Wednesday, 23 March 2016

That moment when you realize you've been doing it all wrong

Hops in 2013
I've been growing my own hops for just over 4 years now, and while my last few harvests were pretty good, they were not even close to what other home hop farmers achieve. To try and figure out where I've gone wrong I've read almost every guide, watched nearly every youtube video, and listened to a mass of podcasts...so far to no avail.

My problems are pretty straight forward - the growth I get is somewhat weak and thin, I don't get a lot of sidearms (which is where hops form), my cones form too early and tend to dry out by early August.

I'll admit that I've somewhat given up hope on finding a solution to my hop-growing woes, but last week James over at Basic Brewing released a podcast in which he interviews a hop farmer - James Altwies of Gorst Valley Hops. As I listened to the podcast I came to realize that my poor yields are likely due to one simple factor - I was doing every last thing wrong.

So what is the magical fix...well short of firing myself that is? There isn't any one thing, but rather several, and the first steps need to start in the next few weeks. As always, the meat is below the fold.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Tasting Notes: Uncle Mikes Pilsner

A few weeks ago I brewed a Pilsner-style beer using some of the techniques home brewers have been developing for fermenting these beers at ale temperatures. In my case I brewed a classical Bohemian-style Pils, pitched W34/70, fermented it at low-ale temperatures (16C) for five days, followed by 9 days at room temperature (about 20C). Two weeks later Uncle Mikes potion was gelatined and kegged (mine had to wait an extra week due to a lack of kegorator space), a week after that it was bottled and sampled - and was pretty damned good.

I kegged, but forgot to gelatin, my half of the beer 3 weeks after brew-day. The lack of gelatin is apparent, but otherwise this is a really, really good lager...er ale...er lale?

Appearance: Pours with a thick white head that lasts forever. Beer is a medium-amber in colour with a very slight chill haze. A bit of gelatin next time should solve that little problem. Mikes portion, which was gelatined, was crystal clear.

Aroma: Its a pils! Bready malt note, clear aroma of Sazz,and otherwise free of yeast-derived esters, sulphur or diacetyl.

Flavour: This is a very tasty beer. Modest bitterness balanced by that bread-like flavour only pils malt can create. The spicy/herbal note of Sazz is apparent in both flavour and aroma. Body is medium, just as you'd expect of a Bohemian Pils, with a crisp finish. About the only flaw I can note is that the hops are not quite as crisp as they should be - probably because I didn't dilute out my towns mineral content to get a Pilsn-like ion content. Aftertaste is a lingering hop bitterness and a slight bread character. Of most importance, no yeast-derived esters are present, confirming that lager-like finishes can be achieved at ale fermentation temperatures.

Mouthfeel: Effervescent, medium bodied, but dry in the finish. Thirst quenching and easily digestible.

Overall: A surprising and delightful success. I'm sure a more serious lager brewer would find a few more flaws, but for a brewer who only occasionally drinks pilsners. I tried this side-by-side with a Pilsner Uriquel, and while my beer was not intended to be a clone, the flavour profile and aroma are surprisingly similar. Not identical, but the differences are likely due to recipe formulation and the higher gravity of my beer, rather than due to flaws. The biggest difference is that the Uriquel's hops "pop" more than mine - likely due to the softer water used in Uriquel.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Tasting notes & a recipe - Kitchen Sink Stout (for St. Paddies day)

I don't always blog all the beers I brew, but seeing as it is St. Paddies day I thought I'd do a quick post one one such batch - my "Kitchen Sink Stout". As the name suggests, this beer was brewed by taking all of my odd-and-end grains & hops and trying to formulate a recipe that used them all up. What I ended up with was 40L (~10 US gallons) of a dry-style "stout" (stout in quoted because this is too dark/roasty for porter but has no roast barley). While this beer was brewed back in mid-November, I've managed to hold onto a few bottles until now.

The recipe is complex, not because I wanted it to be but rather because of the large number of malts I was trying to rid myself of:
  • 8kg marris otter
  • 0.7kg Carafa Special II
  • 0.67kg flaked oats
  • 0.45kg victory malt
  • 0.2kg black patent
  • 0.18kg carawheat
  • 0.1kg carafa special III
  • mashed for 60 min at 68.3C
Hopping was also done kitchen-sink style:
  • 100g (50 IBU) Northern Brewer, 60 min
  • 30g EKG + 30g Fuggels, 15 min
Fermented with 2 packs of Safale S-04 (English ale).

So how did this beer turn out... tasting notes can be found below the fold.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Belgian Candi Sugar Part III

Yesterday, Brulosophy published a post where they compared "my" candi sugar recipe side-by-side with a commercial candi syrup. The much more rigorous testing conducted by Brulosophy mirrored my own less scientific experience - i.e. namely that in beer the differences between them are hard to detect, but there are differences. The ability to find these differences appears to vary between people, as in the Brulosophy the majority were not able to tell the differences, but the minority that could tell the difference could do so consistently.

Since my previous posts on the topic (1, 2 and "3", #2 is the primary resource) I've refined my method further. In the discussions following the Brulosophy post its become apparent that I should share these changes as a fair number of people are using my old posts as a starting point in their own sugar experiments (hello, Reddit homebrewers).

The changes I have made seem to address the issues others (and I) have noted - namely an occasional acrid/burnt character. An issue was also brought up by one commenter which I think is worth addressing here.

The changes I've made to my method:

  1. I've greatly reduced the amount of DME used, as the amount of protein in previous batches was excessive. For 1 kg of sugar (2.2 lbs), I am currently using 2.5 ml (~1/2 tsp) of DME. Previously I was using 1 tbs (~15 ml)
  2. I avoid mixing the sugar as much as possible - I mix to dissolve the sugar into water, and I mix when adding the lye, but I do not otherwise mix.
  3. I am much more careful and slow with my temperature changes. Most of the mixing I did previously was to add cold water to cool the sugar if I overshot the desired temperature.
  4. I now usually add corn sugar (fructose) at a rate of 1% volume/mass (i.e. 1 ml corn sugar per 100g sugar). This does not change the flavour of the final candi, but does reduce crystallization. It is easier to then blend the mix into a syrup or cast rocks with the non-crystallized sugar.
These changes have led to a candi which is much closer (to my palate) to commercial candis, one without the unpleasant flavours some of the previous batches had. Others on the thread have mentioned using pressure cookers and other methods with great success. Hopefully, as a collective we will be able to formulate a better method of producing a consistent and flavourful candi sugar for home brewing.

The "Issue":
An issue brought up the commenter 'Chino' in the Brulosophy thread was that the 30 minute inversion time that I recommend is insufficient to completely invert the sugar, with individuals over a Reddit working on ways to get improved inversions. I partially agree with what Chino states - given the rate of the reaction and the fact that it is an equilibrium reaction, a 30 minute inversion period without the addition of something to accelerate the process (e.g. acid) will only invert 8-10% of the sugar. Where I disagree with Chino is that I don't think this matters. Mallard products comprise a pretty small portion of the final sugar - assuming 100% of the protein added via the DME is converted to Mallard products, the Mallard products would comprise about 0.07% of the final candi by weight. Although multi-step reactions, the formation of most Mallard products requires only one sugar molecule per amino acid, meaning that you need "only" 0.07% inverted sugar to be able to (in theory) produce the full array of Mallard products. The 8-10% inverted sugar is a huge excess compared to what is required - this does offer an advantage in terms of reaction rates, but its hard to imagine that increasing inversion to 25% (theoretical maximum using heat alone) or 50-75% (theoretical maximum using acid) would offer further improvements.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Tasting Notes - Back Mamba the Third

Last month I brewed my traditional beer to use up my home-grown cascade hops. Black Mamba (the third) is a black rye imperial IPA that I have formulated (and reformulated) to emphasize my home grown hops in a beer that also fulfills my winter desire for something a little more meaty. Past attempts at this beer have not quite lived upto expectations - the first version was an unsuccessful brew day that was lacking in the imperial department. The second version had the imperial down pat, but had too many roast notes and too much body, hiding much of the hop character. A few additional tweaks gives us this years batch - Black Mamba the III - reduced the dark malts and used sugar to dry out the beer...and it worked!

Appearance: Black as a politicians soul with an off-brown head. Shades of garnet can be seen on the edges if caught in the right light. Head is corse, and falls quickly into a layer of bubbles that persists for the rest of the pint.

Aroma: Mix of hop resin and hop herbalness. Hints of chocolate appear in the background and become more apparent as the pint warms.

Flavour: The malt note is a mild chocolate note with minimal roastiness. The rye adds a spice character is present but not overwhelming. The big flavour is a bold hop resin note, with herbal hop notes in the background. The citrus character cascade is known for is missing - but this seems to be a terroir "issue" as other local brewers have also mentioned their cascades skew towards resin and herbal, rather than citrus. After taste is a lingering hop bitterness and a resin note that sticks to the back of the mouth.

Mouthfeel: Pretty unique. The beer is dry, but the rye imparts its own thickness to the beer that counteracts this somewhat. Upfront the beer is whetting, but it leaves a modest dryness in the aftertaste.

Overall: I'm getting pretty close to my original vision for this beer. My home grown hops are in the fore, but are backed by a nice black IPA and rye character that is great in the winter months. The only thing I could see changing is adding a very slight touch of a mid-rage crystal malt to ad a touch of sweetness.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Not All Ideas Are Good Ideas...

I know a lot of us bloggers have a tendency to highlight our successes and minimize our failures. Looking at my own blog I see that my notable failures rarely make the roster, while my successes tend to get highlighted. So to even the scales somewhat, herein I present the results of my worst idea of 2015...

The recipe itself was merely a footnote in a previous post; a slight deviation of my normal cider recipe - in place of good o'l Nottingham yeast I used a Belgian yeast (safale T-58). The idea was simple, and its an idea I think remains sound. Simply put, I was hoping that the fruity character of the Belgian yeast would accent is apple flavors of the cider, while the phenolics would create a character like a spiced/mulled cider. On paper it was a winner; in practice is was a real loser.

Aroma: Smells like cider; apple plus a slight yeasty note.

Appearance: Golden, slight yeast haze

Flavor: A conflicting and poorly balanced mix of flavors. About the only thing that is right is that the finish is dry - which is how I like my ciders. After that, it all goes wrong. The most obvious 'flavor' is a clash between the apple notes of the cider must and the stone fruit character of the yeast. Yes, in hindsight it is pretty obvious that apple would clash with the raisin/date/dried fruit note of the yeast, but that didn't enter my thought process when planing out this recipe. But if that were not enough, the spice character of the yeast also conflicts - as in this beast is a Mexican standoff of three conflicting flavors. In place of the (hoped for) clove character I instead have a stale "5-year old cheap pumpkin spice" character. The sort of thing you would expect from jar of budget-bin mixed spices found in the back of your spice cabinet (or in any starbucks-branded scone). In other words, the flavor was that of apples fighting with dates, fighting with something akin to an unnamed brand of underarm deodorant. Either of the former two would be OK, but the three together are wrong, wrong and wrong.

Mouthfeel: Its a cider, so its dry and crisp. Even poor yeast selection couldn't screw that one up.

Overall: Disappointment in a glass. Sort of like liquefying every date you ever had in middle-school - not overly good, but hidden potential was there. I don't think the concept itself is flawed, but T-58 is not the yeast to make this work.