Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beginner Brewing

Earlier this month a couple of students attended a beginner brewing class at my house to learn the fundamentals of beer making. This particular class is structured to be three to four hours long and so we needed to jump right in to get things going and accomplish a successful brew in the limited time. We started by going over the basic equipment needed to brew a first batch of beer and the ingredients that we would use that day, including hops, dry malt extract and steeping grains.

I teach a slightly modified version of a the full boil method with steeping grains. The modified part is that we placed our bag of steeping grains in the boil kettle just as we began heating the water. Thus allowing the grains to leach their flavors and colors into solution during the water temperature rise from 65f. (my tap water temp.) to 170f. At 170f. we pulled the grain bag and continued the temperature rise to boiling. I have not found a good reason to use the typical technique of bringing the water to a temperature of 150f. and then placing the grains in the hot water for a twenty to thirty minute rest. My purpose here is to steep the grains in order to extract color and flavor and I am not concerned with the sugar potential. Consequently,  I have found that I can accomplished the results I desire faster using this method.

I prefer dry malt extract when I brew extract type beers and in this batch it consisted of 6lbs. of the light version of DME. I find that it is easier to work with and provides a slightly lighter color wort than the light liquid extract. We also used a 20% addition of cane sugar. With malt extract beers, I have found that a 15% to 20% amount of very fermentable sugar is needed to ferment down to the preferred attenuation or dryness that I like in my beers. For those concerned about the supposed 'cider' flavors that are associated with the addition of cane, beet or corn sugar, don't worry. It doesn't have that flavor impact, in fact I did a test on this concern awhile back and you can read about it here.

For hopping, we used a couple of standards that I normally have in the freezer with the exception of the final or one minute hop additions which was a new one for me called Galaxy. This high alpha acid hop has a great flavor and aroma component that I suggest you try in any West coast style ale.

The brew went along well with only a minor boil over but we got that under control and took time to sample some homebrews from my kegerator. As the boil progressed we covered a number of homebrew subjects that are important to the beginner starting with the vocabulary and ending with some of the basics of malting.

The brew session ended successfully as we achieved our desired original gravity and pitched two packages of US05 yeast into the chilled wort. The students stated they got a lot out of the class and looked forward to tasting their beer in a few weeks.

I pulled a sample from the keg today and for an extract brew this is a pretty impressive beer. Nice fruity malt backbone with a great citrus and apricot hop character and balanced bitterness. It's difficult to tell this is brewed with extract and I think the students will be very happy with the results when they open their bottle conditioned samples that they took home.

The following is the recipe we brewed and I would encourage you to brew your own, with extract even!

Brew Class IPA

Attn: 82%
AbV 6.6%
IBU's 57
O.G. 1.062
F.G. 1.011

Full boil method -
In 7 gals. water steep:
8 oz. 2-row
8 oz. Munich #35
8 oz. Crystal #15

When water reaches 170f. turn off heat, remove steeping grains and stir in:
6 lbs. Dry Malt Extract (light)
1.5 lbs. cane sugar
Bring to boil for 60 minutes.

Bittering - 60min 1.25 oz Chinook @ 11aa
Finings - 15min. Irish Moss
Flavor   - 10min. 1 oz. Cascade @ 5.5 aa
Aroma  - 1 min. 2 oz. Galaxy @ 13 aa

Chill to 65f. , aerate and pitch 2 packages of US05 ale yeast.
Ferment to completion, keg and enjoy.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Blurring The Beer Style Lines

    Is it an uber pale ale, an imperial pale ale or just nomenclature madness? This has been on my mind lately and I've got no good answers.

    Included in the 'swag bag' that was passed out for participants of the National Homebrewers
    Conference this year was a bottle of Stone's 'Double Black IPA'. A beer that comes in strong not only in flavor and bitterness but also alcohol. As I drank in the bold flavors I began to wonder why one wouldn't call it a Russian Imperial Stout? I'm making an assumption here but, when using brewing ingredients that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, it's been tried before and the beers that we are enjoying today are because they have withstood the test of time. The recent exception is the Cascadian dark ale (black IPA) but (as in the above example), when you amp it up to a double, it then becomes another style. I looked up the style guidelines from the BJCP online resource and did some comparisons.

    It's bigger but is it the same?

    The style guideline numbers for the RIS are 8%-12% abv, 50-90 ibu's and 30-40 srm. This compares very closely with the Stone's double black IPA which is 9.9% abv, 110 ibu's with a color of 40 srm. This extremely rich ale has not only the flavor components of a Russian imperial stout but includes the international bittering units as well as the higher alcohol percentage. As I drank and enjoyed this beer, and I did enjoy it, I was struck by the similarities between the two styles and I started thinking about other beers that blur the lines between styles and how popular it has become to qualify a beer with a new name as a first of its kind when in fact it may already exist under its more common name.

    Is there an already existing beer style that satisfies the 'new and bigger' version of itself? Could a big Munich lager be considered a Maibock or be a doppelbock? Surely the Germans, with their 3000 years of brewing history have proved that if it's a good beer it will stick around and if it's a bigger version of itself and the people enjoy it, that it will become defined as its own style.

    Do we come up with these uber names like Double black IPA because the beer we made doesn't fit the style, and rather then try again or say what it really is, we develop a new name and marketing strategy?. Is it a 'guy' thing? It can be confusing, this nomenclature madness. My ultra new black lager that I'm calling 'The black pearl' could simply be a Schwarzbier. After looking at the definitions and names of some new beers on the market, it becomes clear to me that a cross over genre is being born and unfortunately, it may just be for the names sake.

    Case in point, I was offered a beer that the brewer proudly proclaimed as an imperial pale ale. I asked, 'you mean an India pale ale, IPA?'
    No, he insisted it was just a very 'big' pale ale.
    So what keeps it from falling into the IPA category? I asked. It even has the same initials.
    He poured his beer and we sat down to sample some. It was obviously more bitter with a higher alcohol level and tasted just like an IPA. What make it a unique pale ale? The name.

    I think it's important to step back and consider what makes a classic style classic. History, for one thing puts a beer in that category. If a beer withstands the test of time and continues to be appreciated and preferred by the public, it seems that that is enough to qualify. Of course, a style doesn't continue to be brewed without the demand, and it stays in demand because people like it. It tastes good.
    Along with tasting good, another reason for a style is the origin of the ingredients, regional yeast varieties and to a larger degree the influence of the water chemistry that makes the taste unique to an area. Burton on Trent and Czech Pilsener come immediately to mind. Further, modified improvements to a classic that are needed in order to withstand the elements like India pale ales and Russian imperial stouts. How about the desire for a beer that satisfies the need to refresh the drinker in warm climates and heavy work like the French Saison and light lagers like the Mexico's ubiquitous Corona.

    The criteria goes on and on. Is it pleasing, affordable, repeatable, is it unique to other styles?  Can a significant number of brewers and beer drinker or the general population come to a consensus and agree in its value? These are important questions and ones that will separate the 'fad' beer that relies on the name, from the new and clearly classic styles. In any case, the Cascadian dark ale may be a good example of creating a new style using traditional ingredients, however, in my opinion the real test will be its longevity. Will it be a flash in the boil pot so to speak or will brewers 100 years from now still be brewing it or dusting it off for a new launch for a new audience? Is it a fad, or a new style?

    Often times, as homebrewers and also craft brewers, it feels like we're trying to re-invent the wheel. Desperately brewing beers that push the envelope of taste. I suggest, when going to your brewery with the intention of making something delicious but unique, the first step should be to discover if it already exists as a classic style, examine your recipe and compare. Chances are, it does and accept that it's good and repeat to style. But if it doesn't, that's probably because you're brewing with unique ingredients rather than trying to make something stronger or more bitter or a different color. Uncommon Brewers and Jolly Pumpkin Brewing are good examples of breweries that are thinking outside the box by utilizing specialty ingredients to come up with fresh and innovative ideas. I'm suggesting that the cutting edge of brewing at this time in history is the recognition and utilization of new ingredients that are enjoyable in beer and fill a void that could become a new classic style. Sadly, even as I wrote that last sentence it occurs to me that there are no new ingredients and at some point in time it's already been tried and put away as a success to become a classic or it was a failure that faded from memory.

    It would be interesting to hear from the readers of Beer Diary... that have specialty beers you brew that don't fit into any of the classic styles and you feel may define a new category. Is your imperial mild at odds with itself? Leave a comment.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Beginner Brewing Class

    This Summer's five week comprehensive brewing course at Cabrillo College was cancelled, not enough students. I don't think this was caused by a lack of interest in the community, the Spring class filled to capacity with a handful of students on a waiting list. The lack of students seems to be directly related to the economy. Because of budget cuts at the college, Cabrillo did not publish or mail the catalog listing the extension program. This has a big impact on registration as most students signing up for the brewing class are finding the course by way of the catalog. Hopefully, the fall catalog will be printed as usual and I expect to fill the class again. In the mean time, I have students signing up on-line for the private classes that I offer and I just happen to have five Sunday's in a row in which to teach from home. If you're in the area or will be visiting Santa Cruz during the month of July, consider a one day class with me. Each class will be designed with consideration of your brewing experience. Go here for more details.

    On another note, a couple of beer event will be taking place here that might interest you.
    First: Homebrewer and Zymurgeek member Tom Lopez will be showing his 'plastic camera' photography at The Parish Publick House through the month of July. Come down and have a pint with Tom and me Saturday July 9th, between 3pm. and 6pm. while we gander at it. His photography is displayed within easy access of a nice line up of beer on draft not to mention a lot of specialties in bottles.

    On July 15th at the old Wrigley building on the West side, New Belgium Brewing will be hosting an event called Clips of Faith where there will be beer for sampling and movie shorts projected on an outdoor screen. The clips will start at sundown naturally but the beer is available starting at 7:30pm.
    According to clips of faith:
    Project Bike Trip is teaming up with New Belgium Brewing to bring their second annual”cLiPS of FAiTH” BEER & FILM TOUR to Santa Cruz, CA. This 18-city tour travels the country pouring handmade beers while featuring independent, handmade films and raising money for local non-profits."
    I'm curious about this event and will try to check it out and get back to all those that don't make it.

    Finally, the California Beer Festival will be going on the following day. Saturday July 16th at the Aptos park. Our local brewers along with 60 or so more will be serving from 12:30 to 5pm. You can find out more about this event by going to the link.
    I'm still trying to get a press pass into this event and If I do, you'll see me there.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Blending Beer

    I really hate it when my lovingly brewed beer doesn't fully attenuate. Especially after doing my brewing best. But these things happen and there will be plenty of opportunities to brew another batch, but what does one do with that seemingly 'bad' batch that sits lonely in a quite fermentor staring back pitifully from its cool dark corner of the room? My recent Cascadian dark ale had that expression. It didn't fully attenuate like I wanted. Starting at 1.060 and completely stopping at 1.020, a mere 66.6% attenuation, or as I saw it, the sign of the devil.

    I felt a little disappointed, o.k. very disappointed and frankly a little angry on top of that. I looked back at my notes trying to figure out what caused the stalled ferment. Granted, I did mash high at 154f. but that's not unusual as I try to keep the workhorse yeast US05 from drying out the beer, but it's possible this was cause for part of the problem. Everything else I did during brew day was pretty typical. I did pitch a  yeast cake from a previous batch of amber ale, maybe the yeast was stressed out? I don't know but I've got ten gallons of beer that it too sweet for my tastes.

    My solution? No, I didn't reach for the Beano, but instead decided to brew an identical batch, making sure it ferments very dry and then blend with the first batch to balance them both. This I did by mashing at a low temperature of 149f. for 90 minutes and fermenting with three fresh packages of US05 yeast. The second beer also began at 1.060 but finished at 1.012. The next step was to blend them together at a 50/50 mix, ending up with twenty gallons of Cascadian dark ale at a final gravity of 1.016 in all four corney kegs. This brings me to an attenuation of 75%. I can drink that.

    I've included a short and slightly boring video with this post, showing how I transferred half of the beer from the original batch of kegged and uncarbonated beer into two empty kegs and then racked the second batch from the fermentor, filling all four kegs.
    If you watched this video you can see how easy it would be to insert a filter in-line with the jumper line to not only transfer but filter the beer at the same time. This is a link showing how I did that in the past.

    Do you ever blend your beer? I will sometimes at the tap, but this is the first time I've done it to correct a problem from fermentation. How do you do it?

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