July 30, 2014

Lying Scorpion Hatch Chile Blonde/Pale Ale Tasting Notes (Brew 2)

I'm a bit late on the tasting notes for this beer since I brewed it back in August last year. Thankfully, the beer really holds up well over time with the hatch chile flavor staying nice and vibrant. These notes are from much earlier tastings that I just never got around to typing up.

Appearance: Nice copper color in the pale ale range. Relatively clear with minimal haze. Tight white head lingers for a reasonable amount of time. Overall, a fairly typical appearance for a pale ale. I don't know why I refer to this beer as a blonde since it is very much a pale ale.

Aroma: Hatch chile aroma is very evident. Vegetal but not offensive. Clearly a pepper aroma rather than the cooked corn-like vegetal aroma/flavor you get from a flaw. Hints of caramel, bread/toast and subtle fruity notes.

Flavor: Hatch chile flavor hits in the front with a distinct flavor profile. Slight roast note from the roasted peppers. Grainy, sweet pale malt flavor comes through with caramel and a noticeable sweetness. Fruit esters appear just slightly in the finish with an equal minimal hit of heat. The beer is a little too sweet. Not quite cloying, just a few gravity points too high.

Mouthfeel: Slightly too full for a pale ale. Otherwise, pretty typical for a pale ale. Easy drinking without any serious heat from the chiles.

Overall: This is one of the fan favorites among my homebrew. The hatch chile flavor comes through perfectly. S04 was the wrong yeast choice here because it left the beer less attenuated than I had desired. I am also still using my old recipe which uses carapils and entirely too much at that. In the future I will probably rework the grain bill to a more simplistic pale ale or even try to drag it more into a blonde by using pilsner malt as a base. After a few months the sweetness mellowed which helped give the beer a slightly drier feel.
July 22, 2014

NYE Saison Recipe & Brewday

Last year my wife and I spent New Years Eve with a group of friends who are nice folks but not the beer geeks that we are. Nonetheless, we decided it was a good time to break open our three liter bottle of Chimay Gran Reserve from 2010. Not only was it hilarious to pour but it was fantastic. That beer ages brilliantly. This group is primarily a wine and liquor group but we are slowly teaching them to love good beer. I decided for this NYE I wanted to pop open some homebrew and a wine-like saison would be a good crossover beer with some gentle oak notes and a little chardonnay from some oak cubes I have been aging on chardonnay for a few months. I am brewing the beer now so it will have some aged character to it. Saisons age well, especially when they do not rely too heavily on hops. Hops tend to fade and sometimes that can fade into a bland or unpleasant flavor. We recently opened a three year old bottle of Ommegang Hennepin that we kept forgetting to open and it was unexpectedly pleasant. All of that in mind, this beer will get some dry hops before going into the bottle.

The vision is of a beer with some noticeable oak and Chardonnay character mixed into the fruit/spice yeast profile with the fruity esters and wine flavors balancing the dryness of the beer with some grassy/spicy/citrus hop character laid over it. A mix of forest and wine country. A good beer all around but a fine opportunity to present a beer that will appeal to other kinds of drinkers. The recipe is one part inspiration from Firestone Walker's Lil Opal and one part using up leftover ingredients I already owned. Like Lil Opal, it is primarily based on pilsner and a mix of malted and unmalted wheat but I am going for a more complex hop flavor with a mix of newer European hops that offer an interesting take on the traditional noble character. These kind of leftover beers are nice when brewing on a small scale because it's cheaper to buy grain by the pound than the ounce which results in a library of several ounces of various grain that beg for use. By keeping around some excess base malt I can sneak in a spare beer here and there at a very low cost since I am saving money by buying grain by the pound. I've wanted to do a saison with some chardonnay character for a while, so all in all this beer is a great excuse to accomplish several goals. Let's get to it.

NYE Saison Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 8.5%
Est. OG: 1.079
Est. FG: 1.015
SRM: 5.2
IBU: 38

The Mash

RO water used for mash and sparge.

Single infusion mash of 3.91qt at 155.2F for 145F rest for 60 minutes.
Decoct 0.80 qt and bring to boil. Return to mash for 156F rest for 30 minutes.
Batch sparge with 1 gallon of water at 180F. Mash PH: 5.4

Mash water additions:

Gypsum: 0.4g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g

Sparge water additions:

Gypsum: 0.5g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g
Lactic acid: 0.5ml

The Grain Bill

72.4% 2 lb. 3 oz. Belgian Pilsner malt (2 SRM)
10.6% 5 oz. German Pilsner malt (2 SRM)
8.3% 4 oz. Wheat malt (2 SRM)
4.3% 2 oz. Unmalted wheat (1.6 SRM)
4.3% 2 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM)

The Boil

90 minute boil

0.17 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes (35.4 IBU)
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 10 minutes (2.6 IBU)
0.15 oz. Opal [6.5%] at 0 minutes (0 IBU)

The Fermentation

Fermented with 0.7 package of 3711. Pitch at 70F and free rise to 85F. Hold until fermentation ends. Add 0.25 oz. medium oak cubes soaked in chardonnay. Age until November. Dry hop with 0.10 oz. Celeia and 0.15 oz. Aurora. Bottle to 3.0 volumes CO2.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7/22/14
First runnings: 1.082
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.8 gallons
Mash efficiency: 77.6%
Post-boil volume: 1 gallon
Post-boil gravity: 1.080
Efficiency: 72.6%

Pitched 1/3 smack pack of 3711 at 75F. Held temp at 75F for 16 hours then free rise to 85F for remainder of fermentation.

Final gravity reading 8/3/14: 1.011. 86% Attenuation. Fruity and spicy, as expected. Hops and yeast come through clearly. Nice distinct flavor profile. Excited to see how this one ages out. Plan on adding oak in 1-2 weeks.

9/10/14: Added approximately two ounces of chardonnay that has soaked on medium oak chips for eighteen months. Beer is delicious and clear. Chardonnay is extremely oaky so it should dilute well. Will retaste at bottling in early November to see if it needs more wine.

11/22/14: Bottled without dry hopping. Wine flavor is nicely integrated. Complex fruity flavor over grainy malt. Decided beer was sufficiently complex to skip dry hopping. Reminded me of River North's chardonnay barrel aged J. Marie saison. FG: 1.007 and apparent attenuation 91.25%. (Certain wine played a role in the FG but not sure how much.) ABV at 9.4%.
July 14, 2014

Bottling Bucket for Small Batches

One problem that has vexed me for some time is trying to bottle out of the standard 7.9 gallon bottling bucket with small batches. When you're bottling as little as one gallon of beer it's easy to end up losing 5-10% of the batch to the bottling bucket if you aren't carefully tipping the bucket and try to work as much of the beer into the bottles as you can without oxidizing the beer by splashing it around. Giving up 5-10 ounces to the bucket is no big deal with a five gallon batch where you are talking 1-2% of the whole batch. However, when you're pulling eight to ten bottles in an entire batch then losing 5-10 ounces often means losing an entire bottle of beer.

Two challenges created by the typical bottling bucket are the size of the bucket and the typical placement of the spout hole. The size of the bucket means the beer awaiting packaging ends up in a wide and shallow shape. The need to start tipping the bucket towards the spout while bottling starts early in the bottling run which means you're trying to balance the bucket and fill bottles. That creates a lot of opportunity for the bucket to rock back and forth and oxidize the beer. Not good. The spout is usually placed roughly two inches from the bottom of the bucket, which means as you tip the bucket forward you create dead space where the beer gets trapped in the bottom of the bucket beneath the hole in the back of the spout.

My solution was to obtain a smaller bucket and convert it into a bottling bucket for small batches of homebrew. Honestly, I have no idea why I didn't do this before. The bucket I chose was this two gallon white paint bucket from Home Depot. (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leaktite-2-gal-Bucket-2GL-WHITE-PAIL/202264039) I believe this particular bucket is not designed with a lid that can be reused (like most paint buckets) so it may not be a great option for a fermentor. I don't need a lid for bottling so it isn't a problem. It is HDPE #2 so it is food grade. (If you are looking for a bucket to use as a small batch fermentation vessel, there are good food grade buckets available from restaurants, bakeries, etc. that have resealing lids.)

Converting the bucket to a bottling bucket is really simple work. Just drill a hole. I drilled the bucket to fit the standard bottling bucket spout. To drill the hole I used a one inch spade bit. A couple of pieces of advice. First, make sure you secure the bucket before drilling. The spade bit will vibrate the plastic and try to twist the bucket. That will cause a larger hole than what you want. Also, if your drill has adjustable torque you need to adjust the torque down so the bit doesn't dig into the plastic so hard it cracks or rips the plastic. Once the hole was drilled I filed off some loose pieces and smoothed out the exterior of the hole with some fine grit sandpaper to make sure the spout forms a tight seal.

I set the middle of the hole at one and a half inches above the bottom of the bucket, which gives me enough clearance to set the bucket on the counter with the spout turned upright and the bucket can sit even while filing. You want to make sure you give yourself enough room on the inside to be able to turn the nut to completely seal the bucket. If you drill too low you may find yourself digging into the plastic to tighten the nut, which damages the smooth surface you want on the plastic. 

The hole doesn't have to be perfect and it probably won't be because the plastic on these buckets is more pliable than your typical bottling bucket and that makes drilling a perfect circle more challenging. All you need is a hole big enough for the back of the spout to fit but small enough that it forms a watertight seal. I put some colored paper in the bucket against the hole so you can see that I didn't do a perfect job. It seals just fine.

Then I used a measuring cup to add water and did a rough job of marking it off in 32oz. intervals. I measured after drilling with the spout attached because the spout will hold a little liquid and I only need to know the volumes with a spout attached. Pretty obvious. The bucket holds a little over two full gallons.

There you go. A really easy build. I know, it's not the awesome work some of you guys and gals do on your brewing systems but for those of us who are not technically capable this is an easy fix to a problem that had annoyed me for a while.

July 7, 2014

Proposed BJCP Updates

At the National Homebrewers Conference this year, Gordon Strong announced a major upcoming revision to the BJCP Style Guide. The revision will be the first since 2008. Over the past six years we have seen the explosion of IPA and its variants, two waves of saison trends, the year of imperialization of everything, barrel aged everything, the year of Belgian yeast in everything, and several other trends. Undoubtedly the world of craft beer has expanded over that time period as much as it will likely expand in the next six years. In light of all those trends, we were long overdue for an overhaul. The 2014 BJCP overhaul includes an expansion of the number of styles, revisions and clarifications of style identifications, reorganization of styles and updates of archetypical examples of each style. The new guidelines offer over 100 beer classifications (plus mead and cider) with considerable expansion in the IPA department.

I have mixed thoughts about the overhaul. There are some changes I like and some I really dislike. BJCP has opened up the proposed draft for commentary on the BJCP forum (www.bjcp.org) where you can also find a copy of the proposed draft (you must log in to the forum to view). I would encourage people to voice their opinions although it seems like a foregone conclusion that the basic structure of the guidelines will remain as is and the general defense seems to be that any problems can just be judged around. So I thought I would open up another avenue for my opinion by posting it here. Feel free to tell me if I'm being a jerk or wrong.

Positives of the 2014 BJCP Revisions

Recognition that BJCP guidelines are used globally: BJCP guidelines have been used for homebrewing competitions around the world for several years in spite of the current guidelines' focus on American brewing and beers widely available to Americans. The new guidelines are more expansive and incorporate a slightly expanded set of brewing regions and styles but where this recognition really shines is opening up the descriptions of the styles beyond narrow American interpretations.

Expanded style definitions: The explanation of each style is beefed up over the current version and it is organized more closely with the format of the BJCP judging form. Importantly, the style definitions are more broadly defined which allows brewers greater justification for recipe variations with less fear of penalty for brewing to taste rather than a seemingly arbitrary paragraph of descriptors.

Improvement in accurate style definitions: The style definitions are also more accurate (but still include several inaccuracies) than they were in the past.

Recognition of both new and historical styles that are gaining popularity or are already popular: Styles like Gose reborn from the past and new(er) styles like wheatwine have received appropriate placement as independent styles that do not have to fight over the old specialty category for attention.

Specialty category expansion: The specialty categories have broken out various major subsets and new classifications like "experimental beer" and "mixed-style beer".

Recognition that IPA needs more space: In many competitions IPA receives several times the number of entries of other styles. Add to that the popularity of all the IPA variants and you have a style begging for more opportunity to expand out and give better opportunities for good beers to receive respect.

Negatives of the 2014 BJCP Revisions

Guidelines written with the judges and competition organizers in mind: Wait, hear me out. The BJCP guidelines are naturally intended to allow judges to judge competitions with an agreed set of rules (no matter how right or wrong they are). However, we cannot ignore that participants design and submit beers based on the style guidelines as well. The defense often raised that judges can judge beyond the defects in the guidelines is true as long as one ignores that participants cannot do the same or hope that judges will judge in the way they want or that certain specialty styles will be included by the organizers. Dismissing criticism of the styles in a way that ignores the effects on competitors is, in my opinion, a huge mistake.

Superfluous style abound: While some of the style expansion makes a lot of sense, on the other hand many of the styles seem like splitting hairs where there is little meaningful division. For example, the English styles include golden ales (with an admission that these are bitters), three other bitters styles and English strong ales, which include ESBs and English pale ales. Why? Further, why is there a distinction between brown ales and English dark mild? Why three different Scottish styles? How does an English strong ale category include anything stronger in all other English categories? If it exists, why do we still need old ale? Why doesn't English barleywine fit in that category? Why American strong ales for beers that could easily go into an IPA, DIPA or American barleywine classification? IMO these are unnecessary divisions. Sure, for example, British homebrewers may take issue with their historical bitter divisions being consolidated but given that there is no serious distinction to the variants in the commercial market (historic or modern) it makes little sense to force homebrewers anywhere to try to sort it out.

The style expansion (and existing superfluous styles) recognizes the difficulty in trying to fit an amorphous world of beers into tight classifications that do not exist anywhere but in the classifications. However, instead of trying to craft an increasing number of classifications to fit everything into a home it could have been easier to group styles together in a single style grouping that pairs beers with similar attributes together.

Inconsistent approaches to styles: Some styles are given wide latitude while others are fit into tighter molds although in practice these approaches do not make sense. For example, IPA is turned into a nearly limitless classification while saison is dumped into one category with a limited description although it is a style with vast expanse. (Given the growing popularity of the style it would have made sense to give saison the same treatment as IPA.) Some brewing regions receive careful division of each of their popular styles while others have all their beers lumped together. Moreover, some classifications rely more heavily on identification by location or attributes while other classifications, such as American Wild Ales, focuses more on brewing technique than particular attributes in the final product or use of particular ingredients. I am not opposed to the focus on brewing technique. I actually think those broader categorizations would make judging similar beers easier and more friendly to both brewer and judge.

Inconsistent approaches to different brewing regions: Major brewing regions, like England and Germany, receive a large number of styles. As do Belgium and the US. However, while we see Czech beers recognized in the new guidelines, other areas like Scandinavian countries receive little to no recognition. Australian and New Zealand brewers get to savor their local equivalent to English golden ales while their craft styles are left out.

Some specific examples of these issues:

  • English styles over-divided: I mentioned this above but there is little reason why three different bitter styles continue to exist when there is so little distinction between them in commercial practice or any historical meaning. Reduce English golden ales and ordinary bitters in one style and best bitters and strong bitters could fit together under one style classification. Wrap old ale into the English strong ales classification. 
  • Scottish styles over-divided: For a nation with a brewing history that largely emulates British brewing, it makes very little sense to dedicate four styles to them, especially when three of them are basically repeats of the same description with slightly higher gravity. The three Scottish ale classifications could be reduced to a single classification. At very least, there is little reason to force three different classifications for some nod to history when the descriptions are so identical. It reads like the authors couldn't distinguish any significant difference beyond alcohol but Gordon Strong was convinced to use three classifications by Ron Patterson. Not a particularly meaningful justification for the surplusage.
  • Czech styles...is there a need?: Certainly some Czech styles are distinguishable from German styles--particularly pilsner--but the amber and dark styles are so close to the German styles that it seems like a single continental dark lager classification could have accomplished twice as many classifications. That doesn't mean Czech styles are not relevant or quality styles but when two regions brew nearly identical beers it makes little sense to try to draw a fine line between the two where the same fine distinctions are not made in other classifications. 
  • Kellerbier style arbitrarily classified: I am obviously a fan of the kellerbier style, considering I have one lagering right now, but I am not sure it makes sense to give it a classification. One problem, identified in the style guidelines, is that the beer is a beer that rarely leaves the brewery's local area and when it does it often loses the qualities that make it a unique beer. That makes it difficult for judges to understand the style and for homebrewers to gain a sense of what beers in that style should express. That is disadvantageous to both sides. Additionally, the Czech pilsner classification identifies this kind of unfiltered pilsner as a part of the Czech pils classification rather than a kellerbier, suggesting that only German lagers should be entered as kellerbier. Easy fix here is to identify in the Czech pilsner description that unfiltered versions should be entered as kellerbier. Also, I also wonder whether this classification will be used as a way to gain an advantage in the guidelines for those of us who bottle condition and have a harder time producing brilliantly bright beer. Since kellerbier is unfiltered it can be slightly hazy so any lager that fails to drop bright can be entered as a kellerbier instead of the regular style. 
Messy Belgian classification: I already mentioned that I think the saison classification is too limiting but I also think it is misclassified in its overall classification. Setting low ABV saisons against big BDSAs within the abbey classification makes little sense. It's not a good grouping because people who like saisons are not always the biggest fans of the abbey/trappist styles and vice versa. It makes more sense to put together a classification with biere de garde, saison and witbier. Each have a rustic character and history that make them a good grouping. Maybe biere de garde could fit with the abbey/trappist styles but saison and witbier are definitely different beers from the other more refined Belgian styles. 

Some of this is a matter of opinion but I suspect after a few years we will find the style guidelines needing a retooling over several of these issues in addition to whatever changes are necessary due to the inevitable shifts in styles. What are your thoughts?