Friday, June 15, 2012

The Beers of NHC!

The National Homebrewers Conference is less than a week away and it just can’t come fast enough for me.  I’ve never attended the conference before and from what I hear, it’s the event of the year for anyone who geeks out on all things homebrew.  My club (The Homebrewers Guildof Seattle Proper) and I have been preparing for it since about February of 2011 when we started our sour barrel project and since then, we’ve been brewing up a slew of beers that we’re all excited to share with the conference attendees.  Out of the 45 kegs of beer that we’ll be bringing, here are a few highlights:
  • Opacity – A collaboration Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Naked City and aged in a Woodinville Whiskey Co barrel (Pro-Night and Club Night).
    • We’ll also have a homebrewed clone that was aged in one of the 8-gallon Woodinville Whiskey barrels that they sell to homebrewers (Club Night).
  • Amalgamation Autonomous - An American wild ale aged in a Marsanne white wine barrel that can be had along side the same beer that was aged in a stainless corny (Club Night).  
  • GABF Pro-Am Series – A number of brewers in our club have been selected by breweries for the GABF Pro-Am competitions and we’ll showcase 4 of them during our 1st hospitality suite shift.
  • 7 out of the 15 beers that made it onto the 2nd round of the National Homebrew Competition will be served throughout the conference.
Although there are only 8 active members in our club, we’ve all been extremely active and focused on NHC.  Because of the copious amounts of beer we’ve brewed, we were allocated two hospitality suite shifts as well as two taps during the Best of WAHA shift after the awards ceremony.  Here’s where you can find us along with my personal beers that will be served at each event:

Pro-Night – Be sure to stop by Naked City’s booth and sample our Naked City collaboration brew, Opacity.  Don mentioned that it’s the best stout he’s ever brewed and we all agreed that it turned out amazingly well.

Hospitality Suite shift #1 – Right after Pro-Night: Thursday from 11pm to 2am
Hospitality Suite shift #2 – Friday from 4:30pm to 6:30pm
  • Paroxysm – Honey Rye Brett Beer (100% Brett Fermented).
  • My Yammy Spice – My latest Autumn Maple derivative…aged on oak with rum and maple syrup.
  • Old Clubfoot – A comparatively low ABV eisbock. 
Club Night – Friday from 8pm to 11:30pm – Just look for our logo…you won’t miss us.
Best of WAHA Hospitality Suite – Saturday after the awards ceremony.
  •   Eight the Baby! – The 8 members of our club contributed a portion of beer and communally came up with a blend that is complex with hints of roast, bourbon, vanilla, dark fruit and rich caramel..  About 7% of the final blend is myBlack Tuesday inspired Russian Imperial Stout.
You can see the full list of beers that everyone is bringing to all the events by clicking here

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Polecat Porter Revisited

It’s been said that one of the marks of a good brewer is repeatability.  As long as you have some basic processes down, it’s possible to get lucky now and again and produce a fantastic beer.  To be able to make that exact same beer a second time though, one that’s not just close but a mirror image, well, that’s a different story.  Back in August of 2011, I attempted this by re-brewing my Polecat Porter for the first time and even though I followed my recipe and processes to a tee, the end beer was a far cry from the original.  It lacked body, color, malt complexity and just ended up being an overall disheartening experience.    

Looking over my recipe and notes, it was hard to tell exactly where things went wrong.  The mash was identical, I hit all of the same numbers, and the fermentation proceeded in the same manner.  The only place where there was any room for differentiation was in the grist itself.  Even though I used the same recipe, I never recorded which maltsters supplied my grain and with chocolate grain as an example, SRMs can vary from 300 to 650 depending on which variety you select. 

With NHC being a huge focus of mine for the last year or so, my brew schedule was pretty tight and I wasn’t planning on re-brewing my Polecat for the event.  However, since my homebrew club (The Homebrewers Guild of Seattle Proper) picked up a second Hospitality Suite shift, we decided to re-brew and showcase all of our previous Pro-Am winning beers during the Thursday night shift.   Only being two months out, I was low on time for a Baltic porter since I normally would lager it for at least 3 months, but I selected the maltsters with the most appropriate grains (based on what was lacking in my original re-brew) and set to brewing.

As expected, the beer is and will be a little green on Thursday, June 21st, but it’s significantly closer to my Pro-Am version than my first re-brew.  If you’re coming out to NHC, come by the Hospitality Suite after Pro Night on Thursday, give it a sample, and let me know what you think.  I also managed to salvaged my first re-brew by eising it and I’ll be serving that at our booth on Club Night as well.  Try ‘em both and see what you think.

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 19.88
Anticipated OG: 1.087
Anticipated SRM: 32.8
Anticipated IBUs:   37.2
Wort Boil Time:  90
Final Gravity: 1.021
ABV: 8.8%

57.4% - 11.5 lbs Munich Malt (Weyermann)
33.7% - 6.75 lbs Pilsner (Weyermann)
2.5% - ½ lb Special B (Castle)
1.9% - 6 oz. Carafa 3 (Weyermann)
1.2% - ¼ lb CaraMunich 3 (Weyermann)
1.2% - ¼ lb Chocolate Malt (Crisp)
1.2% - ¼ lb Crystal 80 (Breiss)
0.9% - 3 oz. Molasses (Grandma's)

60 grams Czech Saaz (pellets, 5.0% AA) @ 65 minutes
20 grams Hallertau (pellets, 4.1% AA) @ 25 minutes

Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (2nd Generation, from Chocolate Rye Lager)

Water Profile and Additions
Charcoal filtered Seattle Water
Mash:  0.5 g/g Calcium Chloride, 1.5 g/g Baking Soda
HLT: 0.1 ml/g phosphoric acid
Boil Additions: 1 g/g Calcium Chloride, 0.35 g/g Epsom Salt   

Mash Schedule
60 minute rest at 151°
15 minute mash out rest at 168°
Sparged with 170° water
4/5/2012 – Racked Chocolate Rye Lager off of the yeast and washed.  Placed in fridge.

4/8/2012 – Brewed solo.

Doughed in at 157° and mash settled at 151.5°.  Mixed mash every 20 minutes for a total of 60 minutes before raising temp to 168°.  Sparged with 170° water for a long time, collected 7 gallons of 1.078 wort, and topped off to 8 gallons.

Boiled for 90 minutes.  All hop additions were placed in their own hop sacks with plenty of room inside, but I pushed the sacks down and around every 15 minutes or so with a long spoon.  Molasses went in at 30 minutes.  Ended with 6.3 gallons of 1.087 wort.

Chilled down to below 60° and then moved entire kettle to fridge with temp set to 40°.  In the morning, I racked over 5.5 gallons of clear wort and oxygenated for 60 seconds.  Since the yeast slurry was kept in the same fridge, I decanted any liquid on top, added some of the Polecat wort, swirled around to thin it, and then pitched it in to the carboy.  Temp set to 50°.

5/1/2012 – Raised temp to 59°.

5/3/2012 – Gravity down to 1.023.  Slowly started lower temp to 35 over the course of the next 7 days.

5/13/2012 – Transferred to a keg for lagering (34°).  Gravity down to 1.021.

6/7/2012 – Racked over to new keg and carbonated.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chocolate Rye Lager

Back in mid-February I made the journey down to LA to visit an old friend and while there, we headed over to the Bruery to sample some of their offerings.  Alright, the real reason I went down was to pick up my 2011 Bruery Reserve Society beers, but I sound much less like an insanely beer-obsessed nerd if I play the friend card before the beer.  Oh well, a spade’s a spade I suppose.  Anyway, while there, we tried a number of their on-tap beers and one that really surprised me was their Chocosaurus Rye.  This collaboration brew with the guys at Bootlegger’s is a dark rye lager that they then aged for a bit on cacao nibs and vanilla beans.  Honestly, the description sounded more like a mess than a masterpiece to me, but they pulled it off and I was impressed with how well the chocolate melded with the rye (probably due to the slight vanilla in there and the low roast character).  Since I wanted to build up a large volume of lager yeast for my next iteration of Polecat Porter, this seemed like a fun beer for replication.

Developing the recipe for this beer was fairly simple since there’s quite a bit of information in a video that they made on brew-day.  It’s difficult to tell whether they mention “base and Munich malt” or “base of Munich”, but regardless, I’m 10 steps ahead of starting completely blind.  Aside from the grist, the only real deviation that I made from their mentioned recipe is the yeast.  While it sounds like they use a German lager strain, I wanted to re-purpose the yeast for my Polecat Porter and since I’ve used Bohemian for that in the past, I decided that I’d start with it for this beer.

While I’m confident that the base will turn out decently given the amount of information they’ve reported, aging the beer on cacao nibs will be a bit of a gamble.  My last foray with nibs, a chocolate pumpkin porter that I brewed years ago, might possibly be the worst beer I’ve ever brewed and I haven’t been too excited to play with them ever since.  I did make the mistake of aging the beer on raw nibs, and probably for too long as well (a month and a half), which resulted in a harsh bitterness that wasn’t present before the nib addition.  This time, after researching various methodologies and talking to friends about their failures and successes with the nibs, I plan to use roasted nibs from a local chocolatier (Theo), presoak them in a bit of vodka as a vehicle for extracting some of the non-water soluble flavor and aroma compounds, and aging the beer on the nibs for a short period of only 3-7 days.    Hopefully using this method will impart the natural bitter-sweet chocolate flavor that I’m looking for and by sampling daily, I’ll be able to transfer the beer off the nibs before any negative flavors start to develop.

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6
Total Grain (Lbs): 16.75
Actual OG: 1.067
Final Gravity: 1.015
Anticipated SRM:  36
Anticipated IBUs:   25
Wort Boil Time:  60

Grain Bill
30.2% - 4.75 lbs Breiss Rye Malt
28.6% - 4.50 lbs Weyermann Munich Type 2
27.0% - 4.25 lbs Gambrinus 2-Row
7.9% - 1.25 lbs Flaked Oats
6.3% - 1.0 lb Breiss Midnight Wheat
1.0 lb Rice Hulls

40 grams Styrian Goldings (pellets, 5.2% AA) @ 45 minutes
4 oz. Theo Organic Roasted Cacao Nibs @ secondary for 3-7 days
1 Tahitian Vanilla Bean (Split) @ secondary for 3-7 days

Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager

Water Profile and Additions
Charcoal filtered Seattle Water
Mash Additions: 0.5 g/g Calcium Chloride
HLT Additions: 0.1 ml/g Phosphoric Acid (0.75ml)
Boil Additions: 1 g/g Calcium Chloride and 0.35g/g Epsom Salt

Mash Schedule
90 minute rest at 146°
15 minute mash out rest at 168°
Sparged with 170° water


3/1/12 – Added two packets of Wyeast 2124 to 2.5L of starter wort and placed on stirplate at 54°.  After 36 hours, another 1.5L of wort was added.  36 hours later, started was placed in fridge to crash cool and drop the yeast.

3/11/12 – Brewed solo.

Doughed in at 153° and mash came to rest at 147°.  Made mineral additions and mash pH came in at 5.16 and HLT at 5.26.

90 minute mash and a long sparge.  Collected 5.25 gallons of 1.082 wort with final runnings stopping at 1.046.  Topped up to about 7.3 gallons. 

Boiled for 60 minutes (post break) and since only 1 hop addition, I used a hop sack.  Finished with 6.25 gallons of 1.067 wort.

Chilled down to 48° and let rest for about a half hour.  Decanted yeast starter and added about a quart of wort from the kettle.  Placed both yeast and carboy in fermentation chamber at 47° and let rest for 30 minutes. 

Oxygenated for 90 seconds and then pitched in yeast.  Set fermentation chamber at 49°.

4/1/12 – Sampled and gravity down to 1.0155 so I bumped up temp to 58° for a diactyl rest.

4//4/12 - Crash cooled to 33°

4/712 - Racked over and onto 4oz, by weight, of Theo Cacao nibs (which had been soaking in Bend Distillery's Crater Lake Vodka for 24 hours...just enough to cover the nibs) and 3/4 Tahitian vanilla bean (split and seeded...and also had been soaking in 5ml of Vodka for 2 hours).  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sangiovese Flanders Red

Nearly a year and a half ago, I brewed up a fairly standard Flanders Red.  Having never brewed one before, I started with Jamil’s recipe and modified the grain percentages based on my preference for a few of the malts.  Since it’s fairly common for homebrewed beers to lack the desired, intense level of acidity when they undergo a primary fermentation with a basic saccharomyces strain of yeast, I pitched in the Roeselare mix right from day 1 hoping that without having to compete against a primary strain of yeast, the bacteria can replicate faster and in the end, yield a more highly acidic ale. 

Since the Flanders Red style is really the only one where it’s acceptable to have moderately high levels of acetic acid present, it’s common for homebrewers to try to replicate this by using a wooden oak dowel in the neck of the carboy.  In theory, the contact surface-to-volume ratio is supposed to be similar to that of the Foudres that Rodenbach uses and the permeable oak is said to allow a similar transfusion of oxygen into the beer.  This all seems somewhat gimmicky to me and although I’ve tried a few that employed this technique, I’ve never been impressed enough with the results to go through the trouble of using it myself.  Instead, I plan on cheating a bit.  While the main batch of beer has been fermenting and maturing in a standard carboy with bung and airlock, I kept about a quart in a separate vessel covered only with tinfoil.  With the excessive levels of oxygen present, the acetobacter should be having a field day and basically turning the small amount into malt vinegar.  When the time is right, I’ll be able to blend this back into the main batch until I reach my desired level of acetic acid. 

After 15 months of aging, the beer was developing nicely but still lacked both the lactic punch and complexity that I was hoping for.  I probably could have let it continue on its own, but I decided that I’d experiment with this batch and age it on some fresh Sangiovese grapes from Walla Walla, Washington.  While domestic versions of this grape tend to lean more towards the fruity side than those of Tuscany, the Washington state Sangiovese grapes are known for their spicy, tart cherry flavors with supporting background notes of tobacco, all of which seem like highly complementary flavors to a Flanders Red.  Additionally, although the grapes themselves have high levels of acidity, adding the sugar-laden fruit to a batch of beer with a high level of bacteria and wild yeast should help to amplify the overall acidity of the batch in a relatively short order.

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6
Total Grain (Lbs): 14
Actual OG: 1.059
Final Gravity: 1.006
Anticipated SRM: 13
Anticipated IBUs: 15
Wort Boil Time (Mins): 90

Grain Bill
43.0% - 6.0 lbs Vienna Malt
21.5% - 3.0 lbs Munich Malt
21.5% - 3.0 lbs Pilsner Malt
4.5% - 10 oz. CaraMunich 40
3.6% - ½ lb Special B
3.6% - ½ lb Wheat Malt
2.2% - 5 oz. Aromatic Malt

33 grams Liberty (pellets, 3.0% AA) @ 90 minutes

Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend
Cantillon dregs starter & East Coast Yeast brett blend #9 (Added at 15 months along with grapes)

Water Profile and Additions
Charcoal filtered Seattle Water
Mash Additions: 0.25 g/g Chalk, 0.6 g/g Calcium Chloride, 0.25 g/g Epsom Salt, 0.5 g/g Baking Soda, and 0.2 g/g Salt
HLT Additions: 1.2 g/g Calcium Chloride, 0.25 g/g Epsom Salt, 0.5 g/g Baking Soda, and 0.2 g/g Salt

Mash Schedule
60 minutes @ 155°
15 minute mash out rest @ 168°
Sparged with 170° water


11/6/2010 – Brewed with Blake.

Apparently I didn’t have my water adjustment methodology down back then based on all the additions I made…both to the mash and sparge tanks.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.051 wort and topped off to 7.5 gallons.  Boiled 90 minutes and then chilled down to 65 degrees.  Ended with 6 gallons of 1.059 wort.

Did not oxygenate and pitched in straight Roselare pack.  Fermented at 66 degrees.

12/5/2011 - Racked off yeast cake and into secondary (keg w/ airlock) along with ½ oz of French Med + oak stave.  Placed down in my basement where depending on the season, temp shifts between 58 and 70.

11/5/2011 -  De-stemmed 10lbs of fresh Sangiovese grapes.  Vacuum sealed and placed in Freezer.

1/25/2012 -   Defrosted grapes and mashed into carboy.  Flushed with CO2 and then racked over Flanders Red.  Added about 1 cup and a half of a starter made from the dregs of various Cantillon beers as well as a bit of the East Coast Yeast blend #9.  Left down in basement with current temp of 59°.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Polecat Porter Tasting

Standard on left, eised version on right.
It’s rare that I brew the exact same beer twice:  typically if I am doing a re-brew, I’ll tweak something in either an attempt to update the beer more to my liking or to try out a new process/flavor ingredient.   My original Baltic porter exceeded my expectations though and instead of trying to create an even better beer, I wanted to replicate the original so that I could proudly serve one of my favorite beers that I’ve made at NHC.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case this year…or at least in its intended form.

Although the standard version turned out to be a great tasting beer in its own right, it’s certainly not my original Polecat Porter and probably is a far cry from even being classified as a Baltic porter.   For whatever reason, the beer is lacking in the malt depth/complexity that the original possessed, the color is slightly lighter, and the body is much weaker than it should be. 

I try to keep thorough notes when I brew and after looking over both brew sessions, it appears as though my processes were identical.  It’s possible that I accidentally left out or incorrectly measured a malt, but  I’m starting to think that maybe the difference lies in the brand of malts that I used.  I never really recorded this in the past and, as an example, with SRMs of chocolate malt ranging from 350 to 600 depending on the maltster, not using the exact same grain as before really can alter the outcome of the beer.  I’m not sure if this is what happened with my beer in or not, but going forward, you can bet that I’ll be recording all of this information so that I can eliminate this variable should the problem rise again.

The good news is that, while technically still not a Baltic porter, the eised version turned out be fantastic.  Since my standard version is still lagering uncarbonated in the fridge, I plan to eis the entire keg.  It may not be the original beer that I intended to serve at NHC, but it’s a unique option and one that I think a lot of people will enjoy.

Standard – Very clear, dark brown with a sort of ruby highlight when held up to the light.  Sandy head that fades quickly.
Eised – Very clear, more of a dark chestnut color, almost tobacco, and less of the ruby highlights.  Very difficult to get any head.

Standard – Very clean and smooth with a mild chocolate flavor.  Quite a bit of soft fruit flavor from the Special B, but not in a sweet way.  Almost no roast, but there is considerable breadiness and slight toffee notes.  Clean bitterness without any hop flavor.
Eised – Compared to the standard, there’s less chocolate and more toffee/caramel.  Slightly sweeter too, but not overly so or in a cloying manner.  There’s also some warming alcohol, but no heat whatsoever.  Very rich flavors, but they’re extremely smooth and have meld together quite well.

Standard – Too thin and dry to be categorized as a Baltic porter.  Sample was carbonated too quickly and needed more time to really integrate well.  No astringency.
Eised – Medium-full bodied with moderate carbonation that kept the beer from being too heavy on the tongue.  No astringency.

Standard – If I didn’t tell  you that it was supposed to be a Baltic porter, I think it would be a highly enjoyable beer….sort of a  nice, malty lager with background chocolate flavor.  To me though, it’s completely flawed because it’s not what I wanted it to be and it's hard to get past that.
Eised – This beer is great…loads of layered flavors with rich complexity.  It’s totally different from the base beer, and as expected, my original intentions, but in its own right, it’s unique and highly enjoyable.
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