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Homebrew #15: Late-Hopped Xtra Pale Ale

14 May

I’ve homebrewed in my tiny kitchen 15 times since becoming interested in it two years ago (20 brews if you count split experiments)– that’s a nice round multiple-of-fingers-per-human-hand milestone. I still enjoy the process and (usually) the result, so I’ll probably keep doing it… though I have no desire to scale up in volume.

For brew day #15, I finally achieved a session (low alcohol) homebrew I’m quite happy with:

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The general brewing rule of thumb is that hops early in the boil add bitterness, hops late in the boil add flavor, and hops late in fermentation (“dry hopping”) add aroma.

A few brewers make “late hop” IPAs and pale ales where most of the hops are added late in the boil. You need more hops for the same amount of bitterness for the hops so it’s a more expensive way to make beer, but at a homebrewing scale that’s not as much a concern. I’ve often seen these done in the context of an IPA, because alcohol, maltiness, and bitterness balance each other, so heavily-hopped beers are also often higher in alcohol.

For a while I’ve wanted to make a good session (low alcohol) beer, but it’s hard– there’s not as much alcohol or malt flavor, so the beers can be on the thin and boring side, and there’s also not enough alcohol to balance out the bitterness of significant hopping. So what if I make a heavily-hopped session beer based on only late hop additions (late boil and dry hopping), to avoid this?

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I made a small 2.5 gallon all-grain batch, as I typically do these days (allowing brewing to take just 4 hours from start to finish). The recipe, briefly:

  • 6 lbs pale malt, 5 oz rye (for a little spice), 5 oz Munich (color, complex sugars), 5 oz wheat (tartness, head retention)
  • Brew-in-a-bag mash at the low end of the temperature range (148-150F) for fewer complex unfermentable sugars, aiming for a dry beer
  • 0.5 oz Amarillo, 0.25 oz Perle, 0.5 oz Citra hops @ 15min [ i.e. 15 minutes before end of boil ]
  • 0.5 oz Amarillo, 0.5 oz Perle, 0.25 oz Citra hops @5min
  • S04 dry yeast (unremarkable, neutral, for hop-focused beer)
  • Fermenting at room temperature (60-70F typically) for 2.5 weeks (primary and secondary/conditioning in the same fermenter)
  • Dry hopping with 1 oz Amarillo, 0.25 oz Perle, 0.75 oz Citra hops 4 days before the end
  • Cold-crashing the entire fermenter in my fridge for a day before bottling for clarity

Overall this involved 4.5 oz of hops for a 2.5 gallon batch, equivalent to 9 oz of hops in a 5-gallon batch– this would normally be an exorbitant level of hopping for anything but a strong IPA, but with most of this as late hopping and dry hopping it was more reasonable.

I chose Amarillo as my usual go-to hop for IPAs and pale ales– an unusual slightly tangerine/tropical/grapefruit flavor I’ve always liked, along with Citra (classic modern pale ale hop with some citrus) and Perle (slightly spicy).

Three weeks after starting fermentation, I bottled the beer– and as usual I had to make a label:

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I bottled one in an empty soda bottle (the Dr Pepper bottle Francisco had with him) as a ‘carbonation canary’– to squeeze by hand later to judge how carbonation’s progressing– with a small batch I don’t want to crack open a beer each week to check.

Then, after another two weeks it was time to try one– and I’d give it an “A-“. Much better than my earlier attempt at a session beer that was just watery. My notes: “golden, nice modest-height head that dissipates over time, good clarity / separation of sediment for an unfiltered beer, slightly grapefruit and resinous hop aroma. Up-front bitterness is very mellow. No residual sweetness– extremely dry. A little tartness (wheat, rye?), and both hop taste and aroma of tangerine, other citrus, tropical fruit.”

A good, flavorful beer for something that’s only 4% ABV. If I made it again I’d probably go a bit less dry (e.g. slightly higher mash temp or Crystal grains for some unfermentable sugars), and add some flavor hops at 0 minutes or even 5-10 minutes after the boil ended and let the hops steep a bit more before moving it to the fermenter, and maybe let the dry hopping sit a few more days.

As I drank it, I was already starting my next beer– a very small test batch of a Belgian…

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Homebrew #14: Mild Stout in a Petite Keg

30 Jan

Continuing my transition to all-grain and smaller-batch brewing, I made a 2.5 gallon batch of stout for a work party. Pale malt, Maris Otter, and a little Crystal (80L), chocolate malt, roast barley, and flaked barley, with East Kent Goldings for the hops.IMG_20141203_215208996

It was good– a bit of roasted chocolate flavor, very slightly tart/acidic, a solid stout.

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This was also my first time kegging instead of bottling. I bought a petite 2.5 gallon Corny keg (half the size of the typical 5 gal Corny kegs), which even full of beer is about 20lbs, reasonable to carry one-handed.

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Paired with a neoprene jacket and a tiny 2.5lb cylinder of CO2, it’s a compact easily-transportable package of beer for an event:

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Homebrew #12: Milk Stout w/ Figs

25 Oct

A lead on a free crop of backyard figs with a few weeks until they fell triggered the preserving instinct… and instead of jam, how about my first homebrew aged on fruit?

The only fig beer I’ve had was a sour beer at Cascade in Portland, which I didn’t really like, so I tried to think of other combination… fig saison? figs and oatmeal? figs and cream? Hmm, how about a milk stout (a stout with lactose sugar, which yeast can’t ferment, leaving a sweeter beer) with figs?

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The grain bill combined basic 2-row barley with a little white wheat, Crystal 60L, chocolate malt, roasted barley, and the lactose, with Magnum as bittering hops and no aroma hops to keep this a very malt-focused beer (I’m skeptical that figs + hops would be a pleasant combination in any case). As I’ve been doing for most brewing recently, I kept this to a smaller batch size (about 2 gallons) to make it easy to brew in a single stovetop pot on a weeknight:

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I got a decent amount of wort out of the mashing process, and decided to boil it down farther than usual, bringing it to an original gravity of 1.080 — this should end up closer to an imperial stout in strength (though the lactose makes that gravity reading a little misleading, as some of that sugar won’t actually get fermented to alcohol).

About a week later, after primary fermentation was over, I picked and peeled a few pounds of fresh figs, caramelized them in a hot pan (a dual-purpose flavor enhancement + sterilization tip from an online forum), and deglazed with a bit of the beer in progress before adding them back into the fermenter.

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And after a few weeks on the figs, I carefully siphoned it out with a filter (trying to avoid fig seeds or residue in the beer), bottled it, and made a goofy label. And just yesterday I finally cracked one open and tried it:

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I was pleasantly surprised– it’s quite a good beer. An excellent smooth, roasted-but-not-too-bitter, rich, flavorful stout, with just a hint of some fruit under the surface (tasting opinions ranged from blueberry to fig). This might be good with food as well.

That was a lot of work for just 10 beers, but I’ll stow them away for special occasions, and the process is part of the fun…

Single Malt, Single Hop, Single Gallon (Homebrewing)

4 Oct

I’ve kept homebrewing a low-tech, visceral, hands-on hobby as a contrast to large engineering systems that occupy another part of my life.  Part of this has been focusing on the process, ingredients, and history more than the equipment.

Partial-mash brewing (mashing modest quantities of grain but depending on liquid barley malt extract for more of the sugars) is one way to more easily brew indoors on a small electric stovetop rather than having to manhandle 15lbs of grain through multiple kettles, and I’ve been happy with several of the beers I’ve made using this method.

But I’ve wanted to get down to the simplest kernel of brewing– whole grain, water, hops, and yeast, and try more experiments especially on the grain variety and the mashing process. And 5 gallons of beer goes a long way. So I tried scaling down to single-gallon batches, and it’s been invigorating– it’s unlocked casual weeknight after-work brewing as a possibility (even after-dinner before-bed brewing depending on timing– it’s about three and a half hours from beginning to end including prep and clean-up) and made stovetop all-grain brewing much more practical. Yes, it’s much more work per beer. But it’s still less work per batch, and only getting 8 or 9 beers out is still enough to sip over the following month / share with a few friends.

One week in August, I even brewed two batches in one week (with bottling/cleanup on the same day about a month later to save some time), both very simple / elemental beers to get to know some ingredient and part of the process.

Batch #10 involved only a single grain (Maris Otter, a particular English variety of 2-row barley) and a single hop (East Kent Goldings).

Here’s the “Brew In A Bag” setup: whole grains in cheesecloth soaked in very specific-temperature water (148F-155F depending what you’re trying to get out of the grain), easy to remove and drain after mashing (not shown: the lid and blanket used to insulate and maintain temperature, and the second pot of higher-temperature “sparge water” used to rinse wort off the grains afterwards to increase yield):

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For this beer, I mashed at the low end of the temperature range to try to get a drier, less sweet, less complex beer, hitting a post-boil specific gravity of 1.044 (on the low side, meaning I should expect a roughly 4% ABV session ale out of this, though I ended up around 5% ABV because it fermented all the way down to 1.006 — mashing at low temperature means very few of the less fermentable long-chain complex sugars are produced, so the yeast can ferment almost everything present). In this carboy it looks darker in color because of the thickness, but it’s the yellow second beer from the right in the line of glasses another photo down.

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Above, from left to right: two hard ciders I was fermenting at the same time, this all-Maris-Otter batch, and on the right, Batch #11: a reddish Munich-Malt-and-Fuggles (also a one-gallon, single-grain, single-hop) beer.

After bottling both batches a month later (Simple Beer experiments deserve a simple label):

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Another few weeks later I tried them. While they weren’t fully carbonated so should condition a few more weeks, they were both already interesting enough to declare this a success:

The Maris Otter ale was a pleasant, very mild beer, with a slight smell of straw, and a light barley/hay/nutty taste. It had almost no bitterness (just enough to give a hint) and no sweetness.

The 100% Munich Malt ale on the other hand had a caramelized malt nose almost reminiscent of a lighter doppelbock (one of my favorite styles), and a robust flavor of caramelized grain– not sweet in a sugary sort of way, but with the mix of flavors you get from Maillard reactions or a brown shiny crust on a nice loaf of bread. Again, it had almost no bitterness or hop flavor (by design), and wasn’t especially complex, but I would happily drink this any day. I’d mashed the malt for this beer at the high end of the typical temperature range (155F), which was supposed to result in “more complex sugars / resulting in lower alcohol content and a full bodied beer with a lot of mouth-feel”. What do you know, chemistry works…

Cider Pressing and Fermenting

3 Sep

85 lbs of backyard apples + 19th century cast iron grinder and cider press + an afternoon of elbow grease (x2) + yeast + a few months = single-varietal Adina hard cider:

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The raw juice had a pH of 3.3 (a reasonable level for hard cider) and a specific gravity of 1.050 (expected, should result in a 6.5% ABV cider after fermentation all the way to dry).

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Fermenting with the special White Labs WLP775 cider yeast (rather than the dry champagne yeast and ale yeasts I’d used back in the previous kitchen-scale hard cidering with store-bought cider) in a glass carboy and then resting to condition/clarify/settle:

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And, about a month later, we racked it into bottles with a little sugar to carbonate it. As usual for a cider, it had fermented all the sugars (down to a specific gravity of 0.996, below even water). In a few months (just in time for Thanksgiving?) we’ll see how it is… but even the first taste of the unaged still cider was interesting– tart in a very crabapple way, but not at all harsh.

Update: Later– bottled and labeled:

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Homebrew #6: Fatherland Imperial Stout

23 Jun

My most successful homebrewing by far deserved some extra effort on the label (laser-cut paper laminated to silver foil):

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It’s “homebrew #6” because I brewed it back in December and let it age for five months (it could probably go another half year, even).

And it really turned out well. Rich, dark, smooth but not sweet, almost like bittersweet baking chocolate and with none of the overt “roasted coffee” flavor I don’t like in some imperial stouts. And it’s powerful. Did I mention it’s 10% ABV?

It involved ten grains (the usual suspects plus Carafa III, roast barley, aromatic malt, 40L, 120L, black malt, and chocolate malt), substantial amounts of Eastern European hops (Styrian Goldings and Perle), a whopping 1.100 original gravity, and a compressed gas cylinder of pure oxygen that I dosed it with to help the yeast take it on.

For one special gallon out of the batch, I dropped in toasted chunks of oak I’d soaked in port for a month, as my approximation of aging in a port barrel. I’ll have to try one of those soon and see how it turned out.

 

Homebrew #9: Wet Hot American Saison

22 Jun

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I’ve wanted to brew a saison for a while, and when the San Francisco May Heat Wave struck (88 degrees during the day– the horror!) I knew I had to jump on it (saisons are traditionally fermented at higher temperatures, and I hadn’t built a hot water bath or heating jacket).

Inspired by the Modern Times Lomaland saison (which they publish the recipe for on that site), I brewed with barley malt, wheat and flaked corn, Saaz hops, and some acidulated malt, plus the White Labs saison yeast another friend had used to great success in the past (the yeast is the defining characteristic of the saison flavor, after all).

Fermenting around 80-85F was brisk in pace, taking it from an OG of 1.048 down to a FG of 1.010 (5% ABV)  in about 4 days. I let it condition for another two weeks, and a month after bottling gave it a try.

It’s pretty good, I give it a solid B: distinctively a saison, but a bit heavy on the banana-like esters in the smell nose that are produced by yeast fermenting at high temperature (especially once it warms up). If I brew it again I think I’d up the acid malt and aroma hops slightly and keep the temperature lower the first few days of fermentation.

As usual, I also had to give it a goofy name and label.