May 29, 2011


Ok, ok, not beer or brewing related, but I married the luckiest gal in the world on Friday. We were not able to arrange the reception to serve homebrew but it was still a great day. We are off to Cancun for a week for our honeymoon on Monday!
May 16, 2011

Brewing of an Oud Bruin part 7 -- the brown ale

It's about that time to make the brown ale. The sour-brett pale ale portion is now five months old so it's time to get the brown ale fermenting so I can stay on target to make this a six month brew and blend in June. I'm not sure how much the pale ale portion really needs the six months since time tends to have a negative effect on hop aroma and flavor so if I like this beer enough to brew it a second time I might cut it from six months to two or three months and see if there is any noticeable effect.

My original recipe for the brown ale included pale malt, munich, vienna, special B, caravienne and caramunich. As I was on my way to the homebrew shop after finishing my last final for the semester (hell yeah!) it occurred to me that I added the cara grains because they were used in some oud bruin and Flanders red recipes to make sure there is plenty of dextrins for the brett to eat. I don't need those dextrins since the brett won't get ahold of them. So I retooled the recipe to be a little more simplistic. It was a good thing I did since the homebrew shop I went to didn't have either cara grain. I did sub in some carapils to give the beer a little body since the pale ale portion is very thin. Not a necessity since oud bruins are often thinner beers but we'll see how it goes. I intend to mash a little lower than I would otherwise since the carapils will add some body. So here is the updated recipe:

4 gallon brown ale:

Grain bill:
3lb pale malt
2lb munich
1.75lb vienna
.5lb carapils
.25lb special B
2 oz black patent malt

60 min at 150

60 minute boil

Boil additions:
.75oz Fuggles at 60
.25oz Fuggles at 10
Irish moss at 10

WLP 575 for four weeks at 70

I added an ounce of black patent malt for coloring. I realized when I put the updated recipe in beersmith it was way too light. With the black patent it gets to 21 SRM which is still a bit light when the pale ale is mixed in but I think it will be ok. The downside is that the brown ale will come in at 7.44% ABV which is a bit high for the style but since I don't have to worry about alcohol inhibiting sourness it won't be a concern for the ABV to be a couple percentage points too high. In the future I might cut out a little pale malt to bring it down in ABV which would allow less black patent to be used.

Pre-boil the color is nice and brown, not as deep as I might want it to be, but better than without the black patent. I'm already thinking about additional alterations I may want to do in the next rendition. I may want to retool the brown ale as a lower ABV and darker beer. If it ends up not being a bretty as I want, I may also want to split the brown ale and ferment part on a Belgian yeast and then take the pale ale, siphon it off the trub and use the brett from the pale ale to ferment the rest. I think the esters from the Belgian yeasts are important to keep in the beer to lend complexity and fruity notes. Similarly, if it is not sour enough I may sour more of the pale ale or instead sour a small portion of the brown ale.
May 9, 2011

Making the case for session beers

Most homebrewers (myself included) seem to go through an evolutionary process. We start making some sort of session beer (usually a kit) and once we get a good grasp on the brewing process, we want to launch into making more extreme beers. High alcohol, high hops, bold flavors, adding fruit/vegetables/etc., making sours, etc. I know once I started making my own recipes I quickly went from making session beers to making big beers like tripels, larger saisons, etc. I think for most of us it's the attitude that we can make these impressive beers on the cheap and if you're going to spend the time and money to make a 5% beer you might as well make it 8%. That attitude is easily legitimized by the current focus on big Belgian beers and Imperial beers.

There comes a time when most homebrewers realize they are missing out on a lot of good beers they used to drink. Then they start making more session beers and less of the crazy but still delicious big beers and exotic beers. Looking at my recent brewing schedule, I can tell I've hit that session beer place. Personally I'm glad I did. I've been trying to lose a little weight and it's much more rewarding to get to drink multiple low alcohol beers on the weekend than one big beer. Fewer calories in a session beer means I can drink more for the same calories as one tripel.

Most beers do fall into the session range -- 3-5% alcohol. That covers lots of wheat beers (hefeweizen, dunkweizen, gose, witbiers, berliner weisse, American wheat, gratzer), most UK beer styles (most non-Imperial stouts, pale ales, bitters, ESBs, milds, scottish ales, red ale, some porters), several American styles (classic American pilsner, steam beer, American brown, American blond, ambers), Continental styles (pilsner, alt, saison, kolsch, bocks, Belgian blond, Belgian brown), several sours (lambic, oud bruin, some Flanders reds) and many other styles. That's actually most of the beer produced.

Traditionally session beers have been by far the most consumed and most produced. It has only been in recent times that the standard of living in industrialized countries has risen enough that we can afford to toss in the extra grains to make so many high alcohol beers. Beer traditionally was the drink of the working class, which meant they wanted something affordable and thirst-quenching. That often meant something low alcohol and light, rather than heavily malty or high in alcohol. That is not to say there is anything wrong with brewing or enjoying a bigger beer. I like them. I still brew them.

Given that there are so many session styles out there, there is no shame in being a homebrewer that makes a lighter beer. It does not have to be a Coors knock-off. A spicy kolsch or a hoppy American blond can be a great "lawnmower beer" without being boring. I would challenge people to say a solid gratzer or gueuze is not as interesting as an imperial stout. A nicely balanced bitter can go well with dinner or a Saturday night party. You are more likely to lure the uninitiated to expand their beer horizons with a session beer than your latest 80 IBU Imperial Pilsner with oak and brett and cherries and dry hopped with five types of hops.

Brewing session beers requires a lot more skills than you would think. While an 8% tripel can cover defects with the alcohol flavor or an IPA can cover up a little fusel alcohol with all the hops, in a session beer it's you, the ingredients, your processes and all the defects. A hefeweizen fermented too warm can go from a delicious beer to an undrinkable glass of bubblegum in a few degrees. A tasty brown ale can be thin and watery when mashed too low. Brew a session beer with low hops and a simple grain bill and all the defects in your brewing process will be apparent. Session beers give you an opportunity to brew good beer quickly and at low cost, but they also give you an opportunity to dial in your processes and expand them.

It's summer, it's a great time to get out there and brew something light to enjoy on those warm summer nights.

In addition to the two hefeweizens I have planned for the summer and the test run of a black ale recipe I have crafted -- all session beers -- my next big project is going to be crafting a light but interesting mild recipe that hopefully will work itself into a house beer.