Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Barley Bee Brewing: Nut Brown Ale

Well, this one didn't turn out as close to the base style as I thought it might. It actually ended up landing somewhere on the other half of the recipe ( It really turned out great though. This was the first beer I kegged, and waiting on all of that equipment to carbonate, etc. really forced me to be patient and I believe it paid off in this beer as the harsher alcohol flavors I was afraid of in testing mellowed out quite a bit. Here are the scores:

Overall flavor: (9/10) This really is a fantastic beer. I love drinking it and it is easy to drink. It is smooth and malty in the mouth but balanced to the point that you don't notice any sickening sweetness. The best (or at least most recognizable) comparison is to Newcastle. I would say that this beer is much fuller and not as sweet or syrupy as Newcastle tends to be. It also has that fresh flavor that is hard to find in Newcastle. Can't forget to cold-condition this beer for a week or two. A great beer that I will certainly brew again.

Mouthfeel: (7/10) I believe the larger mouth of this beer works with the overall flavor of the beer, but it isn't really true to either of the styles involved in making this beer. It is just a bit on the full side.

Sweetness: (9/10) I really believe the maltiness works well in this beer. I don't really want to adjust much between the sweetness and the bitterness, as I believe any sweeter would be sickening and any more bitter would add a strange flavor that didn't fit the overall beer.

Bitterness: (9/10) See above. Good balance.

Complexity: (6/10) I believe this may be where the beer has a bit of room to improve. It is a great beer exactly as it is, but it does seem to be a simpler brown nut ale. It goes down great, feels good (makes you feel good) and leaves the glass empty quickly, but a couple of interesting grain additions hiding in the background could easily be an improvement.

Conformity to Style: (8/10) This was brewed thinking it would fall on the ESB side of the recipe, but instead it has fallen on the "Nutty" part. I docked a point for that, otherwise it is dead on.

Alcohol: (9/10) This was the area I was most afraid of. It tasted like there would be way too much before I kegged it. I thought that the alcohol would overpower the other interesting parts of the beer. I was pleased that something I made had noticeable alcohol levels in it, but the finished product is a big improvement on the alcohol flavorings. Make sure to always serve on teh colder end.

Flaws: (9/10) There are no real noticeable flaws. The alcohol probably went a bit high due to upper-end fermentation temperatures.

Carbonation: (10/10) I would say that carbonating at 10PSI is about right. It could perhaps even take a bit lower carbonation, but I believe I prefer the carbonation at this slightly heavier level.

Well-rounded: (10/10) It has all of the parts and they all seem to work together very well.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Primoris Pale Ale Tasting Notes

Total Score: 59/100 D-

I divided the categories for rating the taste of the beer into 10 categories each weighted 10 points. I can, of course, then give the beer a letter grade of sorts. The criteria are overall flavor, mouthfeel, sweetness, bitterness, complexity, conformity to style, alcohol, flaws, carbonation, and how generally well-rounded the beer is. Thus, the rating for Primoris Pale Ale (aka. my first batch):

Overall flavor: (7/10) Good first effort, but lots of room for improvement. Most drinkers would probably prefer most commercial beers.

Mouthfeel: (8/10) Big, full mouthfeel. Could be a bit crisper and drier with a bit more bite. Should be more similar to a beer like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Sweetness: (5/10) Overall too sweet for a pale ale. Next time stay true to the original recipe (this time I dropped the malt so it really couldn't be helped) or at least to the correct ratios of hops to malt, ferment longer in the primary to round off the sweetness.

Bitterness: (7/10) Not quite enough to balance the sweetness; however, the bitterness is more or less correct for a pale ale when not hidden by the maltiness. Once the malt is toned down, it may even be necessary to tone down the hops. Pay attention to AAU differences between the recipe and the hops received/used.

Complexity: (7/10) Plenty of flavors and niches to discover in the beer. I would say that it is even very complex for a beer made from extract only; however, there are actually so many prominent and dominant flavors that it distracts from the style of beer.

Conformity to Style: (4/10) Bitter bite but too sweet and floral for a pale ale. The dry hopping and 3oz. of hops in the recipe have left a LOT of nice hop flavor but the sweetness rules it out as an IPA as well. It tastes like a full strawberry blonde that finishes as a pale ale.

Alcohol: (5/10) There is almost no flavor of alcohol which is a bit of a disappointment in a certain way as there should be that tone of alcohol present. It is warm going down and hitting the stomach though, so I would put this beer somewhere south of 4.2 percent alcohol rather than the 5.3% ABV predicted by Beersmith. Thus it gets a 5 because it is a non-factor in the taste of beer or possibly even a missing factor.

Flaws: (3/10) This category really could be divided into sub-categories based on flaws in style and general beer flaws... The glaring flaw for style is the strawberry tone that is currently in the beer. Otherwise, there is a minor soapy character that can be detected in the beer (probably from oxidation from shaking and almost dropping when I tried to move the primary fermenter by myself for racking into the secondary). These two flaws are fairly distracting.

Carbonation: (9/10) I would say that the beer carbonated very well. There is a nice healthy head on the beer that sticks around almost the whole time it takes to drink the beer. Next time for the pale ale consider dropping the sugar amount just a bit.

Well-roundedness: (4/10) On the sweet honeysicle side. The flavors just don't mesh in the way they should. Where they should be 1 flavor of beer with tones of this or that, they are two seperate experiences of strawberry sweetness and bitterness.

Totals: 59/100 or about a D-

Conclusion: Overall, there was a lot of strawberry sweetness on the front end which is part due to the strain of yeast used (SAFALE S04 is known for it's fruity characteristics) and in part due to the high temperature at which the yeast was pitched (well above the 90 degrees as the stainless steel was still quite hot on my hands when pouring into the carboy) and possibly part due to fluctuating and warmer fermentation temperatures (temperatures probably fluctuated between 65 and 75 degrees during fermentation, however, this is probably the smaller cause next to the pitching temperature combined with the strain of yeast).

This is not to say that the beer is in anyway undrinkable. There are so many nooks and crannies in the beer that it is interesting to drink, even if one drinks it solely for its flaws. I tasted the beer at racking, bottling, 5 days after bottling, and 10 days after bottling and it has gone through a very interesting progression of wort sweetness and raw bitterness to the bitterness rounding out but taking over and then back to the sweetness being dominant at bottling. The distinctly strawberry-like fruity tones that have seemingly come out of nowhere in the beer are interesting and seem to round into the beer a little more each day as it ages. I have no doubt that the beer will benefit greatly from aging (and for this reason I will set some back for that purpose), and if the strawberry tones fade into the distant background of the beer and a round of cold conditioning dries it out a bit it could very well be a damn good beer, but it is very likely that the oxidation could get it first. In any case the mistake of not boiling enough water at boil time did not leave a huge batch to work with (realistically somewhere around or under 4 gallons) so it will probably be gone before the oxidation can put an end to its shelf-life.

I am confident that the ESB currently in my secondary will fare much better as I used a different strain of yeast with more a British character (less fruityness) and at no point oxidized the beer. Additionally the yeast I used was a liquid yeast started 2 days before fermenting, and the beer is pretty much exactly in line with the recipe, so I am expecting good things!


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Barley Bee Brewing: Extra Special Bitter

Batch number two (or 03-001-0002 by style-batch#-overall batch#) seems to be doing pretty well. This one is a "brown" British ESB. It looks pretty dark in the secondary, but when I was racking it over it was a nice, clear orange-brown color. The specs are:

8lb. Amber LME
1lb. Crystal 60L (60min. @ 160 deg.F)

1 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60min.
1 oz. Yakima Goldings @ 30min.
1 oz. Yakima Goldings @ 5min.

WLP-026 Bitter Ale Yeast (or similar)

Fermentation: 2wk. Primary, 2wk. Bottle conditioning

I changed the recipe a bit for my purposes... Rather than Yakima Goldings, I used Kent Golding. Rather than letting it sit in the primary for 2 weeks, I decided to go ahead and rack it over to the secondary for the two weeks conditioning. The real reason for this was that my bottles are still all tied up with the pale ale I made. I believe I will put this one in a soda keg and let it naturally carbonate rather than messing with all of the bottles again since I was given three used soda kegs. Plus, there is nothing wrong with draft beer as it gives me an excuse to not take bottles of beer to my friends at work for free!

I have to admit that I was too anxious to wait on the full 2 weeks (or even 1 week) during the bottle carbonation period for my pale ale (it did sit 2 weeks in the secondary afterall). In my opinion it turned out really well! My goal for that batch was drinkability. Granted, it wasn't a lofty goal, but for the first batch I felt it was appropriate. The flavors still haven't come together perfectly. There is a distinct floral sweetness at first and then a lingering bitterness after the swallow. I love the aroma the Cascade dry-hopping gave the beer though. It is almost a honeycicle flavor/aroma... Quite pleasant. There is a bite to it though... I am trying to ration it a little bit since I only made a 4 gallon batch.

I am not sure what I want to brew behind the ESB. I was thinking either a K├Âlsch, Hefeweizen, or maybe I could try my hand at a Pilsner if I bought that thermostat. I will probably go with the Hef just because I am not ready to invest in all-grain yet, but who knows.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Primoris Pale Ale - My First Batch

After receiving my beer supplies in the mail, I pulled all of my ingredients together and started sanitizing! I used bleach (1 TBS/1 gal) as my sanitizing solution and boiled up some w ater to rinse with, start the yeast, etc.

The next step was to start figuring out how to brew the 3 gal. batch of wort concentrate to add to the 2 gal. of water I had boiled and added to my sanitized carboy... I used a turkey roaster and propane burner we had sitting around in the backyard for those wonderful deep-fried turkey. I can tell you that took all day to clean with dish soap and baking soda, and it certainly can't be the best thing for my beer, but it is what I have and I did the best I could with it.

Next step was to start the wort boil. I added the last 3 gal. of water for the wort concentrate and set it to boil. Once the water started to boil I added the 3lbs. of American Amber DME and just as I was getting ready to add the 3lbs. of LME, I dropped the jar on the ground which promptly spilled out some of the LME. Luckily, the recipe only called for the 3lbs of LME and 2lbs of the DME, so I could compensate more/less with the DME.

During the boil I went ahead and started to hydrate my yeast. It was exciting to see the yeast actually come to life and start foaming the way they do. Once I primed them with the water-LME solution, they really started going. My biggest fear going in was that they yeast would be DOA since I stupidly only ordered as much as I needed, and I am still a little nervous ordering this kind of stuff from online companies, but there simply is no Homebrew store where I live. All three stores I ordered from turned out very well, luckily.

The next step was to go ahead and add my bittering hops (I used Centennial hop pellets for this). I measured them out and added them to the wort and immediately began to smell what I can only describe as "baked beer candy." The smell was absolute heaven to me, because normally when drinking beer you can smell hops and malt characters, but not in the pure forms you can when you are actually brewing the beer and working with the ingredients. And the smell of wort cooking is pure happiness to a beer lover.

The last few steps were pretty intense and went really quickly, so pictures weren't taken. I added the finishing hops 15 minutes before the end of the boil. At 60 minutes I cut off the boil and plunged the pot into a tub of cold pool water that I filled with ice. Surprisingly the wort didn't cool down as quickly as I expected. It took a much longer time that it felt like it should in ice water. However, since I dropped my thermometer earlier in the process, I had no clue as to what the temperature was, but I believe I probably added the wort at a temperature above yeast pitching temperature. Additionally, the two gallons that were sitting in the carboy were still very very warm (probably themselves nearing 90 degrees). I pitched the yeast and poured in the wort using a funnel. I inserted the bung and airlock and rolled the whole thing off to it's final, dark destination.

There were some things I would have done differently during the brew:
1) I would have not had my secondary fermenter sitting around in the way. Having unnecessary tools laying around was annoying and caused me to be clumsy.

2) I would boil all 5 gallons of water at the same time since I have a pot big enough to do so. Doing two seperate boils just seems like a waste of propane, time, and most importantly just allows for more opportunities for things to go wrong.

3) I would definitely use a wort chiller. It took far too long to cool down the wort, and even when I thought I had cooled it, it was probably too hot, which will most likely lead to my beer being

cloudy in the end from what I have heard. I think I will use an immersion cooler, b ut I am still deciding between that and building a counterflow cooler. I do like the ide a of the counterflow and the science behind it, but I am not sure if my siphon can handle the hot liquids. Perhaps if I use it from the out end of the counterflow...

4) I would have monitored the temperature and gravity more closely just so that I could record those numbers in case I wanted to (not) repeat the beer; however, the recipe I was working from out of John Palmer's book did not have any target gravities, so I was basically just trying to reach the AAUs, times, and amounts he proposed in the recipe.

Anyhow, after the whole process was done, I checked on the beer this morning and I have something. It certainly seems to adhere to the pictures I have seen on the internet of a healthy bubble in the airlock and krausen on top of the beer. There is a decent amount of greenish brown and butter popcorn coloring in the krausen, but from what I understand this is normal. After 24 hours, the beer is still bubbling steadily, and the gas it is putting off certainly smells like pale ale. More specifically it smells like a Sierra Nevada (which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned).

I am a bit worried about all of the things I know I didn't quite do correctly, much like in college when I left the test and looked in the book and found all of the answers I did not answer correctly during the test! However, at the very least I am producing something, and that something is alcoholic which is light years from what I have made with beer kits in the past. Having seen all that goes into actually producing beer and seeing everything that must be done at least somewhat correctly, it is no wonder that I never produced too much more than beer tea in the past. I am interested to taste it when I rack to the secondary fermentation. Maybe I will get adventurous and dry hop a bit when I rerack. It was a great experience and it made me glad I had purchased all of the equipment. I have a much better feel for what goes into the process than I ever could have learned from the kits where you pour the ingredients in, stir, and wait for the beer to be produced. This is not all grain by any means, but it's not a beer-in-a-bag either.

I am already thinking about what my next brew will be... I am thinking an English ESB, but if I want to try a lager then I should do that soon since the weather here will quickly jump into the 90s and stay there until September while electricity gets more expensive and keeping the house at brewing temperature will begin to be difficult. I can probably use a bath tub with water to insulate it against the warm temperature and the chill at night, but a lager will be difficult in the summer here unless I want to replace the thermostat on the big freezer in the garage...