Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tasting the Ryed Irish Stout

Goodness, but I do love a good stout. I like them intense and heavy and sweet and even barrel-aged as much as anyone does, but I LOVE them dry and roasty and sessionable.  

A few weeks ago, I brewed what will probably be my last BIAB batch for a while, using a recipe for a Ryed Irish Stout adapted from Michael Dawson's Mashmaker book. It's a fun book, and Dawson has given a lot to us for free over the years, so get the book for the details and some decent writing (this fanboy got the signed copy!).  But, it's not giving away too much to say that the recipe is a classic dry Irish stout with flaked rye subbed in for the flaked barley (my percentages worked out to about 70% MCI Stout Malt, 20% Flaked Rye, and 10% Roasted Barley,  aiming for 1.044 OG, bittered to about 40 IBU with a single charge of East Kent Goldings, and pitched some rehydrated US-05 fermented at the cooler end of its range). 

Still life with stout on
Scandinavian-Themed Countertop.

Appearance - Black. Opaque. Like one of the more-famous marks for the style, you can tell in a strong light at the edges of the glass that it's actually a sort of intense reddish brown, but anything more than a quarter inch, it's black.  The head on this thing is also silly, with a thick beta-glucan-inspired meringue that reminds me of the ice-cream-and-soda foam on top of a rootbeer float.  

Aroma - It's got a nice clean, beery aroma that...wait, what is that? Just at the edge of perception, there's just the barest hint of that elusive-but-unmistakeable rye aroma (can something be elusive and unmistakable? Is that a thing? Is this beer gaslighting me?).  Once it warms up, the smell is definitely there, but still hard for me to describe, like an earthy, well-baked loaf of bread.  

Mouthfeel and Flavor - When straight out of the tap (where I've got the pressure too high and the temperature too low), this is pleasantly dry and roasty, with just the barest hint that something is different from the standard Guinness clone.  When it warms up  and the carbonation has dissipated, the slick, smooth mouthfeel from all that flaked rye really comes through, and the roast becomes a little less coffee and more chocolate.  Oh, and you really start to get the rye flavor. How do you describe rye in a beer?  I've heard "spicy" but to me it's earthy, tending to almost herbal.  Definitely reminds me of bread I've made with a lot of rye, but also with a flavor that reminds me of both mint and wintergreen, but without really being minty, if that makes sense. I guess it tastes like rye?  It's been years since my last rye stout, and I don't have the best palate, but the flavor was immediately familiar.  

Notes - Love this, especially when I manage to serve it at decent cellar temps, where it comes out chocolately and earthy and complex, with a satisfying creamy mouthfeel, but still dry enough to put down quite a few pints in a sitting. I like how the US-05 let the malt come through on its own terms, but in future I would definitely consider a more expressive yeast. While I'm at it, perhaps a more-complex malt bill and hopping schedule...but would it really be a dry Irish stout at that point?

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Brewing Broke Okra

I brewed the first batch of beer on my new cooler MLT, and it was a complete joy.  Batch sparging came back to me like riding a bicycle (a bit wobbly, but got there!), and I believe my efficiency woes may be over.  While my plan was to brew an American pale ale, based on an expected efficiency of around 65%, I ended up well in IPA range with 74% efficiency. The upshot is that my 1.056 APA ended up being a 1.063 IPA. Honestly, I don't think the beer will be so very different, as it was a bit strong for an APA and it's low to middlin' for an IPA, but I'm thrilled that it's once again a snap to get my extract. 

Used the stove for my strike water to save on propane. 
One thing I used to hate about batch sparging before was cleaning the mash tun, but that was for 10-gallon batches.  The grist for a 5-gallon batch isn't that heavy. I even moved it around during the mash without much trouble. Dumping the spent grain on the compost heap and spraying it out took less than 5 minutes. 

Now, there may be a few other explanations for this high efficiency.  One is that I used double-milled grain meant for a BIAB batch, so I may not be able to expect above 70% with regular milled grain.  That would be fine, as I had a bit of a slow, if not quite stuck, sparge.  Two is that this recipe is for a very pale beer, and the only pale beer I made using the BIAB setup had a similar efficiency.  My water is very soft, so this may be a chemistry issue.  I'm looking forward to brewing a few more times to see if I can get a predictable efficiency from this system. 

This is also my first time using a hop stand.  Most of the hops went in at flameout, and then I let them sit for 30 minutes without chilling.  I'm hoping I got some bitterness and good aroma out of that addition, or this may be a fairly boring beer. 

New MLT build

I've gone ahead and built my new mash/lauter tun.  The first one that I ever built was made from a 48-quart cooler with the flag of the Republic of Texas on the side. For some reason, potentially government subsidies, the cooler with the flag was cheaper in the Plano Walmart than the plain cooler.  It was a good size for a 5-gallon batch, but it didn't hold temperatures that well. When I sized up to a 10-gallon setup, I went with a 70-Quart Coleman Xtreme. This did a great job of holding temperatures, but it was a great, unwieldy beast. Both found homes in the Richmond homebrew scene when I moved back to the Eastern Shore a couple of years ago.

With ingredients for a 5-gallon APA.
NASCAR-style stickers courtesy of Chop & Brew.
Happily, I found a 52-quart Coleman Xtreme on Amazon.  You can see it with a sack of grain for a 5-gallon batch of APA for scale. The cooler is pretty bulky because of all the insulation in the walls, but it's nicely sized. I used to dread the need to move the 70-quart model, especially to empty the spent grain from a 10-gallon batch of high gravity beer.  I expect this version to be easier on my back.

As for details of the build, it's essentially the same MLT build you can find all over the internet, I believe originally popularized by Denny Conn during the great batch-sparge revolution of the early Oughts, and which I originally found on Don Osborne's page.  If you want a detailed build plan with a parts list and step-by-step instructions, check out this Brulosophy post.

Fiddly Bits

I went with brass fittings that I picked up from Lowe's, along with some random plumbing parts I've had laying about from brewing and general home-ownership (why are there always extra parts?). One thing I liked about the Brulosphy build was putting a weight at the end of the stainless steel braid.  I'm not sure it if matters for sparging, but that thing does get in the way when it floats about.  I clamped part of an old brass compression fitting I had laying around to the end of mine.

Action End
The other thing I really like about the Brulosophy build is the use of washers to take up space between the fittings and the side walls.  My first build had the fittings directly up against the cooler with only an o-ring in between.  turning the valve on and off caused significant flex in the cooler as the valve structure would push against the plastic. The big washers spread the torque out over a wider area, and it feels less like turning a valve will pull the entire structure out from the wall.  Using a thick-walled cooler also helps here.

Perhaps unwisely, I plan to have the first run of this cooler using grain I had double milled for the BIAB setup.  I'm a bit worried that the finer crush will end up in a stuck sparge, but if worse comes to worse, the grist is small enough that I'll be able to pour the entire thing into the brew bag. Yet another benefit of the smaller brew length.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

2018 Easton Beer Festival

I spent a couple of hours yesterday at the 2018 Easton Beer Festival, where I had the opportunity to taste beers from breweries from the Mid-Atlantic, mostly from Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland, but all within a half day's drive.

My goal was to leave in a reasonable state of mind and to be able to enjoy today, so I had a lot of half pours in my tiny tasting glass, poured quite a bit out into the buckets that were all over the venue, and skipped anything I could get fresh and local (so, I didn't try the offerings from the two excellent breweries one-town-over from my house, RAR and Eastern Shore Brewing--I'll see those guys in their tasting rooms with full pints, thanks).
Beer Fest Selfie

I didn't get to try everything, but there were a few standouts.

EVO had their always-excellent Lot 3 IPA in cask and dry hopped with Citra. As far as I'm concerned, this beer was best in show. EVO must spend a lot of time paying attention to their packaging, because it's always on point, and this was just super fresh and delicious.  Dry, clean, bitter and incredibly aromatic.  Just lovely.  Their Day Crush Session Sour was also good.

Cult Classic is the newest brewery in my neck of the woods, and just a bit too far for an easy drive, so I haven't had a chance to check them out.  They brought a perfectly crafted Munich-style helles lager that made me wish I were in a bier garden. Clean, fresh malt, with the barest hint of hops to balance it out. The perfect palate cleanser between the more extreme offerings at most other booths. My only complaints were that it should have come in liters and been offered with soft pretzels and bratwurst. They also brought a very well-made Irish red.

Stone. Here's the thing. I love a small brewery and the exiting stuff that comes out of so many of them. But there's something to be said for 20 years of experience in the craft, and the Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout was just. on. point.  10.6% abv, but not in the least bit hot. Cocoa and coffee, rich but terrifyingly quaffable, deep dark fruits. Just excellent.  Bonus that I got to chat with the guy about what a great town Richmond is. Shame we moved right before they opened.

Monument City Brewing brought the second best cask I had in the form of their 51 Rye, dry hopped and with orange in the cask.  I'm not usually a fruited IPA guy, but this was on point. The bitter peel from the orange melded perfectly with the fruity hops to the point where you'd just ask "does this have oranges in it?" I AM a cask guy, and the pin was on point with the perfect carbonation and cellar temp (not bad for just sitting out...I must have gotten there at the right time).

Reading the above, it's clear I'm a crotchety old man. I tried the occasional NEIPA and kettle sour, but they didn't really blow my skirt up. Not that I don't love IPAs made with expressive yeasts or sour beers...I'm just less excited by the beers riding those trends. I prefer a bracing bitterness in an IPA and a bit more complexity in a sour than is typical right now.  But I'm still very excited by cask beer and crazy stouts, which were the exciting new trend...well...I don't remember, but I'm sure they were at some point.

Another thing I noticed in trying some beers is how very different some beers are on tap from when I've had them in the can or bottle. You expect the freshest keg at a festival, but some of these beers are completely different animals. One english-style beer that shall remain un-named, in particular, read as having a ton of caramel and a heavy, over-sweet character in the can, but was fresher, dryer and brighter at the festival with a notable hop bite. My thought in trying the beer in cans a few weeks ago was that it was heavily oxidized (and only really good for braising beans) and this confirmed it. I hadn't planned to ever drink that beer again, based on my poor experience of the packaged product, and only got a sample to confirm. I see how much of a shame that is based on the fresh product.

There's a lot talk about how we've got nearly 7,000 breweries today, that it's a bubble, and that we're going to see a shakeout like the great brew-pub purge of the late 90s.  I hope it's not as bad as all that, but I have to say that some of these folks need to get their packaging ducks in a row if they want to compete against the breweries noted above, which can provide me a similar beer whether I get it fresh at a festival or in a can off the shelf. Now get off my lawn. 

UPDATE/CONFIRMATION: A Double IPA won best of show. I...didn't try any double IPAs.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sensory Evaluation Session: Off Flavors

As much as I really enjoy living in my little town on the Eastern Shore, I do miss the beer culture of a city. It's not that there aren't great cities with great beer cultures nearby, but most of the things I'm interested in--mostly homebrewing club meetings, seem to take place on a weekday night when a three hour round trip won't really work for me.  So I was THRILLED when I saw a guy post a sensory evaluation session on a WEEKEND when I didn't have any real plans. I dropped the guy a line a few weeks ahead of time, got a seat, and was ready for a road trip today.

If you're not familiar with a sensory evaluation, it's a bit of a tune up for your palate. When you taste a beer, it's almost always an amalgam of flavors, yeast, hops, malt, process all mixed up and hard to untangle. So a sensory evaluation is a series of concentrated flavors added to nearly-flavorless beer (miller high life light, in this case) that highlights the flavor in question. You get the flavor by itself, in isolation, and writ very large. That way, you're better able to recognize the flavor in a more complex beer. It's a bit like hearing a symphony and being told there's a oboe involved, but you don't know what an oboe is so you can't pick it out. But then you hear the oboe solo, and you can't help but hear the oboe for the rest of the piece.  It's been more than six years since I've done a sensory evaluation, so it was about time for a tune-up. 

Unfortunately, it's especially useful for off-flavors...flavors that aren't supposed to be in the beer in the first place, often because they are awful. Some of those flavors are appropriate in some beers, but some are inappropriate in any situation except black-site interrogations that shouldn't be allowed at all.

Being a huge dork, I brought a notebook, and thought I'd expand on the entries while it's still fresh.  One interesting thing to me is that some flavors are highly objectionable to some people, while other people barely notice it, or even enjoy it.

Grainy - This is essentially excess tannins, usually from oversparging.  There's not really an aroma, or even a flavor, component to this, but you do end up with the drying sensation you get from overbrewed tea on your tongue and the inside of your cheeks. I have definitely had this in a few beers, most notably in some beers I've made with second runnings off the mash from a high-gravity beer.  I remember this over-brewed tea character made those beers seem drier than they would have been, and thinking it wasn't totally unpleasant.  This was very different from my reaction to....

Papery - This is the wet-cardboard flavor from an oxidized/stale beer.  For me, nothing was worse than this flavor. According to our flavor guide, this was supposed to be similar to grainy, but I had diametrically-opposed reactions.  My stomach did a backflip just smelling this one, something that didn't even happen for the infamous baby-vomit (see below).

Earthy - You ever get some garden soil in your mouth? That's pretty much what this tasted like.  No real aroma here, but the flavor is soil, worm castings, beets, fresh bag of compost, etc.  I can see this being an attribute to some beer, but not at this concentration. Usually the result of overly mineral brewing water.

Metallic - About what it sounds like and usually resulting from too much iron in your water, not passivating your stainless brewing gear, and other situations where you've basically managed to get rust in your beer.  On tasting, my thought was to decide whether this reminded me more of drinking blood or licking a nail...not my favorite flavor.

Lactic Acid  - This was pretty straight forward. Lactic acid is produced by a number  of bacteria, known as LAB (get it?) and, interestingly, by certain yeast strains (previously a controversial statement, but now pretty much confirmed?).  In any event, at first it's not bad--like lemon juice, but there's a sour milk flavor that I find really unpleasant in this situation. That's interesting to me because 1) I actually like a number of beers produced with LAB and 2) I drink buttermilk straight.  Clearly, I don't usually mind lactic acid, but there was an afternote here that turned my stomach.

Acetaldehyde - The classic "green" beer, apple jolly rancher flavor of a fermentation that hasn't been allowed to complete and/or stressed yeast.  I feel like I taste this in Budweiser. Not the most objectionable flavor here, but unpleasant and, apparently, a potent carcinogen.  Wish I'd heard that last bit before drinking most of my sample.

Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) - The product of beers made from low-kilned malt that have either 1) not been boiled properly or 2) not been cooled quickly enough.  Lots has been written about how it's produced and how to avoid it, but the interesting thing to me is that I don't experience the creamed/canned corn flavor that a lot of folks got. To me, it tasted like the air in a house where cabbage was cooked the day before, or a beer made with a portion of water from cooked cabbage. 

Diacetyl - Accent on the "ass." This is the buttery compound that's important, in small amounts, to some style, but was extremely unpleasant at this concentration.  Several yeasts/processes result in the yeast dropping out before they can process this, and so the way to cure is to raise the temperature at the end of such fermentations for a few days to keep the yeast active until the beer is clear.  At one point, early in my brewing career, I was in the habit of brewing stouts and porters without this step, and I actually enjoy a bit of buttery in the nose. But, again, it wasn't fun at this concentration.

Combined lactic acid with Diacetyl  - I think of this flavor as "there's nothing wrong with our tap lines, dude."  Gross. 

Spicy - This was a subtle, palate cleanser of a flavor. Described as clovey, I thought of it as one of the main components of some saison yeasts. This is definitely one of those off-flavor-in-some-but-not-in-others flavors. Things got worse from here.

Cheesy - This is the flavor of old, degraded hops.  Smelled like a ripe cheese.  Not the end of the world on a cracker, but unpleasant in Miller High Life.

Light Struck - Skunk. And strong, too.  This is the reason beer bottles are brown (or should be). But, it's also the flavor a hoppy lager gets pretty much the moment you take it out to sit in a sunny biergarden (or your back yard).  This one is bad in a beer out of the tap, but I can't help but have positive feelings about it, as it reminds me so much of days when I had the time and money to hang out in the sun with a beer.

Butyric Acid - Awful.  Baby vomit. Breast milk, digested for 20 minutes, and then projectile-vomited across the room by an infant with a fever.  Enteric bacteria, inappropriate in most styles, but an important precursor compound to some fruity esters in lambics, apparently. You learn something every day.  Only Papery was worse than this, though.

Mercaptan - Another infection flavor. This one smells like the end of a shift working at a dive bar as a prep cook. The smell of trash liners and the juice at the bottom of the cans.  Still not as bad as baby vomit or Papery, but pretty bad. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

I'll be derned

Looks like my old beer blog is still out there.

I've imported those old posts, although I'll need to update the links at some point.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Playing with Beersmith: House APA

I'm playing around with the ability to share recipes from Beersmith (2.0...haven't upgraded to the new version).

Here's what's on deck for the next brew day. Mostly. I'll probably fool around with it a bit and move all but the bittering charge to a post-boil hop stand.  In any event, not thrilled with that ingredient-table formatting, but life is short.  

BeerSmith 2 Recipe Printout -
Recipe: House Pale Ale (1.1)
Brewer: Ekspert Amator
Asst Brewer: 
Style: American Pale Ale
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (30.0) 

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.77 gal
Post Boil Volume: 6.77 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.051 SG
Estimated Color: 6.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 44.4 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 70.9 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt                   Name                                     Type          #        %/IBU         
5.00 g                Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins Water Agent   1        -             
2.00 g                Calcium Chloride (Mash 60.0 mins)        Water Agent   2        -             
0.55 Items            Camden Tablet (Mash 60.0 mins)           Water Agent   3        -             
11 lbs                Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           Grain         4        84.6 %        
1 lbs                 Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)                    Grain         5        7.7 %         
1 lbs                 Victory Malt (25.0 SRM)                  Grain         6        7.7 %         
14 g                  Cascade [5.50 %] - Boil 60.0 min         Hop           7        10.4 IBUs     
14 g                  Chinook [13.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min        Hop           8        24.6 IBUs     
0.50 Items            Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)        Fining        9        -             
14 g                  Cascade [5.50 %] - Boil 15.0 min         Hop           10       2.8 IBUs      
14 g                  Chinook [13.00 %] - Boil 15.0 min        Hop           11       6.6 IBUs      
28 g                  Cascade [5.50 %] - Boil 0.0 min          Hop           12       0.0 IBUs      
28 g                  Chinook [13.00 %] - Boil 0.0 min         Hop           13       0.0 IBUs      
1.0 pkg               Safale American  (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)  Yeast         14       -             

Mash Schedule: BIAB, Light Body
Total Grain Weight: 13 lbs
Name              Description                             Step Temperat Step Time     
Saccharification  Add 8.7 gal of water at 154.6 F         147.9 F       90 min        
Mash Out          Heat to 168.0 F over 7 min              168.0 F       10 min        

Sparge: If steeping, remove grains, and prepare to boil wort

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