Lancaster Craft Beerfest


Saturday! Tickets still available here: http://lancastercraftbeerfest.com/tickets
I will be there with the Lancaster County Brewers. We will be pouring around ten different beers, including a special batch of my Table Cat.

Table Cat is my annual Children’s Strength Saison, aka Belgian Table Beer, aka Super Session Hoppy Rye Crushable Belgish Ale. The grain bill is 50% rye malt and it is hopped exclusively with Nelson Sauvin hops from Australia. You can find the full recipe at the link above, but for this, my second batch of the summer, I did make a couple small changes.
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I wanted to brew this beer for the event because I think it is a good showcase of what you can do with an extremely low ABV beer. I was a little afraid it could get lost in the palate fatigue associated with a beer fest, though. To fight that, I added an extra ounce and a half of hops at flame out, taking it up to a full three ounces of whirlpool hops. In a beer this size, that it a lot.

The other change I made was skipping my usual Irish Moss addition. I had to turn this beer around very quickly and I figured it wouldn’t be clear even with the Irish Moss, I was also curious to see how much of a difference it actually made since this is a recipe I’m very familiar with. It made a huge difference. This stuff is super cloudy. It definitely doesn’t look as pretty as normal, but I think it also changed the mouthfeel. It is a little fuller bodied, despite the extremely dry finish. I’ve only sampled one bottle as I have to save it for the event, but I think the spicy rye comes through a bit more, as well.

There is definitely noticeably more bitterness, despite most homebrewing software’s assurance that no IBU’s are achieved post boil. The hop flavor seems a bit more citrusy. I was surprised how well I matched last year’s Table Cat with my first batch of the Summer and I’m surprised again with how different this one is.

In addition to Table Cat, the club will be sharing a ton of other great beers. A couple are left from our recent coconut competition, including Mike D’s Mounds of Joy stout, which rightfully won. Scott’s Cleared Headed Oat Pale Ale is an excellent example of some of trends I talked about in my last post. I haven’t tried Jon’s Grapefruit Berliner, but I haven’t yet been disappointed by one of his many twists on Berliner Weisse.

Oh yeah, there will also be some stuff there from Deschutes, New Belgium, Dogfish Head, Tröegs, Victory, Sam Adams, Fly Fish and sixty or so other breweries, if you like commercial beer.

IPA Day and the New East Coast IPA

I don’t think I can start this post without acknowledging the fact that I haven’t posted in a long time. I don’t want to get into making excuses or promising a change because I am probably not going to get back onto any kind of regular schedule anytime soon, but I do apologize for the lack of posts lately. There are a whole lot of half written posts on my laptop and I want to finish them but it became daunting so I think the best thing right now is just move on to new things that are more easily attainable. Which brings us to the topic at hand…
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Today is IPA Day. I don’t know the origin of this supposed holiday and as far as I can tell from some very brief research, there is, at least locally, very little going on to celebrate it. If not for Dogfish Head’s Instagram account, I would have forgotten about it all together. Is this a sign of the end of the IPA’s long reign as the king of the craft beer world? I mean, I was at Bube’s Brewery for trivia the last two Tuesdays and was shocked to see that there were absolutely no IPA’s on their fifteen or so taps. Clearly the IPA is dead, right?

No.

Obviously not. Which is good, because we all know that IPA’s are great. They aren’t the only the game in town as they seemed to be for a while, though. This is the Summer of Gose.

Forget that, though. This is supposed to be a homebrew blog (though I do have a gose in a carboy right now) and this is a post about IPAs (though I haven’t brewed an IPA since last summer). It is not for lack of thinking and planning that I haven’t brewed any IPA. I’ve been thinking about my next IPA for months. There are a lot of factors to consider.

For a while, the main variable for a new IPA was, obviously, which hops you would pick. Then came the trend of adding more hops to other existing styles and calling them IPA. That seems to have calmed down and the current trend, as far as I can tell, is to experiment closer to traditional IPA territory with additional ingredients to differentiate from the crowded IPA field.

In a surprising twist, the nexus of this experimentation seems to be the White IPA. Black IPA was, to my knowledge the first major off shoot from more traditional IPA recipes. They seem to be fading a bit and I think it is for good reason. White IPA makes a lot more sense, not just from a grammatical stance (white pale ale is more logical than black pale ale) but from an ingredient standpoint as well.

Belgian IPA is another big off shoot and traditionally it seems to lean more towards Abbey yeast, but there is obviously some wiggle room in Belgian beer and I think most Belgian IPAs could pretty easily be moved over to the White IPA category or vice versa. Most Belgian yeasts add some level of fruit character to the beer and the wide range of fruit flavors and aromas brought on from new hop varieties mean that mixing these elements together is an obvious point for experimentation.

Aside from the yeast, the use of wheat is the next most obvious change between “traditional” American IPA and White IPA. As the trend to eliminate malt flavor and make more room for hops continues, though, the move to include some wheat seems pretty obvious. Substituting wheat for a large portion of the pale malt in an IPA adds some complexity and graininess without any sweetness or really much flavor. Just a layer of, to most drinkers, inexplicable uniqueness. The option to use roasted, crystal and other wheat malts for specialty grains also adds to a brewers bag of tricks.
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I recently brewed what I thought of as a “hoppy American wheat ale.” What I thought when I popped the first bottle, though was that I basically made a wheat IPA. (Look for a post about Whoasaic at some indeterminate point in the future.)

The next element of a White IPA that isn’t part of a regular IPA is the spicing. Most spices don’t seem likely to work well in IPA, but the traditional combo of coriander and orange peel used in Witbier are fruity and do work with hops. They may be out of place in super bitter interpretations, but as far as actual flavor and aroma, they fit right in. Extreme bitterness is a trademark of West Coast IPAs. Here on the East Coast, lead by the aforementioned Dogfish Head and their Continuous Hopping technique, we go for more balance.

I’ve been enjoying new head brewer, Brad Moyer’s Speakeasy Pale Ale Version 2.0 at Bube’s Brewery on all those trivia nights. When I got to meet him at one of his regular Sunday afternoon brew sessions, I asked him if there were any special ingredients in the beer because there was some x factor that I couldn’t place. He lit up and immediately identified the “extra juiciness” being the result of steeping orange peels in the whirlpool.
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The last ingredient I want to touch on is oats. Obviously an important element in the silky mouthfeel of Witbier, they also work well in IPA. The only conceivable problem is that they will ruin a beer’s clarity. Sparkling, clear IPA has become the norm in America but new breweries like Tired Hands and their phenomenal HopHands have bucked that trend adding oats to a lot of their beers, adding to the rustic, handmade feel and smooth, luscious mouthfeel.

As far as I can tell, this trend is spreading among homebrewers but hasn’t made the leap to a whole lot of commercial breweries… yet. If the past is any indication, it is only a matter of time. If you want to stay ahead of those commercial brewers, add some oats to your grist. I really think that they will become hallmark of the new East Coast IPA as we continue to differentiate regional IPA specialties.
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Taking all of this into consideration, the IPA that I’m hoping to brew in the coming months will use my go to Belgian-y yeast, White Labs WLP566 – Saison II. This stuff gets beer super dry, super quick and gives a nice fruity flavor with just a hint of peppery spice. The dryness gives the hops room to shine above the malt and fermentation character gives a new dimension without getting in the way.

I will be skipping the wheat, as I’ve already been doing a lot of brewing with wheat lately (again, I’ll cover that stuff… eventually), but will definitely be using a whole lot of oats. I’ve used oats in their more traditional place in stouts, but never in lighter colored beers other than Wits and even then, not the high percentage of the grist that can be found in beers like HopHands.

Along with all the hops in a nice, long whirlpool addition, I’ll add some orange peel to give that extra juiciness. I’ll let that all sit for a long rest before chilling. This all sounds like a good plan. I think this is going to be a great IPA, it just seems like I’m forgetting something.

Oh yeah. Hops.

I guess I still have some more planning to do.

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.

Week Forty

IMG_5096Wow. Week Forty. Okay, this is going to be a busy week outside the blog and I have a lot to cover in the blog as well.

First of all, I brewed my second last week. It was a process drawn out over the whole week. I’ll explain that tomorrow. Then I’ll do a batch update on Tuesday. I’m a bit behind on the batch updates, so that will probably be a long one and it will be followed the next couple days by tasting notes for some of the same beers I’ve just updated (spoiler: there’s been some bottling).

Then, on Friday, in my house the official start of the Christmas season, I’ll write about my Christmas beer from last year. This is the last old batch I have yet to write about, so that is kind of big. I’ve mentioned before that I like to do a crowd pleasing beer for family events around the holidays, but I also like to do a weirder beer to fit my own idea of Christmas. Hop Holiday was that beer last year. This year it is the one I brewed last week (although for a time I thought it might have to be Night Work because I wasn’t sure I’d fit this one in). Anyway, Hop Holiday seemed like a somewhat original idea when I had it last year, this year’s beer is probably just plain strange. Come back all week to see what I’m talking about.

Amy and Mitch’s Second Anniversary Mead Update

IMG_5091I haven’t updated on this batch since way back in March. And for good reason, it has just been sitting in the basement. Waiting. Well, we finally made some adjustments this week.

First, on Tuesday (11/18), I added some Campden Tablets to kill whatever yeast might have been left after all these months. There is over six gallons of this stuff the carboy is filled right to the top, so I added seven tablets.
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On that same day, we bought another six pound bag of frozen strawberries from Costco. When we got home, we stuck it in the fridge to thaw. Then, on Wednesday, I brought the carboy of mead up from the basement warm up a bit, too.

Then, on Thursday, we dumped the new bag of strawberries into my eight gallon bucket fermenter and racked the mead on top of them. The idea is to back sweeten with the fruit and hopefully pick up some fresher berry aroma. I’m not sure if this is standard practice or not, but in my head at least, it seems to make a lot of sense.

From here, the plan is to give the mead about two weeks on the berries, then rack it off to a carboy and hit it with some clearing agent. Once it has cleared, the time it will take will depend on what clearing agent we go with, we can finally bottle. Once the mead is in the bottles, it will have to wait until our anniversary on December 30, when we’ll open the first bottle, maybe while mixing up our Third Anniversary mead. Check back around that time for details on that mead and tasting notes on this one.

Sour Cherry Sour Berliner Weisse Tasting Notes

Original Post: Cherry Berliner Weisse
Style: Berliner Weisse/Fruit Beer
Brew Date: July 16, 2014
Tasting Date: September 30, 2014
ABV: 3.7%
IBUs: N/A
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This beer pours a deep, dark red. Not a red associated with malts, it is definitely and obviously under the influence of fruit. It is nearly opaque and is probably very cloudy, although that is not the immediate impression. The red just completely takes over.

The head is lightly tinted in pink, but looks white on top of the red liquid. It did not give a big head of foam. The bubbles are very fine.

The aroma delivers on the name. It is cherry and sour and sour cherry. It could almost be cherry juice, but the acidity apparent does not seem completely fruit derived and there is an ever so faint hint of malt.

Taking a sip, the immediate impression is from the sourness, but it gives way quickly to cherry. The specific cherry character I get is mainly pie cherry. I did add semi-sour/pie cherries during fermentation, but at a much smaller proportion than the sour cherry juice. I would like to try something similar again using only those cherries.

This is the problem with the beer. There is too much cherry and too many cherries. I added those pie cherries along with sour cherries in addition to both sweet black cherry juice and “tart” cherry juice. They all come together into a bit of a muddled mess. I’m not sure if it is really the pie cherries coming through, or just a bi-product of mixing all those cherries together.
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As the beer warms, and even just by leaving it in the mouth for longer, it seems to get a little bit cleaner. It is still a bit of a mess.

There is some acidity, but it comes off in the flavor as mostly just being fruit related as opposed to fermentation. There is no other hint of anything beer-like in this… beer. It could maybe work as a Lindeman’s style fruit beer if it was sweeter, but it is very dry. Sour and dry and fruit and nothing else do not add up to anything great.

This is not terrible, but I’m pretty disappointed by it. I have had good luck mixing it with other beers, Jade Otter being the one I’ve been enjoying lately. I loved my Cherry Vanilla Porter and hope try mixing this with some darker beers in the future, too. I’d like to do some cooking with this beer as well. It just doesn’t stand up on its own. It is a weird mix of being all cherry without other beer elements to give it needed complexity and at the same time being muddled by too many competing versions cherries. Ooh… maybe I could try blending this with some cider? This is disappointing, but I’m not giving up on it.