Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brewing Lagers

I had the perfect plan to brew beer today when my van broke down again. Apparently there is something called an engine coolant temperature sensor and it decided to stop functioning as I was driving home from my storage unit with a fermentor containing a nice Whitelabs WLP840 lager yeast cake in the bottom.

Rice Rice Baby!

Now that the weather has turned cool here in Northern California, (high 40's to low 50's over night) I decided it would be a good time to get a series of lagers brewed and stashed away to condition for a few months, beers that would be ready for the spring. The idea was to brew three back to back batches, racking the fresh wort onto the yeast cake of the previously fermented batch.

I decided to begin with a standard American lager to be followed by a Munich Dunkel and finally a Doppel Bock. Yesterday I kegged the completed American lager which attenuated to 75%. It was fermented with a yeast starter that I had stepped up a couple of times. I also milled the grain for the Munich Dunkel and measured out the hops for the brew session today. I was in transit with the fermenter full of yeast when the van died on me. Now, at the end of the day I got the van back and the fermenter is sitting in my beer closest downstairs, the new plan is to brew tomorrow.

For those interested in the recipe for the American Lager I'll include it here. Note that I used instant rice, in this case Minute Rice, as an adjunct for the beer. Most homebrewers use rice syrup or flaked rice in light lagers to raise the gravity without adding color or flavor to the beer. Minute rice will provide the same qualities and amount of sugar but is cheaper and convenient. Just mix in the whole grain in your mash with the rest of the grist. I figured a 1.032 gravity per pound per gallon with this instant rice. Note that using regular rice requires pre-cooking prior to adding to the mash.
Anyway, here's my recipe:

Standard American Lager
For 11 gallons of wort going into the fermenter
efficiency of 90%
attenuation 74%
abv 4.75%
srm 5
ibu's 12
o.g. 1.044
f.g. 1.011

12 lbs 2-row
.5 lbs Munich
2.75 lbs Minute Rice (18%)

Mash for 60 minutes in 4 gallons h2o at 155f.
Sparge with 11 gallons h2o at 180f. (I used 6 gals. of this as R.O. water, my water here is pretty hard)

Boil 75 minutes

Add 1.75 oz. Saphir hops (aa 3.5%) for last 60 mins. of boil
Add   .75 oz. Saphir hops (aa 3.5%) for last 15 mins. of boil along with some Irish moss

Chill to 54f. and pitch yeast starter WLP840
Ferment until complete (in this case at 52f. it took 11 days)
Rack to kegs, carbonate to 2.8v and set aside to lager at 50f. for three months.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arend Tripel Review

Beer Diary...

I sat down with a glass of Arend Tripel with the intention of forcing myself to review the beer when it occurred to me that a thousand other people have already reviewed this beer (and every other beer for that matter) with similar thoughts as mine, and I just stopped and decided to give this revelation some serious consideration. At this moment, I don't really care what I have to say about Arend Tripel, I mean, it's a good beer that fits the description of a classic Belgian tripel but saying anything beyond that simple point is, well, pointless. Ratebeer and Beeradvocate have ton's of reviews with details and applied averages and all kinds of ratings to enlighten those interested. The logical step for me would to simply place a link to those sites from here and here leading to a cluster flock of opinions about this beer. Then I could follow up those links by saying something like - "what they said".

As you can tell, I'm feeling pretty uninspired at this moment. Maybe it's the holiday season or because today is the shortest day of the year. It could be the recent rains and continuous overcast skies weighing down on me like an iron lid, but I just don't have much enthusiasm for writing. Even when I speak, the words come out like rusty water from a roof gutter, monosyllables dropping one at a time and forming a large pool of nonsense on the sidewalk that people have to step around. It feels like I've said all there is to say about beer and I hear my inner voice, "it's time to move on for Christ's sake". Still, I'm hoping that this is a temporary phase brought on by the Winter gloom. The interesting thing is, and when I say interesting I mean annoying, is that while I'm at a loss for words I keep getting RSS feeds from bloggers who seem relentless in their task of filling the blogosphere with beer talk. They just keep coming up with more to say about the subject.

You hear how cynical I am. It's got to be the month of x-mas, it's taking me down a very negative path. Thank the baby Jesus that there are beers like Belgian tripels to buoy my sinking heart. Did Arend Tripel buoy my sinking heart? Kind of, but it didn't help me wax poetic about beer. I don't blame the beer for not lifting my spirits, I only had one of them and that was only an 11oz. bottle. Wait a minute, is that the lesson here? I think it is. So, hold on while I refill my glass.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brown Ale With Joanna's Almond Toffee

Personal friend and excellent candy maker Joanna always brings in a large batch of her chocolate covered almond toffee to the Thanksgiving gathering each year and I can't get enough of this delicious dessert. This naturally led to the idea of combining her toffee with a classic brown ale and so I proposed brewing a batch of beer and incorporating the toffee into the recipe. Joanna agreed to make a special batch of the candy, modifying her recipe slightly by eliminating the butter that she uses because I thought that the butter might negatively effect the head and head retention on the finished beer. We also agreed to leave off the chocolate coating for the same reasons and to make up for the loss I added cocoa powder to the boiling wort. The results: a wonderful brown with the complimentary flavor of toasted almond and toffee. This beer has a warm nutty character with subtle chocolate notes and a definite almond presence. This is a great beer for the season even though the alcohol is low the flavor is big and satisfying. Here's lifting a glass to Joanna for generously contributing to a delicious holiday brew.

The following is the 10 gallon recipe for an American brown ale using Joanna's famous almond toffee.

Added ingredients

Eff. 90%
attn. 79%
abv 5.25%
srm 18
ibu 26
og 1.048

Mash in 5 gals. h2o at 158f. for 60min.

14lbs. of 2-row
8oz. chocolate malt
2oz. roasted barley
4oz. aromatic

Sparge with 10.5gals h2o at 170f. for 40 mins to achieve a 90% efficiency

Boil wort vigorously for 60 mins. with -
12oz. Joanna's seasonal almond toffee (placed in a nylon bag to capture almonds)

1oz. Columbus hop pellets at 14% alpha acid for 26 ibu's

Add 2oz. Hershey's cocoa powder for 15 mins. of the boil
Add Irish moss for 15mins. of the boil

Chill to 65f. and aerate going into fermentor and add 2 pkgs. of us05 dry ale yeast
ferment at 65f until complete

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How To Drink Beer And Not Influence People

I'm sitting at the bar of a crowded brewpub facing off a spread of samplers of beer with an attitude of open mindedness. Halfway through the four ounce tasters laid out before me from light to dark with the specialties set aside, I'm taking in the environment and checking out the brewing equipment behind plate glass windows beside me, trying to see if any brewing action is taking place. It's at this moment that I notice in the reflection of that same plate glass the image of a full table of patrons seated over my right shoulder, one pointing in my direction. One has her hand over her mouth stifling a horsey laugh while another holds his pint glass up to the light in mock admiration. All were unaware that they were being observed and the mocking only lasted a few seconds but it lasted long enough to deflect my attention.

The Pinky Extend

It came as a snapshot of embarrassment for me, and a moment of recognition. Like a postcard held at arms length, it revealed to me what must have appeared an aberrant specter in an otherwise normal setting. Here I am sitting alone with my line up of beers paying tribute to an absent brewer and pretending I'm doing something important when in fact I'm simply squinting through the side of a glass. Those around me don't know what I'm staring at, they may suspect I've discovered the image of the virgin of Guadalupe looking back at me from the depths of the amber liquid.  I'm filled with a momentary flash of shame that feels like I just got caught in a lie. But if this shame is false, I reason, then I can push it away and finish what I started here, put it out of my mind and go back to evaluating beer. Still, it makes me want to think of solutions, which is where my mind goes when I'm not sure of the truth.

As my desire to experience commercial beer grows with my passion for homebrewing, so grows my aberrant behavior. I don't want to come off as a pretentious beer snob, but I do want to fully appreciate the beer I'm drinking, and in order to do that I need to pay attention and use techniques that fully utilize my senses. Sometimes this behavior can appear to be suspect and so a bit of discretion needs to be applied. Below, I have identified the type of  negative tendencies which I do that can cause ordinary patrons to point and laugh. These tendencies can be eliminated or modified to reduce the amount of shameful beer based feelings in the future.

Things I will and won't do at the bar anymore while tasting beer.
  • Don't fill out a paper score sheet ranking the beers on a scale for aroma, appearance, flavor
  • Do quietly speak into a small hidden microphone clipped to the shirt collar and connected through a thin wire to a digital recorder concealed in a pocket
  • Don't raise the glass towards the window to use the sun for checking the color and clarity
  • Do bring a mini-mag flashlight to shine through the glass to capture the ruby highlights, additionally this can be hidden from the public in a cloak of darkness by pulling a jacket up over my head
  • Don't smell too long, cupping hands over the glass while swirling the beer vigorously to create foam
  • Don't breath in deeply with flair nostrils causing whistling sounds
  • Don't exclaim righteous approval with exaggerated bodily gestures like high fives to the air
  • Do express approval with subtle quivers, stifled belch, slow motion head nod, raised eyebrow (left or right but never both at the same time), smile on the inside, etc.
  • Do feel free to take another taste to confirm the initial thought and then repeat
  • Don't describe the subtleties that go unnoticed out loud to no one in particular
  • Do use the previously mentioned hidden recorder to quietly describe subtleties, or just use the voice in your head, the one that has conversations with itself 
  • Don't put an arm around the nearest person and confide "You know what I mean don't you?"
  • Do consider putting your arm around the nearest person, then don't
  • Don't cross arms in adamant confidence and make proclamations to the wait staff, subtle and quiet at first then gaining volume with each insistent declaration
  • Do express appreciation to bartender or wait staff, in the form of a tip 
I've found that enjoying a beer to it's fullest is possible while immersed in the general population but discretion is key to being accepted as normal. I shall continue to expand on the list but with what I have so far, I believe the next time I'm sampling beers, with this list in hand I can refer to it and be confident that I'll exhibit prudent action.

Is that what I really want?

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