What’s Brewing (Haha, See What I Did There?)

Long time no thing. Yeah, I know. Get over it.

Despite not actively brewing recently, I’ve been fairly busy with beer-related activities (not to mention the usual hodgepodge of less important work-related and life-related activities). I’ll run through them in reverse-chronological order, because that’s how my brain functions.

Yesterday (6/18) – On account of our fearless leaders being too hungover from the National Homebrewers’ Conference busy with important life matters, the Mashholes homebrew meeting was cancelled. A few of the guys decided to do an impromptu get-together at Union Brewhouse in Weymouth. It was my first time there and it is a pretty solid joint with a great beer selection and good food. Parking was a little confined and I may have backed into a pole attempting a 97-point turn, but overall solid. Lots of good talk about beer, brewing, kegging and potential ideas for the club.

Also Yesterday – The beer style for the first ever Mashholes Homebrew Competition was announced, and it is the noble Pale Ale. I have yet to brew a pale ale not of Indian descent, so I think this will be a cool, straight-forward style that I’m looking forward to brewing. The competition is intra-club, so it’ll be exciting to see the different variations that people brew. Really excited about this.

Saturday (6/14) - I went over to my friend Shaun’s place to “help” him brew a Citra Pale Ale. He brought this to one of the homebrew club meetings and it is probably one of the better homebrews I’ve ever had. I mostly watched and drank his beers, but it was really insightful to see how someone else brews and where our processes/equipment differ. I ended up heading to a BBQ after that and ended up at Porter Cafe (my favorite beer bar in West Roxbury) and ran into my little brother and another brewing buddy, Joe. Joe and I talked about Wheatfest, which is a homebrew event hosted by our mutual friend Keith focused on wheat-related beers. Wheatfest is this Saturday (6/21) and I’ll be bringing R’lyeh.

Friday (6/13) – My new chest freezers arrived. One is going to be a fermentation chamber (5cu ft) and the other is going to be converted into a keezer (kegerator/freezer, 7cu ft). I’m planning to draft up the plans tonight or tomorrow and start getting the materials and parts together over the weekend. The builds probably won’t be done until end of July, so I’m using the 5ft freezer to keep some Omaha Steaks cold. I also had dinner with Matt (of Matt Brown Marzen fame) at Cagney’s in Quincy. I also went to Cagney’s with Greg on Tuesday (6/10); it’s a pretty cool spot that’s close to my house. The food is excellent and they have a decent beer selection, too. I had Be Hoppy on draft for the first time on Tuesday. Greg, true to stereotypes, had the Melonhead with a slice of watermelon.

And that about takes us back to the last brew club meeting, two weeks ago. I’ve got Bandito, R’lyeh, and Arctos in bottles now. All have been very well received. There’s some tweaks I’d make to each of them but I am excited for how well my beers are turning out now. The next brew will be that pale ale, and I’m thinking of busting out a secret ingredient for that…

 

Homebrew Review: Bandito

Oh shit, you guys. It’s that beer I never shut up about! Yes, the elusive IPA – a rarity into today’s craft beer market – has been my homebrewing white whale since my first failed attempts at the style (and its variants). It started with Suicide By Hops, an exercise in lupulin-based hubris. Completely foregoing any rational thought, I went straight for the double IPA style before even dabbling in its weaker (and therefore, inferior) namesake. I was reward with an uncarbonated and undrinkable liquid that I wouldn’t serve to my worst enemy (though I probably made my girlfriend taste it). Next I tried a black IPA, a style that is so well-defined and agreed upon that only a buffon could make a bad one… and thus Midnight In the Garden was born and subsequently withered on the vine.

It wasn’t until Cheeky Bastard that I first sniffed the citrusy, piney scent of potential success. And though Cheeky was a fragrant and full-bodied brew, it lacked the bitter oopf required of an IPA. And thus, the recipe and journey towards Bandito was embarked. So here we are…

Bandito 1So how is the mysterious, elusive Western brew? In the words of my friend Jamie “pretty freaking good.” But Jamie works for tips, so let’s take that with a grain of salt… then again, in the words of Matt (eponymous marzen fame) called it “really good. [H]oppy but not like “imma kick your tongue in its ass” kind of way.” Okay, 2 for 2. We can’t rely on Untappd for reliable results, since all the check-ins are mine. So I guess that leaves it up to me to analyze…

This beer was brewed and dry-hopped with a copious amount of Mosaic hops, which is said to have a distinctly “blueberry” quality. I don’t know if I agree with that assessment, but it does impart a unique, fruity quality in both smell and taste. You’d recognize the Bandito when it walked into  the room; the aroma is strong, pungent even, with that distinctly Mosaic stonefruit/tropical fruit/blueberry aroma, backed by an ample dry-hopping of Simcoe and Cascade that supports the fruity, citrusy character without completely dominating the resiny tinge. The malts, however, are fully dominated in aroma.

But not necessarily in taste. The hops are Bandito‘s flash but the malts temper that just the right amount to provide balance. This beer is bitter – 83 IBUs – but it doesn’t scorch your tongue. The flavor profile follows the aroma nicely, that distinct Mosaic mix of fruits leading the way. I kept it consistent with Simcoe and in the flavor/aroma additions, but used Nugget for the bittering phase. I am very happy with Nugget’s ability to give a nice “rounded” bitterness that lingers, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The malts provide a vehicle for the hops, and that’s it. There’s no sweetness to this beer except in the hops’ fruitiness.

The finish is just dry enough to encourage the next step, but leaves that hint of bitterness of the tongue that let’s you know it was there. The mouthfeel is what you would expect from an IPA, but is a tad too slick and light for my preference. I want something a little chewier without being too sweet. The beer came out hazy, which is to be expected from the extensive double dry-hopping, but still a nice burnt orange color that is probably too dark for your usual IPA. The head is white-to-off-white and make of tiny bubbles. Not too much lacing on this one (it’s pretty quaffable so it doesn’t linger in the glass long).

So what’s the Final Verdict on Bandito?

I am happy with how this beer turned out, and that enthusiasm has been bolstered by the positives from everyone who has tried it. There are a few changes I would make, though. Firstly, I’d cut back on the Mosaic, or maybe sub it out entirely for Citra. Mosaic distinctness is not exactly in my wheelhouse for flavor. I think this beer does a very good job of showcasing Mosaic’s uniqueness without letting it get carried away, I think I would be better suited with a different hop at center stage. I also want to tool around with the yeast a bit. I get the feeling that this beer will  never be brilliantly clear, so I want to try to achieve that elusive Heady-Topper-esque mouthfeel that is simultaneously creamy and dry. I have a few yeasts I want to play around with to get closer to that style. I also think I might but the Crystal 40L just a touch to get a bit more sweetness. Unfortunately that’ll only serve to make Bandito darker, but I’m not worried too much about the color. Overall, though, I think this is one of the better beers I’ve made  to date.

The recipe for Bandito can be found here, along with all my other recipes.

 

Gone Clubbin’

Short post tonight.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d have news regarding a new homebrew club. I am happy to report that I am a proud member of the Metro South Homebrew League (aka the “MaSH Holes”) based south of Boston, MA.

We had our kick-off meeting on May 7th and our follow-up last night (May 21st). We’ve elected our officers and are getting ready to make it official with the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). It’s been a pretty exciting first few weeks, and I’m fight the urge to get over-zealous about it. I brought the Matt Brown Marzen and the Bandito IPA to the meetings and both were (surprisingly) well-received. Our group has a great mix of experienced and inexperienced brewers as well as extract/all-grain/brew-in-a-bag.

We also started talking about doing something for the New England Homebrew Jamboree, but we’ll have to see how things work out with that. I’m absolutely thrilled about all this. I’ve already started mapping out my next homebrew purchases (oh God, so expensive). I couldn’t be more excited.

Beer Recipe Creation: How I Do It

A lot of you have been asking (i.e. someone might have asked once, maybe) how I go about creating recipes for the beers I brew. I don’t think it is a particularly involved process, which is great because I’m lazy and that makes it pretty straightforward to write. Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Style

My first step is determining what type/style of beer I want to brew. This is largely influenced by the weather; I love stouts, porters, scotch ales and barleywines, but when it’s over 90*F and the humidity is at 120% I don’t want to be drinking them. Since beer usually takes about a month from grain to glass (at its shortest) I have to think about a month out. Foresight and fore-planning aren’t my strong suit which is why I had pumpkin beers at Thanksgiving and Christmas beers for Valentine’s Day.

Either I have a particular style already in mind, or I think about the types of beers I like to drink. That’s the more interesting/fun approach. For example, I had Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale at jm Curley’s in downtown Boston a few months ago. I then bought a sixer of it from the Craft Beer Cellar in Braintree because it reminded me of how much I like brown ales. Ultimately, I ended up making a brown ale earlier this week (despite the fact that it’s probably not in my Top 10 Styles I’ll Want to Drink in June).

2. The Basics

This is where I cheat do some serious research. Being a child of the Internet, my favorites folder is filled with stupid memes, pictures of naked people, and (relevant for this post) a whole bunch of websites/articles containing different homebrew recipes. I also have the very useful Brewing Classic Styles book by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer. That book is usually my first stop to get an idea of what the style markers are. These are notes like ‘it should have a subtle caramel flavor,’ ‘little to no hop aroma,’ or ‘light mouthfeel.’ This gives me an idea of what the style is supposed to taste/feel/smell/look like… as a baseline.

3. Common Parts

Since I have all these various recipes at my disposal, I next look at the common parts. A perfect example is the hoppy wheat ale – R’lyeh – that I brewed recently. In looking for hoppy wheat ales, I came across two well-regarded beers that I haven’t tried before: Three Floyd’s Gumballhead and Modern Times’ Fortunate Islands. I looked up a clone recipe for Gumballhead and went to the Mad Fermentologist for Fortunate Islands. I noticed they have very similar malt bills: About 50-60% wheat malt, 30-35% US 2-Row and 5-10% of some caramel/crystal malt. Given that these are well regarded beers, I figured that this made sense as a baseline malt bill for my beer.

4a. Customization

One aspect I almost never steal borrow from a recipe is the hop bill. Hops are the big sexy thing in beer ingredients these days (my money is you’ll start hearing show-off nerds asking bartenders about “water profiles” next), largely because they can have such an impact on the flavor and aroma of the beer, and obviously on the bitterness/sweetness as well. I vary my hop bill for two reasons: personal taste and hop availability. I’m often limited to what is available at my local homebrew store, and if they just sold out of Citra and my recipe called for Citra… well now my recipe has to call for something else (in the case on the Bandito IPA that something else was a metric fuckton of Mosaic).

But outside of the hops, I will also take some liberties with the malt bill components (usually I’ll sub in Maris Otter, my favorite malt) or the yeast strain (Cheeky Bastard was made with Heady Topper’s Conan yeast… because I had some). For the brown ale I made on Tuesday – named Arctos after the Latin species name for a brown bear Ursus Arctos, because it’s a brown beer, you see, and I’m a Bruins fan and no I don’t want to talk about it – I took the common parts from a few American Brown Ale recipes, subbed in Maris Otter for the base malt (10 pounds of it) and replaced the yeast with Denny’s Favorite (WY1450), which is supposed to give the beer a creamier mouthfeel.

4b. Personalization

I love sharing my beer with, well, anyone brave enough to drink it. But if we’re being honest, the person who ends up drinking the majority of any batch is me. This is why the Customization step is very much tailored to my personal preferences. For example, most brown ales are supposed to be smooth but relatively light, but I like my beers with fuller bodies and a lot more of a creamy texture (don’t). That’s why I subbed in the Denny’s yeast, and I also love the nutty, biscuity flavor of Maris Otter so I made sure to have a good amount of that in the malt bill.

5. If It Fits Your Macros

I stole this term from the diet industry, and I like it even though it is not applicable at all. What I do here is I take my ingredients and plug them into some brewing software. I use BrewToad because it’s quick, easy, clean and free (I’m cheap).  BrewToad will tell me if my combination of ingredients fits within a selected style. It will also help me estimate my possible alcohol content, and will help with some mash water calculations and recipe scaling. I also log my brews using their Brew Log feature so I have the data to go back to.

6. Tweaking – Part One

If I don’t like the way the beer’s stats are lining up, I will make small tweaks to the recipe. If it looks like I might have too much booze, I may raise the mash temperature or remove some of the base malt to compensate. Or if my IBUs are too low, I may add more hops at 60 minutes. And so on. After that’s dialed in, I go and buy my ingredients (and tweak again based on availability of the hops and malts) and perform the alchemy that ultimately results in beer.

7. Tweaking – Part Two

Beer’s done, and I’m usually the first person to taste the finished product. So how close did I get? Is it too bitter? Too astringent? Not creamy enough? The Homebrewer’s Curse is that no beer is ever perfect. But if I’m pretty close on a recipe I can take some notes, figure out what I like/don’t like and adjust the ingredients (or brewing style) accordingly. Usually I’ll edit the recipe directly or create a variant (Bandito is a Cheeky Bastard variant) for a rebrewing, and then basically repeat this process ad nauseum.

 

So that’s pretty much how I do it, with varying degrees of success. If you have any questions about the process, or want more details, let me know in the comments.

Beer Review: Banner’s Run to Equinox

I reviewed a Banner beer yesterday (actually both of these beers were reviewed Thursday, but I’m time-travelling via the magic of the Internet and virgin sacrifice). Today I’ve got another that I picked up at my local. Today’s beer is Banner’s Run to Equinox, a hoppy brown ale.

Banner Equinox 1

Run to Equinox is another sessionable beer, weighing in at 4.2% ABV and again, I am thoroughly impressed with the flavor density (a term I just made up) in this beer. First off though, this is another good looking beer. Mostly clear, but particularly bright for a brown ale, I’d call this a toasted brown color that’s much more translucent than a lot of brown ales I’m used to. It a thin white head that leaves some decent lacing on my pint glass. Aroma-wise I don’t get a ton of hop notes (in fairness this beer was canned on 2/20/14, so some of that may have dissipated), but I do get a nice nutty, toasty malt smell. It has that “brown ale” aroma note that I can’t quite name, but regardless it’s a nice smell. Taste-wise this is a really solid brown ale. Unfortunately, I don’t get too much of the “hoppy” in this “hoppy brown ale.” Biscuity and nutty with hints of caramel and toffee. A nice full-body on this beer too, with a silky mouthfeel. But not sweet; there are hops here for bitterness that helps balance this beer out but nothing I would call hoppy. It’d guess the hops are of the earthy, spicy, floral variety

Final Verdict: As far as brown ales go, I really like Run to Equinox. Brown ales are one of my favorite – and I feel under-appreciated – styles. This is a really strong example, and not one that goes overboard with body, booze or hops. I really easy drinking brown ale that I can recommend pretty easily.

Banner Equinox 3

Beer Review: Banner American Ale

Note: Another version of this review was posted but seems to have disappeared from the site.

When you say “I could really use a beer,” what is it about the beer that you’re looking for? Is it a particular type of beer? A particular flavor? Or just the idea of the beer? Beer means so many different things to so many different people, yet it seems like a universal sentiment to say “I could really use a beer.”

I bring this up because I personally, and loudly, just uttered those words. The beer I reached for was Banner’s American Ale. Banner’s name, label and whole ethos lacks any of complexity-cum-pretentiousness that craft beer has become known for (rightly and wrongly depending on the beer/brewer/voice in question).

Banner AA 1

This American Ale is a paltry 3.4% ABV, making it more sessionable than mostsession beers. That said, the flavor on this beer is more potent than what I’m used to from beer’s twice its weight; not really, unless that beer is Bud Light Platinum, but this is a very robust flavor for such a light beer. The aroma and flavor are both malt-forward without being sweet (there are notes of caramel as well). There’s a biscuity/bready character to the smell and taste that is pleasant and inviting. But the malts are not alone; the there is a spicy hop character to this beer as well that balances out the malts with a firm, if light, bitterness. You will not mistake this beer for a red IPA, but that’s a good thing.

It’s a pretty beer, with a amber color that is fairly bright and clear for what I’m assuming is an unfiltered ale. Carbonation is good, with a thin white head that didn’t leave much lacing on my pint glass. The mouthfeel is light without being watery.

Final Verdict:  I really like this as a session beer. I am amazed that a beer this light can have such a strong flavor. The flavor isn’t complex, but you don’t always want that in a beer, especially one you plan to drink 6 of (I only have the one, but I wouldn’t see an issue putting down a bunch of these). This is an excellent summer/”lawn-mower” beer. It’s a beer I’d recommend to most folks, especially to the Bud/Miller/Coors crowd who like a light beer, but might want a little (a lot!) more flavor.

Banner AA 3

(Session) Beer Review: Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack

Session IPAs are all the rage these days. I’m guessing this is partially due to the fact that American breweries went so far towards high flavor/high ABV/high price, but also because American consumers are still obsessed with hops and IPAs.

The good news is that the style (which in some cases was just a regular old IPA back in 2006 when the BJCP ABV range for IPAs was 5-7.5%, but I digress) yields some pretty tasty beers. Among them are Stone’s Go-To IPA, Sam Adams’ Rebel IPA, Notch Brewing’s Left of the Dial, and today’s beer: Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack. Easy Jack is a session riff on Firestone’s Union Jack (which is one of the best IPAs out there). Given that I’ve never had a bad beer from Firestone Walker, I picked up a six pack and decided to try this new Jack.

A quick note about session beers: I heard somewhere – most likely from Chris at Notch – that you don’t really get the full flavor profile of a session beer until you’ve had a few of them. Assuming it was Chris that said it, that’s a helluva smart marketing ploy. Regardless of where I’ve heard it, my anecdotal evidence says that it is true. I tried it with Notch’s Left of the Dial (which isn’t called a session IPA, but it’s 4.3% so I’ll let someone else quibble over semantics). I tried one by itself and then a day later tried a few in a row. The first beer on the second day tasted like I remembered but as my palate acclimated to LotD I started to get a more pronounced taste for the different flavors in the beer.

“Cool story, bro. Why the sidenote?”

Because since this is a session beer I’m going to review this beer as a standalone first and then add some follow-up notes after I have two more. Since I’m drinking this during the Bruins game, I was planning on having a couple beers anyway (and swearing profusely at my television).  So let’s dive in…

Easy Jack 1

Appearance: Easy Jack  is exceptionally clear and bright with a light straw color and a fluffy white head that leaves heavy lacing. I’d say it’s one or two notches darker than a Bud/Miller/Coors.

Aroma: Very nice light hoppy smell, with hints of citrus. Maybe some floral character as well. Not too strong. If you tilt the glass too far and get some in your nose, like I just did, you also get a nice bready malt smell, too.

Taste: Nice and quaffable, a very light IPA without tasting “watered down.” Citrus and floral hop flavor and a solid light malt background with maybe a touch of caramel sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Surprisingly full-bodied for such a light looking beer. Very nice carbonation and very smooth.

Easy Jack 3

After two more Easy Jacks…

Appearance: Unsurprisingly, exactly the same.

Aroma: Largely the same; I don’t recall picking up any new scents. Possibly more citrus but I don’t think there was any change.

Taste: Okay, by the time I had the third Easy Jack I was noticing a much more pronounced citrus flavor, that was very strong on orange/tangerine with maybe a hint of mango as well. Much more dominant and flavorful than the first time around.

Mouthfeel: Again, unchanged. I really like the mouthfeel on this beer especially for a session.

 

FINAL VERDICT: I really enjoyed the Easy Jack (much more than the fucking Bruins game). I don’t think it is my favorite of the session IPAs; right now that is probably Stone’s Go To (though I’m still partial to Left of the Dial as well). I think this is right up there with the other beers I mentioned but there’s nothing about that leaps out as better than them. The only major difference is in the mouthfeel, which is surprisingly creamy for an IPA and even more so for a session beer. Really well done.