Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Old Rat Bite - tasting

Old Rat Bite is the name of a blended beer I made with my aging Blended Old Ale/Stock Ale, and the Rat Bite IPA. Since this stock ale is quite flavorful, not much is needed to enhance the flavor of other beers as blended versions. Tonight I tried a blend that is about half and half. And since both beers are bold, it's a fairly balanced profile. Really interesting.

There is still a good hop aroma, but the hop flavor is much more subdued. I like that there is a slight brett scent in there too. The old ale has cut out some bittering as well, and there is a definite presence of soft oxidation, which isn't unwelcome.

Overall, it's a potent beer, but has a lightness to it. As for malts, it is not as sweet, more dry and has a very English Bitter quality with some biscuit aftertaste. It tastes old, almost stale. There is a slight metallic after-taste as well.

I like it. Very unique. It's interesting how both beers sort of cancel out each others highlights, and the beer is left with less complexities. This stock ale is coming in handy. I hope to always have some on hand for blends like this.

After racking some out, there is a larger head-space in the stock ale fermenter. My suspicion is that it will get more and more oxidized, but hopefully not to the point where it's undrinkable.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Couple Wins at Schooner

This year I entered a handful of beers into the Schooner Homebrew Championships put on in conjunction with the Great Lakes Beer Fest in Racine, WI. While dropping off these entries at Perfect Brewing homebrew supply shop in Libertyville, another man dropped off eight of his own. This used to be a pretty small competition, but overnight, well I guess over one year, it has doubled in size with 504 entries. This either means there are more people brewing beer, or North Mid-Western homebrewers are becoming more competitive. I think that as each brewer brews another year, they should be getting better at it. As a result, these competitions grow and become more competitive with higher quality ales and lagers.

Though my Rat Bite IPA this year was pretty good, I didn't think it would do as well as last year's Hop Blend IPA. It was aggressively hopped, and may not have the malt sweetness to back it up.

Two others I felt were pretty darn good didn't' place. Perhaps they didn't fall nicely into the categories I designated. The Nut Brown 2 was very dark, and maybe the judges felt it was like a "brown porter." And the Robust Porter, though it has no roasted barley, could have felt more like a thick and rich stout.

The two winners were definitely better, and perhaps more accurate in taste. First, the Rauch Bock took second place in the Rauchbier/Smoked Beer category. It's a beer that came out very balanced with enough smoked malt to mix with the residual dark malt sweetness.

Second, the Blended Old Ale (I called Vintage Stock Ale) took first place in the Specialty Beer category. This is a beer that has aged very long and nicely, mostly in bulk, with Lambic Blend yeasts and bacteria. The quality of this ale is definitely more refined and quite flavorful and aromatic. Since the Brett yeast and acidic character is fairly pronounced, it would have fallen way out of the old ale category. Straight-up old ales are sweet and rich tasting, and most commercial examples don;t really have any "wild" yeast/bacteria flavors. So that's why it ended up as a specialty beer. It's also a coincidence that, like last year's win, this one fell in the category with the most entries (21).

I am very surprised. I knew these beers were good, but to get these wins is really fantastic. It feels good to know that people with a good sense of quality rated my beers so well. I look forward to see what they said as the results soon come in the mail.

Also, it's great to see a fellow brewing friend place again in this competition with a second place win for his Premium American Lager. A very difficult style to get right. Congratulations Russ!

Too Many Good Beers

I'd love to list every beer I tried while visiting the Northwest for 10 days. I tried keeping a list, but they kept adding up faster than I could write. There were simply too many good brews to try. Most of the beers I tried tended to be hoppy pale ales, and most of them were quite good.

Didn't make it out to the Hair of the Dog brewery, but I did get to drink their Imperial IPA on tap, and it's fantastic. I also shared a bottle of "Adam" with my friends in Portland, and everyone really liked it.

Strangely, I did get out to Rogue's distillery more than once. It was the first place we ate at in Portland, and it was good. I had a flight of beers with some I've never heard of before. And of all the ones bottled here in Chicago, these tasted dramatically fresher at the source on draft. Since my brother had a birthday the next day, he received a complimentary liter with the beer of his choice, and a free t-shirt, which explains the second visit. Pretty cool. Also, their Spruce Gin rocks!

The Northwest, especially Portland, is really a great place for beer lovers. Every time I go there I'm more educated about beer styles in general, and find it to be a better experience because of this. There really are too many good beers out there, and it takes many trips to get close to knowing what the great Northwest has to offer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Visiting the Northwest

I'll be on vacation with my family out in the Northwest. We will fly into Seattle and stay with my brother and his wife for the first weekend. Then, head down to Portland for a few days while my wife attends a conference. There, we'll hang out with a couple of my closest friends. On our way back to Seattle, we'll stay in Olympic National Forestland for a couple more days. Then back to Seattle for the second weekend.

Among various family and friendly activities, I'm looking forward to tasting the best of the Northwest in food and beer.

After you've been to a number of breweries, doesn't the appeal wear off just a little bit? Some has for me. I guess it's cool to see where your favorite beers are made. Plus, there is a very slim chance you can meet the brewer or owners. But sometimes it takes a long time to get to the brewery, and then going through the tour...this doesn't make for a great family activity.

I'm much more interested in visiting the best bars for local/seasonal beers. These places sometimes have the best atmosphere, especially around the end of the work day, when regulars file in. Plus, their patrons know more about all the beer in the territory, and what's good on tap. I'm also interested in picking up brews from the better beer stores, and bringing it back to our friend's house.

There is one brewery I'd like to visit, cause it's small, bare-bones set-up is kind-of crazy looking. Hair of the Dog brewery really caught my eye on the American Beer video. I tried to try, I think it was their "Ruth," while on the road in Boston, but upon opening the bottle, it was all foam flowing out and onto the table. I look forward to an honest and true serving of their beers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bottling 30 Gallons!

Over the past couple of weeks I've bottled 30 gallons of nine different home brewed beers. It was a lot of work, but it's all done, and there will be a huge variety of beers for the fall and holidays. An ale for every meal.

Holiday Spiced Ale 2
Blueberry Stout
Belgian Tripel
Belgian Blue
Robust Porter
Orange Ginger Mint Beer
Raspberry Mint Beer
Ancho Chili Beer
Mint Stout

Monday, September 8, 2008

Columbus IPA

My favorite taste in an IPA is pine. I still don't know what hop contributes this pine flavor and aroma. Most hops give citrus, fruity, floral and green herbal flavors. Does anyone know which hop is predominantly pine-like?

I've read about how Columbus hops are good for dry hopping. I've been saving some for this IPA. Almost exclusively using Columbus hops with just a little Cascade in the flavor additions. Strangely enough, the older packages (almost a year old!) smelled more vibrant than the ones that recently came in the mail. It's not bittered to death like the Rat Bite, but there should be plenty of Columbus flavor and aroma to support the sweeter malts.

The malts are pretty light. Crystal 20L and a bit of darker English Crystal. Honey malt smells so amazing, a quarter pound should make a sweet impact on the malty flavor in this brew. I wanted a sweeter finish with a smoother hop profile, hopefully resulting in a balanced bitter ale with good body, and more substantial for Autumn & Winter meals. The mash temp slipped a bit, but I think there should still be enough body with all the carapils.

Water conditioning took a more Burton approach. I think I've noticed a smoother quality when I've used a couple teaspoons of Epsom. We'll see how this beer turns out with high Calcium, some sodium and a touch more Bi-Carbonates.

Columbus IPA

13. lbs. Organic 2-Row Malt
1.0 lbs. Crystal 20L
.50 lbs. UK Crystal 80L
.25 lbs. Honey Malt
.40 lbs. CaraPils
.37 lbs. Victory Malt

1.0 oz. Columbus, 12.2%, pellet, 75min
.50 oz. Cascade, 6.3%, pellet, 20min
.50 oz. Columbus, 12.2%, pellet, 20min
.50 oz. Cascade, 6.3%, pellet, 10min
.50 oz. Columbus, 12.2%, pellet, 10min
1.0 oz. Columbus, 12%, pellet, KO
1.0 oz. Columbus, 12%, pellet, Dry

Wyeast 1056: American Ale

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 8/7/08
Racked: 10/2/08
Bottled: around 10/17/08

Water Adjustment:
Strike - 4 tsp Gypsum, .25 tsp CaCl, .75 tsp Acid Blend
Mash - .5 tsp Baking Soda
Mash out - 1 tsp Epsom
2nd Sparge - 3 tsp Gypsum, 1 tsp Epsom, .25 CaCl

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.1 qt/lb
Mash Ph: quite acidic
Sacch. Rest Temp/Time: 153->149°F/70min
Mash Out Temp/Time: 163°F/10min
1st Batch Vol/SG: 4.4gal/1.065

2nd Batch Sparge H2OTemp/MashTemp: 185°F/172°F
2nd Batch Vol/SG: 2.85gal/1.036

Pre-Boil Vol: 7.25
Pre-Boil SG: 1.052
Boil Time: 90min
Post-Boil Vol: 5.8gal
Mash Efficiency: approx. 68%

OG: 1.066
IBU: 63
Color/SRM: Golden/9-11
Ferment Temp: 70's

FG: 1.015
ABW: 5.3%
ABV: 6.7%

Tasting Notes
Served on draft

Appearance: Bright and clear deep golden orange color with a dense creamy white head, great lacing
Aroma: Complex yet smooth hop scents of citrus, pine, floral that has a strong support from the malts that bring a sweetness rounding out the overall aroma
Taste: A nice assertive bitterness greets the tongue at the start and fades gradually as a fairly rich malt and soft honey-like sweetness comes in to sooth the taste, some hop flavors are there but sort-of hide inside the malt base
Mouthfeel: Velvety and rich medium body with a smooth carbonation even at a slightly higher level, a little higher alcohols some through
Aftertaste: Some bitterness remains, and has a slightly aggressive tone
Drinkability: Its a higher quality strong ale that reminds me of some Southern Tier offerings, a lot of bang for the pint which calls for a more conscientious session of brew
Aging: While young it was a bit sharp and harsh. After three months it has mellowed wonderfully. Very smooth.
Overall: I'd take down the bittering hops a notch, and put it into the KO addition. An Imperial version of this would totally rock! With even more residual malt sweetness, this beer would be perfect. I think the water salt additions make a very good IPA.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Farm Fresh Honey

Making connections that extend the path of fermentation exploration are always welcome. Recently, I made such a connection with a fellow co-worker. We were talking about an alcoholic beverage I've only dabbled in a few times. Mead.

Mead is a wonderful thing. Sweet, delicate, alcoholic, and easy to make. Sometimes it can get quite expensive depending on the quality of honey used. I think I've shied away from making it because of the expense, and because I only really like 1 out of 3. But, I was telling Nora, that I really want to get better at it, and was looking forward to making more soon.

After we talked for only a short while, she mentioned that her brother is currently working at a honey farm in Michigan. Its called Windmill Hill Farm. She was heading out there to visit him in the following week, and offered to bring some honey back.

After she called with all the details on quality, quantity and pricing, I couldn't refuse. I went ahead and bought 3 gallons/36 pounds of raw & unfiltered wildflower honey. At the wholesale price, it only cost about 60 bucks. It's enough to make around 15 gallons of mead at various levels of strength and flavorings.

My experience brewing mead is limited, but I feel like I'm ready to ferment some with better quality. I know I'd like to brew a lighter braggot, and a very strong sack style, with perhaps a sweet melomel in between. There are a lot of winning recipes published in Zymurgy, so I may use that as a main resource.

All-in-all, I'm excited to have a great product in which to start brewing some good mead. Not sure when I'll get around to it, but it's definitely on the radar.

If anyone has special recommendations (especially with water treatment, acidity, nutrients, tannins and wine yeast strain...I guess everything but the honey!) I'd be grateful for your comments.