Saturday, December 24, 2011

Amber obscura

Amber's Amber came out quite dark, a rich red-brown, but that's just fine. It flashes lovely amber-red highlights when a pint glass is held to the late afternoon winter sunlight streaming in the window. The flavor is very smooth, sweet and bready, and there is just enough hops to make the finish dry and clean. I like the balance on this beer here at First Tasting. It is Xmas Eve--a good time to tap a fresh keg. The carbonation is light and creamy, like a cask ale, always a good thing. I think we've got a winner!


a.d. VIII Kal. Ian.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amber's Amber

Yesterday my pal Amber--an aspiring homebrewer--came over to help me make a fresh batch. I was intending to make a brown ale as my lovely bride is fond of brown ales, but I didn't have the right combination of ingredients. I went with an amber and named it for my assistant. I've been experimenting with making beers from only the first runnings off the mash and skipping the sparge step. It's a bit wasteful as I have to nearly double the amount of grains I'd normally use, but I am curious about the flavor possibilities. I like to concentrate sometimes on one aspect of the process in order to learn a bit for another batch down the road. Grain flavors are complex and require much study and experimenting! We mashed 17 pounds of Briess 2-row pale malt and a half-pound each of Victory and Carafa 2 . Five gallons of liquor in the mash tun at 175ºF settled out at 152ºF for an hour. Then we simply drained the wort and we got about three gallons which the refractometer told us was 23% sugar (23ºP) or about 1.092 SG. John Palmer's wort calculator told us to expect 11ºP (1.044) when it was diluted in the kettle to seven gallons and 14ºP (1.056) when the boil reduced it to five gallons. We wound up with 13ºP (1.052) which I though was just dandy. I used a new hop, a California-grown organic variety called Horizon. We gave the brew 20 grams of whole cones (10.2% α-acids) for 60 minutes and 20 grams again for 30 minutes. We pitched it with Safale-04 at just about 4:00 in the afternoon and it was fermenting vigorously a few hours later. I think we've got a winner. Thanks, Amber!

Id. Nov.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Flat Tire II

It came in at 1.010 on the hydrometer, or 2.5 degrees Plato if you prefer. That's about my usual with liquid malt extract batches. I primed the two half-corny kegs (2-1/2 gallons) each with 100 grams of dried malt sugar that had been boiled in 12 oz. of water. The beer looked and smelled clean despite the large amount of globular yeasty flotsam. It gave off some pretty potent banana esters early in the ferment, but that seems to have dissipated. Isoamyl acetate** is the offending chemical, I believe, which I suspect is due to higher temperatures. I try to keep my ales below 70ºF but this one spent the first week right there before the cooling weather brought the closet down to 66ºF. I left a few quarts in the bottom of the carboy because they were too sludgy for my delicate palate. One should brew with fresh ingredients, just as one should cook and eat. Alas, I was stuck with some stuff that had been in the fridge a little too long, but I think I made the best of it. I'm expecting a nice golden ale out of it. I replaced my flat tube on my Stumpjumper with an older patched spare that has been holding up just fine to the rigors of my favorite single-track. I expect the beer will come through just as well.

**3-methyl-1-butyl ethanoate

a.d. IV Id. Nov.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flat Tire

My Stumpjumper had a flat tire and I worked on that this afternoon. I brewed a batch as well. I had some extract and some hops and a pack of Safale and so I whipped up a brew. I had some old uncracked 60ºL crystal malt and I wanted to get a little bit of something from that without setting up the mill. I used a mortar and pestle instead, thoroughly unsatisfactory, but I managed to process about a half pound which I steeped in the liquor while the kettle heated. It produced some sweet, floral malt aromas and a bit of color. Good enough. I had an ounce of 9.9% α-acid whole Northern Brewer hops so I did half of it for an hour and half again for half an hour. It has been a long time between batches so I kept it simple. Everything needed a good cleaning and some freshening up, but it was a perfect autumn afternoon and it felt good to be outside and get the brewery going again. Flat Tire will be the perfect thirst quencher as well. Electrolyte replacement is an important part of my fitness regime. I make sure to replace all of them, many times over, especially after rides.

a.d. XVII Kal. Nov.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

No more stout

The last drops of the stout were finally finished this weekend. I've got two clean, empty kegs now. This was a funny brew, it seemed to get better and better as it aged. I think I tried a little too hard and experimented with too many things and as a consequence the beer had a bit of an uncertain mien and it took a while to come into its own. I speak of beer like a living thing, and it is. A homebrewed beer is alive, as is any unfiltered, unpasteurized fermented beverage. Their are still living yeasts (and perhaps other organisms) in the mix, and the slow settling out of proteins and other solids changes the taste and mouthfeel over time. I suppose oxygen in the beer gets taken up in chemical reactions, much like in a cellared wine bottle, and that certainly affects the flavor. This beer was under pressure (carbon dioxide) and in a stainless steel vessel at 34 ºF but that doesn't mean it wasn't still evolving. I should know, I tasted it over and over again! Now, alas, it is gone. Time to cook up a new batch!

a.d. VIII Id. Mai.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The end of a brew

We finished the keg of Elevenses Ale yesterday and watched the Giants play a spring training game. It was a good combo. The brew was tasty and the baseball was fun. And the Giants won. Elevenses Ale taught me to plan my hops a little better. The big earthy flavors of the Northern Brewer hops are best suited to a sweeter, more robust beer. This beer was supposed to have some crisp spiciness in the malt but it got a little overwhelmed by the hops. It was still good, just a little out of focus. I'll have to try some more rye malt in future batches.

There's still plenty of stout left. I plan to have some for Matt Cain's exhibition game tomorrow. Recently I had three other homebrewed stouts. Tommy-O, Steven Otto, and Mancy & Her Bitch all cooked up stouts for St. Patrick's Day. All were excellent and it was joyous to share the fruits of our labors. Homebrewing is a wonderful endeavor. You should try it. My final word on the stouts? Steven Otto's magically chocolate-y stout was my favorite. But Tommy-O's dry stout was mighty fine, and he did a brilliant job with his pupils (M&HB) and their outstanding first effort (more time in the fridge on the next batch, though). I'll be back with my thoughts on my version of a 2011 SP stout in another post.

a.d. VI Kal. Apr.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Stout goes to the keg

Beer number 175 fermented out rather quickly and finished at a surprising 1.010, a little lower than I anticipated. Perhaps these first-runnings brews are richer in fermentables than I expected. Regardless, it looked and smelled great. I put the beer into two 2-1/2 gallon stainless steel kegs with 50 grams of corn sugar each. I expect to condition them for about two weeks. The closet is usually around 64 ºF (it varies from 62 to 66 ºF) and that should be just about right.

It is going to be a marvelous brew for St. Patrick's Day. I can't wait to taste the chocolate rye malt!

Today is the Ides of February (Idus Febrarius).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Elevenses Ale: status report

I was unenthusiastic about batch number 174, Elevenses Ale. The rye flavor didn't really come through--I need to use more next time. The earthiness of the Northern Brewer hops was overpowering and I couldn't get a sense of the beer. So, I gave it a little more time. We drew off and dove into a couple of pints each tonight. The hop flavors are still strong and distinctive, but they've softened enough to let the malt speak. There's a light sweetness and easy dry finish there and it's coming to the fore as the beer ages. I believe strongly that what homebrew needs, other than a fanatical devotion to cleanliness, is TIME. Wait. Be patient. Relax. The longer the beer spends in a dark, cool place, the better. Beer ages beautifully in the bottle and the keg. If your home-cooked batch is a little rough around the ages, just give it another week and it will improve markedly. I did that with Elevenses Ale and it has matured into a lovely beer.

a.d. V Id. Feb.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Brew Day: Stout for St. Patrick

I missed the Stupor Bowl. I spent the day brewing. It was a clear, warm, sunny day, odd for February around here, but welcome nonetheless. It all worked out as planned, and I got over 5 gallons of nice, clean-looking wort with an original gravity of 1.052 (13 ºP). I used TWO packs of Safale-04 instead of one and I hope I can rack this beer before the week is out.

This is going to be a very delicious and refreshing stout. I can't wait for St. Patrick's Day!!

a.d. VIII Id. Feb.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Stout: MMXI

I ran my last 18 lbs. of 2-row malt through the mill today in anticipation of a no-sparge brew tomorrow. I'm also going to make a tea of steeped dark grains: 1 pound of dehusked Carafa II, 1 pound of chocolate rye, and 1/2 pound of black patent. This I'll do in the brew kettle with a couple of gallons of liquor while the mash is cooking. I'll throw in a pound of flaked barley as well and then take the first runnings only. We'll see what we come up with after dilution to the full 28-L brew length. If it is a lower gravity brew I'll make a dry stout and if it is a higher gravity brew I'll make a sweet stout. How's that sound? I love making a stout for St. Patrick's Day!

Jeffrey Donovan at the The Pro-Mash website explains the finer points of "no-sparge" and "first-runnings" brewing:
No-sparge mashing is simply collecting the first running from the mash tun as opposed to sparging out the additional sugars . . . 'Pure' no-sparging is to simply take the first running when the mash is complete. 'Batch' sparging is to add an additional infusion of water at the end of the mash, but to sill not-sparge the mash in the traditional 'rinsing of the grains' fashion.
I usually batch sparge because I can still taste the sweet sugars in the malt after taking the first runnings. I have to decide to let that go this time and simply blend whatever I get with the black liquor I make it the kettle. When I top it off I will know the expected gravity and decide on the hops. I think I'll stick with the high-alpha Admiral variety that I've used before. I want a grain flavor, with just enough hops to balance the malt. I don't want to taste the hops so much as notice the clean bitterness. It is a tough thing to get right. Sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday.

Non. Feb.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


One-hundred seventy-four batches of beer I've brewed, the last one on New Year's Eve. Elevenses Ale went to the keg today and will spend ten days conditioning in the main fermenting room. (That's the hall closet here at French Street Brewery.) It finished at 1.008 or 2 ºP which tells me the beer will be about 5% abv, which I can live with. I like beer at four to four-and-one-half percent alcohol by volume, somewhere between a British session beer and a mild American pale ale. Elevenses Ale was a bit of a seat-of-the-pants thing, and I expected it to finish a little higher. It was a good day to be creative--2010 was a great year. Who knows what the new beer--no. 174--will taste like? Who knows what 2011 will bring?

Can't wait to find out.

a.d. V Id. Feb.