Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Early Harvest

This crazy summer of hot, hot days and relentless sun has all the plants around the house behaving as if it were fall already. I've harvested mature cones just this week from my Cascade bines. That's Humulus lupulus below and not its botanical relative (note they are both in the family Cannabaceae).

Like cannabis the cultivars are usually female clones and propagated vegetatively. I purchased rhizomes from Freshops to start my crop. They produce a seedless flower and ultimately a fruit that contains oil glands that yield a variety of compounds that contribute both flavor and aroma to beer. Hops contain organic acids that isomerize during the boil and become bitter-flavored. That bitterness balances the sugars from the malt and rescues beer from being just another insipid too-sweet drink. The chemical cocktail is also bacteriostatic--hops are a natural preservative.

They are beautiful plants and do very well in our area. They take a fair bit of water but they grow like mad and have to be pruned and trained on to a trellis or framework. Commercially about a ton of hops can be produced from an acre of land. With 35,000 acres or so in the US, about 70 million pounds of hops were harvested in 2013, worth about 250 million dollars (source: USDA).

a.d. III Kal.Aug.

Monday, June 9, 2014

All gone

Ten gallons of beer is 80 pints, and we pounded all of them in a few short hours on Saturday. My retirement party was a smashing success and everyone loved the brews. The Blackhorse Ale was a smooth, easy-drinking, full-flavored porter that ticked the meter at about 5% abv. Perfect for a party. I really liked the way it came out. There was a nice complexity to the malt flavor, lots of interacting notes but none dominating. I think I got the bittering just right--you could really taste the malt but the beer wasn't sweet at all and had a clean, dry finish. I kept the mash temperature high on this one and got the body and mouthfeel I wanted. The XXX: Retirement Pale Ale was a different animal--I wanted something light and thirst-quenching. The final color was dark honey, or mostly golden with amber highlights from the crystal malt (actually CaraMunich). It was also a five-percenter as I'm a session ale sort of fellow. I added only homegrown Cascade hops and concentrated on flavor and aroma. I kept the bittering low, just enough to notice it but not assertive like in an IPA. I wanted the garden freshness to come through and it did! The nose was distinctive with some apple, grapefruit, and even a touch of pine. Again, the finish was crisp and dry, but this one had a nice lingering tingle on the tongue. The multiple straight-from-the-garden hop additions gave the beer a rough-around-the-edges quality, but the flip side was you could really taste all the flavors the cones had to offer. Two different but complementary brews. The only sad part is that there's none of it left to enjoy!

a.d. V Id. Iun.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Party On!

I've got ten gallons of homebrew chilling nicely right now. The Blackhorse Ale has been refrigerated since the thirteenth of the month. The XXX Pale has been nestled up against it since the twenty-second. By the time of my retirement party--the seventh of June--they should be fully conditioned and ready for serving. I think a minimum of two weeks in the keg at 34ºF or so is essential to the finished product. I always find the beer to be cleaner and crisper if I'm patient and give it time to settle.

I added a sack of homegrown hops to the keg with the XXX Pale. We'll see how that works.

If you are reading this, you are invited to my party. Four p.m., 211 Henig, Yreka.

a.d. VI Kal.Iun.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

XXX: Retirement Pale Ale

I figured I had to have a pale ale to complement the porter for my big shindig so I brewed a nice golden today with my homegrown hops. I used an ounce of the garden-produced Cascades for bittering and added a half ounce apiece at 15 minutes remaining in the boil (for flavor) and 5 minutes left (for aroma). I think I might stick a sack of the same in the keg or the carboy as well to capture that fresh, citrusy bouquet in the finished brew. We'll see how it turns out. Ten pounds of 2-row and a pound of CaraMunich produced five gallons at 12ºP (1.048) which is just about right. Again I used the Safale-05 for a clean ferment with none of the lingering yeastiness I sometimes get from the 04 variety. Another successful brew day, plus a series sweep by the Giants!

a.d.V Kal.Mai.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blackhorse Ale

My pal Tad is a veteran of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, known as the "Blackhorse Regiment." Since he's throwing my retirement party, I asked him what kind of beer I should brew for the event. He answered "porter" without hesitation. So I am cooking up five gallons of a dark brew today and it seemed fitting to call it "Blackhorse Ale."

I started with 10 pounds of 2-row malt and added a pound each of 420ºL Carafa II black malt and 28ºL CaraMunich. I had a couple of ounces of black patent left over from stout making and I tossed that in as well. I mashed with 12 quarts of liquor, striking at 180ºF and holding between 154-158ºF for an hour. It was a nice, thick mash and I tried to shoot for the higher end of the saccharification range in order to get more body in the beer and a little lower alcohol. I made only one hop addition--an ounce of Northern Brewer (α-acids 8.4%) for bittering.

I like Safale-05, the so-called American Ale variety. It seems to leave a cleaner, more neutral flavor than the Safale-04 without sacrificing any of the vigor and settling ability of the latter. The refractometer said the original gravity was 12.5ºP or 1.050 which is a bit lower than I thought I'd get, but it should make a lovely beer nonetheless.

p.s. I forgot to mention the half-pound of Victory Malt I used as well! This beer should have a nice complex malt profile as I kept the hops to about 30-35 IBUs and didn't add any for aroma or flavor.

a.d. XII Kal.Mai.