Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homebrew Tasting: Scottish 60/-

Appearance: Brilliant. I used my gelatin procedure. The color is dead on.

Aroma: Malty as expected for a Scottish ale. I would like a bit more of that sweet honey/caramel smell but on a low gravity beer it is about where it can be expected.

Taste: The taste starts out fantastically with rich sweet malt. I was very pleased with the amount of flavor and caramel flavor. But then the taste finished with a bit of chalk or mineral taste. Maybe salty, but felt more "minerally". See my thoughts on my water profile below. This taste was fading over the course of a week until Diacetyl hit, I would have loved to see where this beer was going. (see my homebrewtalk thread for more info)

Mouthfeel: Medium-light. I think this is where it should be. The low carbonation helps give it a touch more body. These small beers are tough because they are not the norm. Everyone that tried it thought it was easy to drink.

Drinkability: To me this is by far one of the easiest to drink beers. And I believe this is also one of those "Universal" beers. What this means is when I served this beer to a group of people (they had very different tastes) everyone liked this beer enough that their glass was empty in less than 5 minutes. This beer went quickly.

1. I think this beer is getting very close. Using the Scottish yeast did provide a bit of an earthy or almost smoky taste, but for the most part was very clean. It really let the malt shine through.
2. I will next time not use gelatin and let the beer sit in the keg a bit longer. I may even change over to priming in the keg then pushing to smaller kegs for the fridge.
3. For my water profile, I will dilute even more with distilled water to really get some soft water and then I will add my chloride salts after fermentation.
Brew Session

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dreg Series: Mikkeller It's Alright Scottish Ale

This is tough to admit, but I have had a couple batches of beer go bad. Good beer, too. And when I mean bad they some how turned into Diacetyl bombs. I have yet to figure it out, but I believe it is somehow related to my gelatin procedure. I have posted in HomeBrewTalk thread to get to the bottom of it.

Well, in an attempt to salvage my Scottish 60/- (which turned out pretty nice for the 1 week before it went to the Diacetyl side) I decided to add some Brett. I know that Brett can break down diacetyl. This is a very important point in Lambics and other wild beers that contain Pedio because Pedio likes to produce diacetyl. So unless you want a sour buttery beer than you need to have both present.

I have been holding onto this bottle of Mikkeller It's Alright. I haven't read the greatest things about the beer, but I've read it described as basically a Session Orval. To me the nose was tart with a touch of funk. But the taste hardly followed the nose, it had a crisp breadiness to it. The mouthfeel was light (I'm sure due to the Brett eating everything) even with the high carbonation. This beer was very easy to drink and would be a great gateway beer for people new to Brett beers.

I added the Scottish 60/- to a gallon container and had to keep shaking to get the CO2 out of solution. Eventually, the beer was up to room temperature and most of the CO2 had off-gassed. The bottle had a good amount of yeast and it looked pretty fluffy. The Scottish 60 finished at 1.010, so I'm not sure how much the Brett will have to feed on.

Day 2 Update

Day 10 Update

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Undercover San Diego: Valley of the Moon

This is not technically a San Diego destination, but it makes a great day trip. It should take an hour to an hour and half to drive there. And the hike can take anywhere from a 4 - 8 hrs depending on how far you drive and how much exploring you want to do. It is pretty easy to get there especially if you have a good map (see below). Drive on 8 East and exit at In-Ko-Pah Park Road. Take 2 quick rights and continue south a few hundred feet on the frontage road to a dirt lot on the left. Once you enter the lot, take an immediate left onto the dirt road. Check out the Interactive map for the Valley of the Moon.

View Valley of the Moon Hike in a larger map
Now, you have a decision to make.
1) If you have a high-clearance vehicle (4WD would be helpful) you should be able to drive the 3 or 4 miles to the Valley of the Moon.
2) If you have a small passenger car or don't feel comfortable with the rough roads (which are rocky, rutted and steep for the first mile) there are a few turnouts to park on the road.

Check out the pictures below and make your decision. We parked at the first big turn-out because we were there to take a hike. (see White Explorer, click to enlarge pictures)
The hike up the hill is pretty steep, but that does mean downhill on the way home. When you make it up to the saddle you will see a spur trail marker on your left. I recommend taking this down to Smuggler's Cave and then walking through the wash to meet up with the Jeep road.

The next big fork in the road you will see a sign "154/155". To the left goes through more rocks on your way to the Valley. To the right leads you to the steep trail up to Elliot's Mine. Trust me GO RIGHT. The steep climb is worth looking through this old Quartz Mine which some maps call an amethyst mine. (click to enlarge pictures)

The mine has 2 entrances the lower goes about 100 ft and after a tight squeeze leads to the other (higher on the mountain) entrance. From here you can easily duck into the main mine. The mine has one large room to the left and then two more dead ends that are worth exploring to the right. Make sure to remember your head-lamps.

From the mine entrance take a right (East) and proceed down the trail and you will get to a great overlook of the Valley of the Moon. We then hiked down the side of the hill till we met up with the Jeep Rd again. You are now in the Valley of the Moon. So get out your lunch or climbing gear or crash pad and enjoy.

We did a bit of wondering through the canyons. The rock formations are truly amazing and are impossible not to climb around on. To get back to your car simply follow any Jeep Rd that is going west or print out the Valley of the Moon Google map.

Here is my Father-in-Law's Travel Pod Photo Album
(With way more pictures of the caves and rock formations)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cider Series: English Ale Yeast

So here is one more in my line-up of Cider Experiments. This time I used 30 mL of yeast from my Best Bitter. So as always I poured out about 20 oz into a 22 oz bottle and capped it (Here is a secret that I forgot this time, put it in the fridge). It appeared to ferment a bit so I had to buy some Martinelli apple juice that I will use to back-sweeten.

With the fresh yeast out of the Bitter the cider had active fermentation within 12 hours. Cider krausens aren't as explosive as beer. It kept actively fermenting for a week at 68 degrees. The beer finished at 1.002.

Then I bottled the cider by force carbing the cider to 3 volumes. (I like sparkling cider). Then using a sanitized measuring cup I added 1.5 oz of the fresh apple juice to each bottle before filling. I found that this amount adds just enough apple flavor and sweetness back. My previous batches I used 2 oz and I find that it is too sweet and much closer to the commercial versions like Wyder's.

I like to cold age this for quite a while for a couple reasons.
1) It makes sure that the yeast won't ferment your backsweetened cider (you can also use campden tabs)
2) It really helps to round out the flavors and the apple flavor seems to become more pronounced.

So look for a tasting in a few months.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pub Crawl: Las Vegas

For me, it is getting into Bachelor Party Season. Which for me living in Southern California means . . . VEGAS.

I put this pub crawl together for a friend's party last year. We didn't follow the plan, but anyone that has been to Las Vegas they know how easily it is for things to get off track. We did still end up hitting most of these places. See the map below.

View Larger Map

I recommend that you start with dinner at Hofbrauhaus. Get yourself a giant sausage and das boot, (get reservations for dinner so you can be in the main hall) then see where the night takes you. Then, the next 2 stops are in good stumbling distance across the UNLV campus. I can't give reviews on those 2 places because we decided to head straight to the strip but they seem to be the only sorta real beer bars in Vegas. From here your best bet is to take a taxi over to the South End of the strip (save your energy because you still have 6 more stops and several miles).

The rest of the places are nothing fantastic for the good beer lover but they are a great way to see the strip and still find good beer with exception of Burger Bar. We actually went to Burger Bar on our way home from "swimming" at Mandalay Bay and it is one of my favorite places period. The burgers were great and it had a pretty decent tap and bottle list.

We had a group that wasn't into the clubs but still wanted to walk from casino to casino. The random dance parties and pictures that the dressed-up groom has to take while on the sidewalk of the strip is the whole reason to come to Vegas.

Here are some graphics if you want to make a little package for the Pub Crawl like this nerd did.

Also if I'm missing any places let me know. I know there are other beer places in Vegas, but they were not in walking distance.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Homebrew Tasting: Belgian Golden Strong

This review is a bit more involved than most tastings. The reason is because when this beer fermented out it went down to 1.002! I planned this beer to dry out by mashing in at 149 and this beer is all Pilsner with .5 lb of Flaked Barley. The starting gravity was 1.078 with 20% coming from the table and Turbinado sugar (maybe a bit high but I wanted to make sure it would dry out). At first I thought I had a Brett infection, but the beer tastes pretty clean (for a Belgian). The big concerning point was that it has a ton of alcohol warmth because it is now a 10% beer instead of 7.5%.

I asked around my brew club, QUAFF, and most of the experienced homebrewers and pro brewers said that this is pretty normal and just to let it age out. Actually, some of our clubs best brewers try to finish in the 1.004-1.006 range for their Golden Strongs.
Jim Crute from Lightning Brewery commented, "...age and waiting makes nearly all beers taste better, to a point.  You should loose a lot of the fusel taste (alcoholic/warming character) as the residual yeast takes up the longer chain alcohols and uses them as a low-grad carbon source.
My impression is that most Belgian breweries blend their beer, so you could brew another batch, have it finish less dry and blend.  Although I don't do it, I have heard from a number of reliable sources that blending is the way to win medals.

I think my inexperience with big beers like this made me nervous about the beer having so much alcohol warmth. So against better judgment I decided to blend with wort to sweeten and dilute the alcohol. I did bottle some of the beer without dilution (not enough in hindsight) then I diluted 8 bottles with 2 oz 1.045 Pilsner wort down to 8% and F.G. 1.009 and another 8 bottles with 1 oz of 1.090 wort down to 9% and F.G. 1.009. I also put a gallon into a carboy with a couple pounds of "champagne" grapes (which are not used in Champagne but usually appear next to them in pictures).

Now, fast forward 5 months and I decided to taste the different versions before entering one into America's Finest Homebrew Contest put on by QUAFF. I poured the 4 versions during the brew session for the Scottish 60/-. Wow, the difference between the versions is remarkable. So here are some quick notes about each and then I'll let you see what the experts said (see score sheets below).

8% - cloying sweet with a big sweet banana aroma/flavor but also very easy to drink. No alcohol warmth.

9% - pretty sweet still and a bit more complex. Still a sweet banana aroma/flavor but some spicy phenols to help balance. Because of the sweetness it would fit the Tripel style much better than Golden Strong. Very little to no alcohol warmth.

10% or Original - Nicely complex aroma with many different fruits (pear, banana, apple) and a touch of spicy phenol. And still a bit of sweetness (this must be alcohol sweetness and not from residual sugars). And the alcohol warmth is barely noticeable. With even a little more age this beer could be fantastic.

Grape - Big grape aroma/flavor like Welch's not as in wine. The gravity is down to 1.002 but it still has sweetness. The grape flavor really hasn't melded with the other fruit flavors. This beer might need more age or I might need to spike it with some Brett

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