Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Brewing Goals: Brews by Month

Lets start with a little bit of reflection. I updated last year's brewing goals with my actual results. 

Favorite Homebrews of 2011:
1. Old Ale with Avery 15 dregs - I find this Brett strain(s) to just produce my favorite flavors, which are tropical fruits when it is young and then transitions to a nice funk, but never gets close to fecal or "goaty". This beer has a great richness about it. The aroma is pineapple, guava, pear and caramel malt with a sour tinge. The taste is very complex and the main reason I like it so much. You get the fruity flavors first, then sourness (more tart than sour), then it finishes with a great toffee aftertaste that stays with you.

2. Dark Saison (Soured Version) - This one took a bit of aging for the flavors to meld together. Once it did, the flavor complexity (see trend) won me over. Saison spice up front, then sourness (mid to high), and ends with a warm dark fruit flavor.

3. Best Bitter (Fullers Version) - I have not posted a tasting yet, but this beer is long gone. It was consumed quickly. The malt profile is exactly where I want it. It has this great crispy butter (not diacetyl buttery) cracker flavor. The hop aroma is still lacking a bit, I think that I need to convert over to whole leaf hops for dry-hopping.

It is amazing how my beer preference is continually changing. Here is my wish list for next year. 

Jan. 2012: 
Parti-gyle Stout Experiment:

5 gal Oatmeal Stout
1 gal batch – Stout with Maple candy
5 gal Imperial Stout
2.5 gal batch – French Oak + Cacao Nibs + Vanilla Beans

Feb. 2012: 
Scottish 60/80
1 gal batch – Scottish 60- with Cedar
1 gal batch – Scottish 80- with French Oak

March 2012:
Wee Heavy 
1 gal batch – Wee Heavy with Avery 15 dregs

April 2012: 
1 gal batch – Barleywine with French Oak
1 gal batch –  Barleywine with Minced Meat

May 2012: 
Table Saison
5 gal split batch – 2 different Saison Strains  
1 gal batch – Orval dregs 
Flanders Red

1 gal batch – 1 year old Flander’s Red on Sour Cherries

June 2012: 
Summer Saison
1 gal batch – St. Somewhere dregs 

July 2011: 
Dark Saison
1 gal batch – TBD dregs

August 2012: 
Belgian Singel 
5 gal split batch – 2 different Belgian Strains 

Sept. 2012: 
Belgian Dubbel
1 gal batch - Belgian Dubbel with Achel dregs
Homegrown Pale Ale
Belgian Dark Strong

1 gal batch – Belgian Dark Strong with Red Poppy dregs

Oct 2012:
Best Bitter
5 gal split batch – 2 different English Strains  

Nov 2012: 
English Dark Mild

5 gal split batch – 2 different English Strains 
Oud Bruin
1 gal batch – Oud Bruin with Holiday Party Dregs

Dec 2012:  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Session Beer Series: Best Bitter 2011

This is a style I have been brewing consistently over the last few years. I am determined to get a beer that is worthy of the fine casks ales of the UK.

2009 Recipe - Session Beer Series: Best Bitter (Haus Ale)
2010 Recipe - Session Beer Series: The Best Bitter

I did not make any big changes, but a few slight adjustments:
  • Kept the Biscuit (or Victory) Malt because I like the big cracker taste it gives. It really adds to the fresh bread taste of Maris Otter.
  • Bumped up the Special Roast to 7% and split the Crystal 120 into UK Crystal ~70L and UK Crystal ~135L. 
  • Used Horizon hops for my main bittering hop to help decrease the amount of hop matter in the boil and hopefully give a more neutral bitterness
  • 10 gal batch to split wort on 2 different yeast strains
I was excited to try 2 different yeast strains for this Best Bitter. I used WLP 002 because this strain is fantastic. Plus this will allow good comparison to previous batches and contrast with my other new yeast. Much deliberation went into the other yeast selection. But I finally decided on the Wyeast Private Collection: Wyeast 1469-PC West Yorkshire Ale Yeast. It sounds like a well endorsed yeast and works very well for top-cropping (which I'm planning on doing since it will be fermented in a 5 gal keg).

Recipe: The Best Bitter 2011
O.G.-1.045      F.G.-1.012      IBU-30
SRM-11         ABV-4.3%     10 Gallons

Grain Bill (75% Efficiency):
12 lb Maris Otter (83%)
1 lb Biscuit (7%)
1 lb Special Roast (7%)
4 oz UK Crystal ~77L (2%)
4 oz  UK Crystal ~135L (2%)

1 oz Horizon, 9.1%, pellet, 60 min 22.7 IBU
1 oz EK Goldings, 5%, pellet, 20 min 4.2 IBU
.5 oz EK Goldings, 5%, pellet, 0 min 1 IBU
.5 oz Horizon, 9.1%, pellet, 0 min 1.9 IBU
.5 oz EK Goldings, 5%, pellet, Dry Hop in each keg
(extra 1 oz Citra, whole leaf, Dry Hop in 2.5 gal of WY1469 keg)

1 vial of White Labs 002 - no starter
1 vial of  Wyeast 1469-PC West Yorkshire Ale Yeast - no starter

San Diego (Alvarado) Tap Water
2 campden tablet for 10 gal.

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3.5 gal
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 154F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 167
Batch Sparge Volume: 10 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 11 gal
Boil Time: 60min
Post Boil Volume: 10 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.045
Ferment Temp: 66-68F
Length: 10 days
F.G.: 1.012

Stay tuned for the side by side tasting.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Experimental: Elderberry Wine

This was my first attempt at "wine". And why did I try to do this? My good friend, Dan (pictured below), has 2 elderberry trees in his backyard. And they produce a lot of berries (for some reason the birds have not found his house). I know we were not going to make something that would be considered exquisite by a wine expert, but we were aiming for a nice country wine. There are a lot of recipes on the web, but as I know by being a homebrewer that it is important to be critical of each ingredient. And I know about what is important for good fermentation from beer making.

Recipe: Elderberry Wine
O.G.-1.100  F.G.-.998  ABV-13.6%   Batch-1 Gal

Grain Bill Ingredients:
3.5 lb Elderberries (Frozen as picked)
2 lb  Sugar (12%)
1 - 12oz Red Grape Concentrate
1 juiced lemon (needed for acid*)
2 juiced oranges (needed for acid*)
*If you have an acid balance kit then you can use this after fermentation
1 gal container - 1/4 packet of Red Star Pasteur Red (rehydrated in warm water)

San Diego Alvardo Tap Water
1 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrient
1 tsp Fermaid K

Boil Details:
We added all the ingredients including the all the frozen elderberries and mashed all the berries. (We started with a potato masher and then Dan decided to just use his hands). Then we stirred as we brought it up to a boil to help dissolve the sugar. It boiled for only a few moments and then was cooled in the sink.

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.100
Ferment Temp: Pitched at 70 and kept in low to mid 70s
F.G.:  .998

We poured everything (juices and berries) into the 2 growlers. We then pitched the yeast once the must was at the proper pitching temp. The wine fermented actively for a week and then was allowed to age for a few more months. We plan to make this once a year and perfect our recipe.

We recently bottled the wine after a Charger game (we sampled a lot because this was during our 6 game losing streak). The wine turned out surprisingly well, with great color and very nice berry flavors. There is still some alcohol heat, but that is understandable since this is so young. I really liked how the Russian River version turned out, with much bigger fruit and berry notes. We bottled half straight up and then Dan bottled the other half with different fruit juice mixes to make some great Sangria.

(Dan please post you Sangria combinations in the comments or on your blog and give me the link)

And Dan still has 3.5 lbs of Elderberries, any ideas? (elderberry mead, dark elderberry sour...)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beer Tasting: African Lager Review

This post is more for fun than education. Because to be honest there is not much to talk about with these beers. They are all lagers and pretty good examples of the style. You will also see included in the the tasting are 2 Egyptian Malt Liquors. Enjoy a much more picture intensive post.

All these beers fit the environment and traditional food well. When it was 100F cruising down the Nile in Aswan, these light Pilsners hit the spot. And when it came to the spice heavy rice and vegetable dishes of Egypt and Kenya, the high carbonation and crisp dryness helped to clear the palate.

Stella is probably the most popular beer in Egypt. It is made by Al Ahram Brewery which is now owned by Heineken (like all the Egyptian beers). Here is their description:
"Stella is the authentic Egyptian lager beer since 1897. For more than 110 years now, Stella has been providing unique quality through its refreshing suberb taste.
We believe in people coming together and enjoying themselves; taking time out from the daily routines that rein their lives; Stella is always there to offer them a free pass to a care free time, a delightful experience and enjoyment with every sip. Stella is all about "Good friends and Good time"

Taste - light, crisp and a touch of bitterness

Sakara - This beer was the most available for us on our travels. And it is also made Al Ahram Brewery.

"Sakara Gold is an Egyptian beer with a very smooth taste and very moderate Alcohol level 4% alcohol.

Taste - light, crisp and biscuity taste/aroma

Sakara King - just read their description:
"If you're seeking a more daring experience, make sure you try out the Sakara Ling 10% (long live the King)."

Taste - Actually pretty darn good. No hot alcohol, and a bit of caramel and fruitness. The flavors reminded me of a Barleywine, but with Pilsner flavors.

Meister Max - The other high alcohol option, also made by Al Ahram.
"With its 8% alcohol, Meister Max is a beer for a new and daring men generation.
Meister Max was the first high alcohol beer to be launched in the Egyptian market, and still it's the market leader because tat beer offers you power, taste and style at the same time.
Meister Max is a sophisticated and premium beer with an international dimension for the stylish and strong men only. It enforces your masculinity and expresses who you truly are; a virile man... It's part of the way you look and the way you act. It's got the looks and power just like you.
Meister Max gets you in the mood quickly with its powerful buzz and very acceptable taste: that beer is here to challenge you, to make you live your life to the max with style and control"

Taste - Covered in the description. Made me feel daring, powerful, sophisticated, stylish, strong, masculine, virile and buzzed.

Tusker - The most popular beer in Kenya. It is brewed East African Brewing Limited (EABL) as are all the other beers in Kenya. We did get to try several other beers while on Safari and they are very similar (notes below). Here is the description for Tusker:

"George Hurst a co-founder of Kenya Breweries Ltd, was killed by an elephant during a hunting expedition in 1923. In memory of his tragic death, this famous lager beer that he had helped create was renamed 'Tusker'.
Tusker is brewed from 100% African ingredients that are all locally sourced. The barley is from the Savannah and the Maasai Mara. The spring water is from the Aberdare Mountains. All the yeast is developed locally. The cornstarch is sourced from a local Kenyan company. Every grain of sugar is delivered from West Kenya. This means that you feel closely connected to the origins and roots of Tusker.
The taste of African spirit can inspire you going forwards, by re-connecting you with your roots. As the old proverb goes, ‘to know where you are going, you must first know where you have come from’. Tusker drinkers see the traditions, beliefs and cultures of their roots as the springboard for inspiration. They are full of optimism; focused on looking forwards, not backwards. Today’s triumphs are born out of and inspired by where we have come from – Tusker. Refresh Your Roots.
For consumers who are truly nationalistic, brand TUSKER is the beer that provides an everlasting bond of deep, natural friendship with their countrymen because only TUSKER Lager uniquely represents a true and refreshing spirit of national heritage
Tusker Lager is a medium beer with an alcohol content of 4.2% "

Taste - Clean, Crisp and nice bready malt background. Best enjoyed at sunset while watching a pride of lions.

At the Safari Lodge we also tasted the following (very little difference in taste for the Pilsners, we did a blind side by side test)

Pilsner (great creative name)

Guiness (made in Kenya) - It is the Foreign Extra Stout version.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dreg Series: Maredsous Belgian Dark Strong

Just like I did with the Belgian Pale Ale and Belgian Dubbel, I wanted to try other Belgian yeast strains on the same base wort (Belgian Dark Strong this round). And the easiest (and cheapest) way for me to accomplish this, is by using bottle dregs. When picking what yeasts to use I chose my favorite examples of Belgian Beers that work with dark malts. To be honest, I haven't really met a Dark Belgian beer I disliked. 

For this round, I decide to use the yeast from Maredsous Bruin. From my internet research, I have found that this appears to be the Duvel yeast since Moorgat owns both breweries. The Duvel yeast is supposedly WLP570 and Wyeast 1388. According to White Labs,  WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale - "From East Flanders, versatile yeast that can produce light Belgian ales to high gravity Belgian beers (12% ABV). A combination of fruitiness and phenolic characteristics dominate the flavor profile. Some sulfur is produced during fermentation, which will dissipate following the end of fermentation." And I have said before that I really enjoy my Belgian beers with a balance of fruit and phenols. And it looks like this yeast will do well with the high alcohol and provide good attenuation.

A simple 6-8 oz starter of 1.030 wort was used in the original bottle. This was allowed to build up over several days and then all of it was dumped into the 1 gal batch. There was active fermentation in less than a day and it was going strong. Active fermentation lasted about a week and then the batch was aged for another 1.5 month before being bottled. Fermentation ended at 1.008, which is 90% attenuation and 10.7% ABV.

The initial taste during bottling is nicely balanced with no obvious off-flavors and a decent amount of alcohol heat. The first bottle will be sampled in 6 months.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Belgian Series: Belgian Dark Strong Ale

I decided to brew a Belgian Dark Strong as my third and final beer in my Belgian Series for this year. I always lean toward dark malty beers and I love the style, but I wasn't sure how well I could brew it. I haven't brewed very many high gravity beers. Last year, I brewed a 10% Golden Strong and initially I thought it was a pretty big failure. Then I let it sit for 6 months and it turned out to be one of my best beers and highest scoring beers I have ever made. Knowing this, I decided to go big this year and then just be patient.

After looking at a lot of recipes I realized how similar the grain bills are to Belgian Dubbels. But the extra amount of malt and alcohol really change the flavor profile. Brew Like a Monk has a great recipe section on Belgian Dark Strong Ales. And here is another great presentation from Gordon Strong on Designing Belgian Dark Strong Ales. The recipe is almost identical to my Belgian Dubbel just about 25 gravity points higher and no Dark candi syrup.

This was an interesting brew-day also. The day started around 5 in the morning, before the sun had even come up (I was trying to finish brewing before my wife got back from a bachelorette party). It was actually my longest brew session and not because of my stupid mis-haps with the copper manifold like last time. But I just had a hard time with my efficiency so I ended up boiling for 2.5 hours and with 5.5 gal instead of 6.5. The long boiling actually probably helped the flavor of this beer.

For yeast, I really liked how the Rochefort and Achouffe cultured yeast samples turned out in my Belgian Pale Experiment. I wanted the beer to be balanced, but still have some nice phenols from the Achouffe yeast. I had plenty of yeast from the 1 gal batches, so it was all pitched into a small starter the same day and I had activity in 12 hours in the main batch. And look at that 96% Apparent Attenuation.

Recipe: Belgian Dark Strong
O.G.-1.089  F.G.-1.004   IBU-32
SRM-17.4   ABV-11.4%   Batch-5.5 Gal

Grain Bill:
8.5 lb Belgian Pale Malt (52%)
2 lb  Munich Malt 10L (12%)
1 lb Aromatic Malt (6%)
1 lb Flaked Wheat (6%)
1 lb Flaked Barley (6%)
8 oz Caramunich (3%)
8 oz Caravienne (3%) 
8 oz Special B (3%) 
1.5 lb Table Sugar (9%)

.7oz Magnum , 13.5%, pellet, 90 min 36.7 IBU
150 ml of cultured Rochefort dregs and 150 ml of cultured Achouffe dregs

Brew Day:
Brewed: 8/26/11


Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1 qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3.5 gal
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 150F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 167F
Batch Sparge Volume: 5.5 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F @ 30min

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 7.5 gal
Boil Time: 150min
Post Boil Volume: 5.5 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.088
Ferment Temp: Pitched at 64 and allowed to free rise 2 degrees/day up into the mid 70s
F.G.: 1.004

I also did 2 - 1 gal batches with dregs from Maredsous Brune and St. Bernardus Prior 8. There will only be a follow-up post for the Maredsous version since the St. Bernardus version was murdered. I knocked it off the shelf after 3 days of fermenting. Talk about the worst time to spill my first batch. The highest gravity with still plenty of sugar left in it and it was a dark colored beer on light carpet. After about 3 weeks of cleaning it is barely back to normal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

San Diego Beer Week 2011: Top Brewers Book Signing

The San Diego's Top Brewers Book Signing event was my first event for this year's San Diego Beer Week. The event was conveniently located only a few blocks from my house at Mission Brewery. This brewery is a great venue, it is by far the largest tasting room and open space I have ever seen for a brewery. It is so large that for some events they can drive in food trucks. This time the space was taken up with tables for the 18 top brewers to sit, talk and sign your copy of the book.

The event really was a beer geek's dream. I was able to meet the owners and head brewers of all the breweries that I respect in San Diego. And do this all in one night. I have read countless articles and watched a lot of video interviews with these guys, so it was nice to meet them face to face.

But to be honest, what do you say to them when you have a few minutes at a book signing?

I asked a few questions, but didn't want to get too technical since this was more of a social event. Here are some of the highlights:

Jim Crute @ Lightning Brewery: I was able to introduce myself and ask him about tasting some of my homebrew. I have been meaning to do this for a while since the brewery is literally a block from my work. So now I feel confident to walk in there and ask him for some comments (which I will post here).

Tomme Arther @ Lost Abbey: I was curious how he treats his sour beers because they are honestly making some of the best in the world. One thing I have been a proponent for in the homebrew world, is to taste the beer every 3 months or so and add or change something if needed. I was curious if he did the same. He told me that they don't touch the barrel for at least 9 months and usually a year. At that point he will decide if it should be aged longer or is ready to be blended. He will only add fruit to the beer if they were given a bunch of fresh fruit. And he is a big advocate for blending and I agree, but this part can be harder for the homebrewer.

Jeff Bagby @ Pizza Port: I didn't really know what to ask. I was curious why he thought they have done so well in competition. After asking the question, I realized that the answer was a much larger than can be explained at a book signing. As expected he basically told me it comes through experience, meaning being critical with your process and ingredients and keep striving for that flavor you want. By having 4 restaurants and brew systems they have the ability to make a lot of batches of beer and with input from  the different brewers of each location.

As for the book, I'm not great at reviews. So here is a short synopsis:
- Great history on the San Diego beer scene
- Complete descriptions of breweries, which is nice to hear the stories behind each
- Food recipes - are a little involved for the at home chef with most recipes having 10+ ingredients

In Summary, a nice 2 hr read and coffee table book. But the reason I bought it was to speak with the brewers. And my favorite part of the book is not even in print - they send you to their website with videos from each brewer tasting their own beer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Flandria Fixed Gear (Fixie) Conversion Project - Custom Leather Handlebars

In an effort to make the bike look completely custom. I used the same leather from the seat to also cover the handlebars. This was actually much easier than I thought. I am not going to do much of a detailed write-up because this is much easier to learn by watching a video. And this is the one I recommend:

Here are the main things to remember:

  • Start at the end of the bar and work to the middle. (This prevents tape slipping)
  • Do not use tape with a sticky side or add glue to the tape because you will need to constantly be re-adjusting (the leather needs a lot of stretching and re-positioning to avoid wrinkles)
  • Leave a 1/2" - 1/4" hanging off the end. You may need to trim some excess so it will fit in the bar end.
  • Use electrical tape to finish and make sure to keep good tension will wrapping.

Step 1 - Background, Disassemble
Step 2 - Frame Painting
Step 3 - Handlebar & Fork Assembly
Step 4 - Gearing (Gear Ratio)
Step 5 - Wheels and Hubs
Step 6 - Custom Leather Saddle
Step 7 - Custom Leather Handlebars

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