°F water over 60 mins

2015 Brewing Plans

20140415-192907.jpgIt’s already February, I should be done announcing my plans for the year by now, but this is it, I promise. I have a few broad ideas as well as some more specific ones for my brew schedule this year and now that I’ve shared how I plan to write them up, I’ll let you in on what I’ll be making.

My first brew of the year was a new batch of Elkland Amber Ale. I plan to bring back several more recipes, most of which have become annual staples at this point. Next up on this list is Elkland Lager. The first batch of this beer from two years ago was Elkland Adjunct Lager, last year I called it Elkland Golden Lager, with the amber version converting to ale, I’m planning to simplify to just Elkland Lager this year.

Next up will be Table Cat. The first version of this beer, Bier De Table Cat from 2013, was too bitter among other problems. Last year’s was one of my favorite things I’ve ever made. It was gone way too quickly. As I’ve mentioned before, I recently bought a new fifteen gallon kettle, so the batch size of this quaffer is going to be as large as I can fit in there. Otherwise, I’m keeping the recipe as close to last year’s as possible.
Old SMaSHy barley wine and Jade Otter, made from its second runnings will also be three-peating. I think I’ll be sticking with the yeast I used last year for Old SMaSHy and continue trying new Belgian strains for Jade Otter. I may up the hops even more, as well because they still seemed pretty mild last year.

My latest batch of Mount Hoodie is still lagering, but I plan to continue that tradition for a fourth year, as well. There are other beers and styles that I plan to repeat, though they don’t fit the seasonal nature of the ones I’ve already listed. I would normally already be drinking this year’s Amy Ni-Kölsch, but scheduling hasn’t worked out so far, it will be making a return later in the year. I’m going to be doing more Berlin(er Weisse) and a version with ginger.

Those will not be my only wheat beers, either. I’m planning to experiment with several wheat beer styles that I haven’t tried yet this Spring. I’m going to brew an American Wheat Beer, a Belgian Wit and a Gose. I did ‘Merican Wit, a hoppy wit beer, a couple years ago, but I’m going traditional this year. Gose is somewhat similar to Berliner Weisse, so I have that experience to help but I still need to do more research to get as traditional as I can. As for the American Wheat, that is a newer style that is still evolving. My plan is to use a neutral ale yeast with a lot of Red Wheat in a moderately hoppy beer.

The American Wheat will be ready for Memorial Day, the others will be around that time period as well. Hopefully before that, I will be starting my first full on sour beer. I’ve experimented with several lacto fermented beers and more recently some Brett beers, in the coming months I’ll be using the full range of yeast and bacteria to ferment a Flemish Red Ale. My plan is to do two sour beers this year, starting with the Red in the Spring, followed by something else in the Fall. I don’t know what that beer will be, but I want to get a couple things going so I can keep a solid flow of sour beer once I get the first taste.

Speaking of that Brett, though, I have more plans for long aging beers. I’m hoping to do another Old Ale. This time, I will get more traditional, though. A strong, dark, English Ale which I will ferment traditionally and then age on oak with Brett. I hope to do one or two more generations with the Brett that is sitting under Green Painted Gold before then, but I don’t have specific plans yet.
A lot of these plans are sure to change and a lot more will be added. In the immediate future, I’m planning a Pre-Prohibition American Pilsner and a double batch of Porter (half normal and half with bourbon, oak and vanilla). I’d like to fit in one more lager while it’s still cold. I want to do another, more traditional Saison this Summer. I also want to do a lot more session beer. We’ll all just have to wait and see how much of this I manage to get to.