Finally, GoT is back and I had to watch while sipping on this Ommegang offering. Nothing warms you better during “winter” than a Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout. While on the thin side compared to a lot of the RIS’s out there, it was bold in flavor. While not overly woody, the barrel character was present along with the spirit (I’m assuming bourbon) that once resided in said barrel. At 11.6%, it had a kick but was not harsh. It did tend to be on the acrid, burnt side of the flavor spectrum instead of the sweeter decadent side, but that’s how I prefer my imperial stouts. It was a solid offering, but it wasn’t any better than say Old Rasputin, which is excellent without any barrel aging. I have two more beers from Ommegang, Mother of Dragons and For the Iron Throne. I’ll have Mother somewhere in the middle of the season while Iron Throne will accompany the finale. The empty bottles will remain on display in my bar as nice mementos of one of the greatest television shows ever to have been made. Ommegang had released a number of GoT related beers throughout the show’s run, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t collect all of them.
While not having posted in a while, but still brewing quite consistently, I’ve been evolving a bit in my approach to this homebrewing hobby. Previously, I would consider myself very OCD. When I re-brew a recipe, it had to be done the exact same way with the exact same ingredients (minus any purposeful changes I wanted to make to improve the recipe). If my LHBS was out of a particular yeast or hop I needed, I felt this angst inside me as I dealt with the unexpected disappointment and tried to gather myself in trying to decide on a subsitute. I work 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday. So my Fridays are my brewing/bottling days, which left my weekends open to spend time with the kids, work around the house and do otherwise fun things. I would lay out my yearly brewing schedule well in advance of the New Year and I felt compelled to brew certain recipes each year, even though they weren’t exactly my favorites (such as wee heavy). I felt compelled to brew a wide array of styles in order to pad my self perceived confidence as a well rounded brewer. Plus I also just enjoyed variety. But then as 2018 rolled on, I started to feel a bit exhausted. I would brew once or twice a month and it felt like every Friday I HAD to brew or bottle a batch. And I didn’t always really want to. I had 16 batches on my schedule this year, which also meant I couldn’t brew every recipe that I wanted to this year (I have about 30 recipes), and that kind of bugged me. I was a slave to the homebrewing grind and I felt I needed a change. I asked myself a simple question. Instead of brewing what I think I NEED to brew (I gotta squeeze that hefeweizen in this year or I’ve gotta plan for this party I’m having), why aren’t I just brewing styles that I ENJOY the most and WANT to drink? Seems like a trick question in its simplicity. But remember, I was battling some level of OCD in my psyche that was making me a bit irrational.
Then I decided to try brulosophy.com’s short & shoddy brewing method with an altbier recipe I had on hand. Essentially it involves reducing the mash to 20 or 30 minutes and reducing the boil to 30 minutes (hop amounts/time additions adjusted accordingly). I also coupled this with reducing my batch size to 3 gallons. Despite a drop in efficiency, it worked really well. The altbier tasted pretty dang good. And this follows what Brulosopher has found. Efficiency takes a ding, but it produces pretty good beer.
Couple all of this with the fact I was trying to cut back on beer consumption to lose a few pounds and a light bulb went off. Instead of brewing 16 times a year or more, why don’t I brew just 12 times a year (once a month)? Brewing less, check! Why don’t I incorporate some 3 gal short & shoddy brews throughout the year? Brew less beer, check! Shorten my brew day, bonus! Hey, let’s go a step further and do half of my 12 brew days as short & shoddys but do two 3 gallon batches on those days, two different recipes. I’ll save the full 5 gallon brew days for my top favorite recipes. Those double brew days will still be shorter than a full brew day since I will be brewing them concurrently but with a bit of time staggering. The net effect over the year will be less time brewing, more styles being brewed to satiate my craving for variety and less overall beer being produced, which will make it a bit easier for me to drink less beer.
As far as the whole brewing OCD thing goes, brewing short & shoddy has allowed me to realize that it will all be beer in the end. I still treat my water, control fermentation temp and pitch two packs of yeast. But right now, I’m just brewing for myself and my wife. I’m not in it to impress my friends and family as much anymore. Only a couple of them are into craft beer anyway. And I’m not interested in entering any more competitions. I just want to brew, enjoy the finished product and zen out without sacrificing or neglecting other parts of my life. Homebrewing should complement my life, not dominate it. We’ll see how this works out.
Forget the dissecting of flavors and aromas or whether it’s to style or not. Here’s how you know a batch turned out well and whether you should brew it again. When you finish the last of the batch, you are either sad or glad that it’s gone. Eazy peazy.
I have not had a lot of time to post. Not just because life is busy, but also because I’ve been too busy brewing my ass off. Tampa Bay Beer Week is about a month away and I’m putting on my second annual Open House party. Which means I need beer ready to quench the thirst of the masses. But here’s a quick list of what I’ve been up to.
1. I brewed a spontaneously fermented ale in December and I’m a few weeks from bottling it. Jury is still out on if this will be drinkable or not. I hedged my bets by putting it into secondary with raspberry puree and a witbier yeast to temper the wildness. I’m planning a full grain-to-glass write-up once it’s ready to drink. It will definitely be educational.
2. Tripel came out pretty nice.
3. Peanut butter chocolate stout came out really nice. I used PB2 in the boil and it gave a good PB flavor.
4. Milk stout and coffee stout. This was a milk stout batch. I bottled half and then added cold pressed espresso to the rest before bottling to make a coffee stout. Surprisingly good.
5. My first Northeast IPA is in primary right now. I’ve never had a proper one. I’ve just read about them. But with all the buzz with this style, I expect nothing less than deliciousness.
6. Bottled and waxed my second batch ever of kriek. Waiting on bottle conditioning before cracking one open. But taste test at bottling was very promising.
7. Made a blonde ale with 20% rye. Very refreshing and clean. By the way, all the new better brewing practices I’ve implemented continue to pay off with very solid beers.
Here’s a picture sampling of the goings-on in my brewery.
In my previous post, I talked about some of the improvements I was making to my brewing process in order to yield better beer. The first brew with which I implemented these changes was my brown ale. In the rundown, I’ll indicate which steps were different from what I usually did in the past.
Left Nut Brown Ale (brewed on 11/4/16)
5 gallons (anticipated efficiency 70%)
Maris Otter 78.1%
Crystal 120 5.7%
Special Roast 5.7%
Chocolate Malt 2.9%
(Target SRM: 22.44)
Water Profile: Ca 50ppm, Mg 10ppm, Na 22ppm, Sulfate 71ppm, Cl 68ppm, Bicarbonate 58ppm
(Water chemistry was new here. Instead of using unadjusted bottled spring water, I used distilled bottled water and added my additions as noted below).
Strike Water: 5 gallons distilled bottled water. Added 1g gypsum, 2g calcium chloride, 2g epsom salt, and 1.5g baking soda. Dissolved additions and heated to 161F and mashed in.
Mash: Water to grist ratio 1.9. Target temp: 153F, Actual Temp: 152F
Mash Time: 60 minutes, measured pH: 5.5
Sparge: 2.1 gallons distilled bottled water. Added 0.1mL phosphoric acid 10%, 0.4g gypsum, 0.8g calcium chloride, and 0.8g epsom salt. Dissolved additions and heated to 170F before executing sparge.
Boil: 60 minutes
Hops: 1oz Northern Brewer AA 4.9% @ 60 min
1oz East Kent Goldings AA 5.1% @ 15 min
(Target IBUs: 29.5)
I chilled the wort after boil using my copper immersion chiller. I stirred constantly during the cool down where previously I would only stir periodically. I was able to cool it down to 90F in about twenty minutes.
Hydrometer reading (adjusted for temperature): 1.052 (target 1.054)
I then transferred the wort to the fermentor bucket, sealed it and placed it in my chest freezer set at 67F to cool down further. When the wort was down to 67 (5-6 hours later), I pitched 2 packets of Fermentis US-05 dry yeast (previously I would have only pitched one packet and when the wort was 90F or high 80s before putting in the freezer). I let the yeast sit for 30 minutes before vigorously stirring the wort with a sanitized spoon.
After one week, I removed the fermentor from the freezer and placed it inside the house where it is normally 75F and let it sit for an additional week.
After a total of 2 weeks in primary, I took a hydrometer reading (1.010) and then bottled as I normally would, batch priming with cane sugar. The bottles sat at ambient house temperature for two weeks before refrigerating and drinking the first pour.
Below is a summary of my changes:
Before: Used unaltered bottled spring water.
Now: Added minerals/salts to bottled distilled water to achieve a specific water profile. In this case, it was the Brown Balanced profile from the Bru’n Water spreadsheet.
Before: Didn’t pay it any mind. Didn’t measure, didn’t adjust.
Now: Used the Bru’n water spreadsheet to dial in my desired mash pH through the use of minerals, salts and acids. Measured the pH at about 15 minutes into the mash using an inexpensive pH meter to confirm.
Before: Pitched yeast when wort was still in the 80s or 90s (right after finishing the chilling step with the immersion chiller), then placed the fermentor in the chest freezer.
Now: Put the fermentor in the chest freezer first until the wort was at the desired fermentation temperature before pitching yeast.
Before: 1 packet of yeast
Now: 2 packets of yeast
The final product:
The color is a deep dark brown with an off white head. The carbonation is full and the head is lasting. Aroma is roasty, toasty and clean. The taste is clean, crisp, a little on the dry side but has a nice full roasty flavor. Mouthfeel is a nice medium. Reminds me of why I love browns. It has the crispness and easy drinkability of a lighter beer but contains the darker roasty notes in the realm of a stout. My past attempts at this recipe had left me unsatisfied. There was this unquantifiable offness to it that I couldn’t describe. But this version hits the mark. I must say that whatever I did differently did improve this beer and I’m sold. So I will continue to incorporate these “better brewing practices” moving forward. I have a tripel that’s just about done and I’m about to bottle a milk stout. We’ll see if these beers are also as solid as this brown.
A couple of months ago, I posted about what I do “wrong” on purpose in order to simplify my brew process. I reasoned that it didn’t matter because I enjoy what I brew and so do the family and friends that I serve it to. Since that post, I submitted three of my beers to a BJCP-sponsored homebrew competition. Each of them scored approximately 25 out of a possible 50 points. Not the best scores, but I get a gold star for consistency! That type of score indicates that it is a “good” beer but that it missed the mark in style and had flaws. The imperial stout was “hot” (I agree with that) and “vegetal” (only noted by one of two judges and I don’t perceive that). The witbier was phenolic (belgians are supposed to) but they used the terms plastic, rubbery, medicinal. Both judges for the marzen used the terms medicinal, rubbery, bandaid, plastic for both aroma and flavor. Whoa!!!
I went back after I received the scoresheets and tried these beers again. I still think the witbier is really good. The clovey phenolics from the yeast may be covering up the medicinal phenolics that may be there. The imperial stout is still hot. Maybe with age that will mellow. The marzen to me was the eye opener. I had previously thought there was something off that I couldn’t describe or quantify. I thought maybe it was recipe based and my malts were off. But now I’m thinking that the “off-ness” may be what the judges are talking about. I know what a band-aid smells like, but I’ve never smelled it in the context of a beer, where it would be at a lower level.
After stewing for a couple days over the results, I came to an acceptance that my beers are not as good as I thought they were. They are fair and drinkable. But they have flaws. If I wanted to strive to do better, I’d have to change some things. So I came up with a game plan to institute some better brewing practices that I haven’t yet adopted.
1. I need to monitor and adjust my mash pH. To date, I usually write a recipe, mash it and go with it. I’ve never measured the pH of a mash before. Except for maybe my darker beers, my mash pH is probably higher than the recommended 5.2-5.6. I’ve had a pH meter sitting in my closet waiting for the next time I was going to make a berliner weisse. I’m going to start putting it to use every brew day. But pH is also tied into water profile… which leads me to the next one.
2. I’m delving into the world of water chemistry. Up to this point, I’ve only used bottled spring water with no adjustments. There are no water quality reports that pinpoint it’s profile, only broad ranges. Also, my water utility company does not have a recent water report on file to indicate just what’s in my tap water. So I’m going the route of using distilled bottled water (blank slate) and adding my salts/minerals to the desired levels, which will in turn also get me to my proper mash pH in most cases. If not, I can further adjust pH with a little lactic acid. I’ll be using the Bru’n Water spreadsheet to determine my additions for each beer. It’s free and it’s wholeheartedly endorsed by many of the giants of the homebrew world.
3. I’m pitching more yeast. I’ve always just pitched one dry sachet or one smackpack. But maybe the yeast are stressing a bit. I’m not ready to make starters. So I’m taking the baby step of just simply pitching two packets of yeast instead of just one and see where that gets me. Yes it is a little bit more money, but I guess I’m buying a little convenience. It’s simple and doesn’t add any extra work to my brew process.
So my first brew that I’ll be implementing all this with will be my brown ale. In the past, I’ve never been completely happy with it. I’ve sensed the same sort of “off” thing that I couldn’t describe, much like the marzen. So given that it’s a straight forward, non-hoppy, no adjunct brew, I thought it would be a good candidate to see if all of this will improve this beer. To be continued……