To Reiterate: My Beer Sucks

I got some more scoresheets back from another competition I entered, and – like last time – they were not good. But honestly, I actually feel much better about this than after the previous competition, and I have couple reasons why.

The scores – a 23 and a 24 – are roughly the same as I received last time (23 and 24.5), but the feedback related to the IPA (The Howler) matched up pretty closely with my hypotheses about why these beers were tasting and scoring so poorly.

Oxidation – mainly from poor packaging – is something that came up in every judge’s review of every one of the four beers, if not by name than by description. I am a pretty big noob when it comes to packaging for competitions, so this seems like an obvious area for improvement. It’s also worth noting that I’ve been drinking The Howler from the keg for a couple weeks now and haven’t noted any of the off-flavors the judges picked out. What I have noticed are their other critiques:

  • Low/subdued aroma – I had an abbreviated dry-hop on this beer in order to package it for the competition
  • Low carbonation – the beer was rushed and wasn’t fully carbonated when packaged
  • Low hop flavor – something I’d noted myself for a next pass at this beer.

I entered these competitions with the hope of getting this kind of constructive feedback. I think proper packaging alone would be enough to add 6-8 points to the overall score and move it up into the “Very Good” range. It’s a beer I enjoy and plan to brew again, especially with some guidance on modifications to improve it.

Frankly, I should have been entering competitions much earlier in my homebrewing “career.” This sort of feedback is invaluable even if it hurts to read. So I’ve bookmarked some upcoming comps; let’s up we start seeing some higher scores.

Cheers.

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Brew Day: Fury of the Claymore

This is a cross-post from my primary blog. The original post is here. Original post date: 3/23/2018.


Big doings at the homebrewery today. Took a day off from work to brew a Scottish Export ale for an upcoming club competition, and transferred my red(ish) IPA to the keg.

Kicked off around 10am, mashed in a little before 11:30am. I decided to do a 75 minute mash, because I did an extended mash on my Red(ish) IPA (now called The Howler), and I hit my target pre-boil gravity on that one. I also let the sparge rest for 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, I still came in at 1.038 pre-boil gravity, despite a target of 1.042. And though I made water adjustments to lower the pH, I naturally forgot to measure the pH of the mash. Because I’m dumb.

I did anticipate missing my target pre-boil gravity, so I set this batch up for a 75 minute boil. I broke a little from traditional Scottish ales and bittered with Nugget and added a 10 minute addition of GR Hallertau because I didn’t want to buy an ounce of Fuggles or EK Golding.

The brew itself went pretty well; I hit my pre-boil target volume and ended up with right around the 6 gallons I was expecting with a original gravity (OG) of 1.053 – off the target OG of 1.054 by just a hair.

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I made a yeast starter with some light DME, yeast nutrient and Wyeast 1268 Scottish Ale yeast on the stir plate. This thing was COOKING by the time I pitched it into the wort. I’d chilled the work to under 60°F before adding the 1.6L starter (a little over 60°F). 60°F is my target fermentation temperature for this brew. Jim from the homebrew shop said that this yeast throws some nice esters at a low fermentation temp. (He also chastised my grain bill and my hop additions because he’s a purist and a big Scottish ale brewer) You can check out the full recipe here.

Fury of the Claymore recipe

Tomorrow The Howler gets a quick turnaround to the bottle for a competition; I’ll post an update at some point if my 24 hour carbonation actually works. And tomorrow is also pizza day.

Cheers.

Checking In On The Swinging Cowboy

Swinging Cowboy, Day 7

As I wrote last time, my Swinging Cowboy IPA was less than stellar on first taste. I also noted at the time that it wasn’t a fair comparison given the immaturity of the beer so close to its dry-hopping and carbonation. We’re now seven days removed from that last update, so how’s the Cowboy now?

In short: much better.

Aroma

I had complained about the grassy aroma wafting off this beer, three days from its last dry-hop charge. Today that grassy-ness has faded almost completely and has been replaced by a wallop of strong citrus character.

Appearance

As you can see from the photo above, I have very greasy fingerprints and a Megaman doll. You can a pretty fair representation of the beer’s color and clarity (or lack thereof). Without the bright light behind it, the beer is a shade or two more orange. Overall, this is what I was shooting for given the light grain bill and the NE IPA style I’d attached to it.

Flavor

This was the biggest area of improvement, and thank Crom for that. The vegetal, grassy flavor is almost completely gone, rounding into a nice smooth bitterness. It’s still there, but much less pronounced and I think by the time JAMBO rolls around next weekend it should be a distant memory. In its place, the bitterness I mentioned is still prevalent, but there’s a much stronger fruitiness. Mango, papaya, tangerine, all those expensive orange-colored fruits that Yuppie moms buy at Whole Foods. This isn’t near as fruity as your average Trillium brew, but it has a much stronger bitterness. Similar (but not comparable) to Heady Topper.

Mouthfeel

Still rich and full-for-an-IPA. Not quite as “juicy” as a Treehouse or Trillium; again I’d put it closer to the OG of NE IPA’s (Heady) in mouthfeel. Creamy, but not chewy. Right where I like it (that’s what she said).

Overall

Talk about a night-and-day difference. I may have accidentally (but happily) sped up the aging process due to a gas leak in the keg. The gas connecting post wouldn’t seal, so whenever I removed the gas line – say, to gas another keg – all of the CO2 escaped. This happened multiple times, most likely introducing oxygen. While normally this would be bad, it is my theory that this help scrub out the grassy and vegetal notes much faster. I can’t really run a test on it (I’m not the Brulosophy eggheads), because I’ve now fixed that leak and don’t know how much scrubbing is actually left.

Overall, I’m now MUCH happier with this beer and excited to serve it at JAMBO. There’s also an upcoming homebrew competition for IPAs that I might consider entering if there’s any leftovers.

Cheers!


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Side-by-Side IPA Comparison

Looking into this my chest freezer this fine Wednesday evening (what is it with me and Wednesdays?), I realized that I had two different kegs of IPA. The older of the two is Hustle and Swagger, an IPA brewed with the myriad of free hops I received at Homebrew Con 2016. The younger is a just-kegged, double-dry-hopped take on my old Eighty-Sixed recipe called Swinging Cowboy*. So I figured I try them out side-by-side and see what I like and dislike about each IPA. First, the recipes.

Swagger (left) and Cowboy (right)

Hustle & Swagger

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable
11.0 lb

Pilsner (US)

2.5 lb

Maris Otter Pale (UK)

2.0 lb

Munich – Light 10L (US)

0.5 lb

Munich – Dark 20L (US)

0.5 lb

Turbinado

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
2.0 oz Nugget (US) 60 min First Wort Pellet 14.3%
1.5 oz Chinook (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 12.0%
1.5 oz Centennial (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 10.5%
2.0 oz Cascade (US) 0 min Boil Pellet 7.0%
1.0 oz Equinox 0 min Boil Pellet 15.0%
2.0 oz Zythos (US) 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 11.0%
1.0 oz Equinox 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 15.0%
1.0 oz Pekko 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 13.0%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
Hansen Ale Blend White Labs 78.0%

Swinging Cowboy

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable
6.75 lb

Golden Promise (UK)

6.75 lb

Pilsner (US)

1.25 lb

Flaked Oats

0.75 lb

Turbinado

0.63 lb

Carapils (Dextrine Malt) (US)

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
1.25 oz Nugget (US) 60 min Boil Pellet 14.3%
1.5 oz Cascade (US) 30 min Boil Pellet 7.0%
1.1 oz Centennial (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 10.5%
2.0 oz Citra (US) 0 min Boil Pellet 13.7%
3.0 oz Citra (US) 4 days Dry Hop Pellet 13.7%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
Vermont Ale The Yeast Bay 78.5%

Another look.


Comparison

Miscellaneous

  • Hustle & Swagger is noticeably dark in color, though the calculated difference is only supposed to about about 1 SRM.
  • Both beers were dry-hopped, but Swinging Cowboy was double-dry hopped in the fermenter, while Hustle & Swagger was dry-hopped in the keg.
  • Neither beer is particularly clear and both contain some hop particles.

Aroma

  • Despite being brewed on 6/30, Hustle & Swagger still packs a noticeable hop aroma. That aroma is predominantly “green” and “dank.” This is probably from the multitude of different hops that went into this thing. There is a citrusy, sweet, fruit aroma on the back end. Almost like tropical fruit candy, but less artificial if that makes sense.
  • Only three days removed from its second dry-hop charge, Swinging Cowboy has a grassy nose. There’s underlying citrus in there behind it, but this smell a lot like lawn clippings (and not because I mowed the lawn today).
  • Winner: Hustle & Swagger, by a nose.

Appearance

  • As noted above, both beers are turpid with some small hop particles swirling. In Hustle & Swagger this is likely due to the hops still being in the keg. With Swinging Cowboy, the beer just finished carbing and hasn’t settled yet. This is the very first pour of the beer.
  • They are fairly similar, with SC being a shade lighter.
  • Winner: Draw

Flavor

  • Hustle and Swagger has mellowed nicely. This was originally one of the most bitter beers I’d brewed, but some of that has evened out. There’s still a nice bitterness but there’s more hop flavor coming across: some citrus, mango, and a hint of sweetness before a bitter finish. Not world-class, but pretty good.
  • Woah. Um… what’s going on with Swinging Cowboy? The flavor is a… not good. Vegetal, grassy. There’s hints of citrus buried underneath but this will need some time to clear up, much like the aroma.
  • Winner: Hustle & Swagger

Mouthfeel

  • Hustle & Swagger is a bit thin for what I was going for; I prefer the juicier, fuller New England-style bodies on my IPAs (actually on most styles). This is within range for an IPA, and not watery but not dry enough on the back-end for that West Coast bite.
  • In contrast, Swinging Cowboy is right where it should be. It feels substantial without being thick, viscous, or chewy. This is right in line with where I like my IPAs.
  • Winner: Swinging Cowboy

Overall

  • By the numbers, Hustle & Swagger is the clear winner, which is a bit of a disappointment.
  • Of course, this comparison isn’t exactly “fair” or “scientific.” Swagger is over a month old and Cowboy is fresh off the dry-hops.
  • That said, Swagger is the better beer right now, but I’m not sure Cowboy won’t surpass it in about a week or so.

Final Thoughts

Truth be told, I’m not sold on either of these beers. Hustle & Swagger is okay, but not up to snuff. I think the “kitchen sink” approach I took with this beer left it flawed and muddled. Still drinkable, but not worth attempting again. Swinging Cowboy on the other hand… I don’t know what to think of this beer right now. When I tasted the hydrometer sample it was a little off, and fully-carbed I’m not so sure what happened here.

Given the busy-ness of this summer, the rushed nature of both these brew days and the state of my brewing equipment (read: not properly cleaned), I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t significant flaws hiding behind all the hops in these beers. It’s hard for me to say. Much like my momma is blind to my many flaws, I have trouble nit-picking my own creations. I still have some hope that Cowboy will get better with a bit of age, but I think Swagger is as good as it’s going to get right now, which is a bit disappointing.

Lesson learned: I need to better prepare for my brew days and need to re-dedicate myself to mess of chemicals, tubing, fixtures, and kegs in my bathroom that need a thorough cleaning.

Cheers!

* The story behind “Swinging Cowboy” is a long one that I may regale you with after this year’s Homebrew Jamboree (aka JAMBO). 


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Mistakes 

If we learn from our mistakes, then I am well on my way to a PhD in homebrewing. 

I talked last time about Hustle and Swagger, a concept so dumb only I could think it up (and hope it would work). Unsurprisingly, this beer isn’t the greatest IPA to ever be brewed.

But, perhaps surprisingly, it isn’t the worst either.

I made two major mistakes with Hustle and Swagger. The first I somewhat expected but chose not to avoid, and the second I should’ve expected but didn’t. First, I threw way too many hops I was unfamiliar with into this beer. The result is a pretty muddled mess, but not undrinkable. There’s hints of the exotic citrus, fruit, melon and whatever-else flavors from the Zythos, Pekko, and Equinox hops, but none of them really shine through. In fact, they’re hindered by my second mistake.

My second mistake was dry-hopping in the keg. This, in and of itself, isn’t a mistake, but I used stainless steel tea infusion balls instead of muslin bags. This allowed a lot of the hop particles to escape into the beer and therefore into the glass. The result was a strongly bitter flavor with some green, grassy flavor notes. The bitterness and grassiness overpower the sweeter, fruitier flavors.

All that said, the beer isn’t a total bust. It has a strong, pleasant aroma that showcases more of the fruit and citrus than the grass. The bitterness becomes more subdued after the first few sips and more of the flavors start to appear. It’s also kind of a pretty beer:


Ironically, before the in-keg dry-hopping this beer was crystal clear:


The yeast was also a bit of a failure. Despite building up a robust starter, the beer never fully attenuated. Given the high charge of bitterness from the hop floaties, that’s probably a blessing in disguise. The residual sweetness helps make the beer less biting.

The last bit of not-so-bad news: as the beer slowly ages, all its flaws are starting to mellow. It’s become gradually a better and better beer over time. Obviously there’s a point of diminishing return when aging an IPA, but more importantly there’s a point of diminishing return of leaving a beer in a needed homebrew keg.

I don’t foresee too many issues finishing this IPA, though I do wish it had turned out better. Live and learn. 

Getting Back After It

It’s been a busy month around here, but unfortunately not much of it has been spent brewing. Earlier this month, I traveled to Baltimore for Homebrew Con. Shortly after that I celebrated Harpoon’s 30th anniversary with some beer writers and tenured Harpoon employees (I’ll have an upcoming article on this for the Dig). And this past weekend was Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. So as I start to sober up and finish up the kegs from Beans N Brew, I realize it’s time to start brewing again.

I think it’s time to officially dub 2016 the Summer of IPA, because outside of a rebrew of Nelson’s Saison aka Classy AF, I’m focused on brewing a couple more IPAs in the near future. So IPA #3 and #4, what will they be?

IPA #3 will be a New England-style IPA, based on this recipe from Ed Coffey, brewed for a Brulosophy exBEERiment. The grain bill is fairly straight-forward: ~80% pale malt and 20% flaked oats, but with a fairly complicated hopping/dry-hopping regiment. I’m interested in trying the double dry-hopping technique again (I haven’t tried this in a while); I’ll probably alter the hops used but I’ll follow this recipe pretty closely (before I inevitably decide to fuck with it).

SWAG

SWAG

IPA #4 already has a name: Hustle and Swagger. This will be yet another variant on my Hustler recipe, using a lot of the free “swag” hops that I got from Homebrew Con. There’s some interesting hops in this recipe thanks to the good folks at YCH Hops and Yakima Valley:

  • Zythos – tropical (pineapple) and citrus tones with slight pine characteristics
  • Equinox – unique berry-and-fresh-pepper character
  • Pekko – clean, pleasant, floral, citrus, mint, herbal, mellow, pineapple, thyme, saaz-like cucumber, sage, touch of lemon

I’ll probably have to build up a starter for the Hansen Ale Blend from White Labs that I used for IPA #2. It’s been a while since I harvested the yeast from the starter, so I’m hoping it’s still viable. If not, I’ll augment it with some of the free yeast I received at Homebrew Con, probably Mangrove M44 West Coast yeast. If I’m using swag hops, might as well use swag yeast too, right?

I’ll post recipes along with the brew day recaps soon. I’m hoping to brew IPA#3 on Friday.

Sláinte!


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Dialing in an IPA

With Mother’s Day and some shitty weather on Sunday, I had to push a scheduled brew day to Monday afternoon. It seems that whenever I’m not brewing a beer for a club barrel project or for some competition, I’m constantly brewing IPAs. This isn’t exactly the case but it certainly feels that way. Since I started brewing (and subsequently started blogging about my brewing), I’ve been on a quest for a “house” IPA recipe. If you visit my Brewtoad page, you’ll see dozens of IPA recipe variations that I’ve constantly tried to tweak.

And you know what, I’m getting pretty damn close.

As I’m writing this, I’m drinking a just-finished-carbonating IPA #1 aka Eighty-SixedI’ve started numbering my IPAs this year so that I can pick out what I like/dislike from each one of them and incorporate that into subsequent recipes. I also thought this would be a good opportunity to go over my brewing process and talk about how I got to IPA #2 aka Hustle Harder.

IMG_1076

IPA #1 aka Eighty-Sixed. Citrus and delicious.

The Grain Bill

11.0 lb
Pilsner (DE)
2.5 lb Maris Otter Pale (UK)
2.0 lb
Munich – Light 10L (US)
0.5 lb
 Munich – Dark 20L (US)
0.5 lb
 Turbinado

I’ve started drifting towards using Pilsner malt as a base for IPAs because I feel it gives the malt a little more character; it adds a cracker character that I think compliments the type of IPA I like without outshining the hops. I prefer it to 2-row, because – honestly – 2-row is bland. Maris Otter is my favorite malt, and I have it included here to compliment Pilsner’s cracker with a bit of MO’s biscuit. The Munich Malts add a little bit of color and sweetness again without being too powerful in their own right, and the Turbinado is meant to give the IPA a dry finish.

The Mash

I mashed these grains at 152*F for 60 minutes, with a little bit of up-and-down to the temperature due to the windy conditions. Over the course of the 60 minutes the mash probably rested anywhere in the range of 148*F to 154*F. I added 3g of Calcium Chloride to the mash water before stirring in the grains. The CaCl is intended to lower the mash pH, but the reason I’m adding it is because it was recommended to me by Russ Heissner of Barrel House Z, after he sampled my amber ale. Knowing the water profile for the area (I live just south of Boston, and most of Massachusetts derives its water from the Quabbin Reservoir, which is noted for high quality, soft water), he recommended dosing with CaCl in the mash and in the boil. His recommendation was 150ppm or roughly 1.5g; this became closer to 2g because I don’t have a very accurate scale and somehow became 3g because I’m still an amateur and don’t often take good notes.

The vorlaufed and pulled just shy of 5 gallons on the first runnings (7.5 gallons mashed), and an additional 3 gallons from the second runnings (3.5+ gallons sparged) at a combined gravity of 1.050, which was right on target.

The Boil and the Hops

I reduced my usual boil time down to 60 minutes for this recipe, which was largely a function of me not wanting to wait the extra 30 minutes. I haven’t had many problems with off-flavors in my beer from the boil, so I decided to keep it short. Starting with just under 8 gallons of wort, I dropped in 1.5oz of Nugget for first wort hopping. Now first wort hopping might just be a total waste of time, but it’s a lot easier for me to drop the first hop charge right in there and if there’s any actual benefits from it, great. If not, *shrug*. I prefer Nugget as a bittering hop for two reasons, 1. I’ve experienced – and heard from others – it as imparting a smooth, even bitterness and 2. I bought a pound of Nugget, because it was on sale.

Chinook and Centennial. 15 min and 0 min additions.

Chinook and Centennial. 15 min and 0 min additions. (Empty space was where the Nugget was)

Because it was quite windy, the boil didn’t start until about 216*F. Here at sea level, it’s supposed to start at 212*F, so when it finally kicked off it was raging. After more finagling with the propane (and a lot of cursing), I got a nice rolling boil going and proceeded to walk the dog. When we got home, the wort was at 214*F but with no noticeable boiling. So I spent the last 30 or so minutes trying to keep it from going dead or boiling over. Despite the wind-shield on my burner, the strong gusts yesterday really fucked with my system. I curse you, Zephyr, to the very depths of Hades!

At 15 minutes remaining, I added 1.5oz of Chinook, 1.5oz of Centennial and the half-pound of Turbinado, along with my wort chiller. In news that will surprise no one, I forgot to add my whirlfloc tablet. The forgotten whirlfloc tablets keep me up at night. At flameout (0 minutes remaining), I added an additional ounce each of Chinook and Centennial after killing the flame, and began recirculating my wort. I placed the flameout hops in the center of my immersion chiller so the recirculated wort would run right through them.

A couple of spare notes on my process. First, I’m a skimmer.

Skimmin' like a villain.

Skimmin’ like a villain.

I try to skim the hot break protein off the top of my wort as it reaches a boil. My reasoning is simple: less hot break in the wort means less hot break in the fermenter.

Secondly, I use tea and spice infusion balls to hold my hops additions. Usually they work great, but for some reason either the heat or the boil or a combination of the two absolutely dissolved the Nugget hops. My other additions were fine, expanding and staying inside their metal prisons, but the Nugget, man…

Where'd you go?

Where’d you go?

IMG_1055

IMG_1069

After allowing the flameout hops to steep for 15 minutes – a relatively arbitrary time limit – I kicked on the immersion chiller, brought the temperature down to 59*F (!) and transferred it to a bucket, where I’d pitch my yeast.

Yeast and Fermentation

WLP075 aka Hansen Ale Blend

WLP075 aka Hansen Ale Blend

The yeast strain I used for this brew is White Labs’ WLP075 Hansen Ale Blend. This is one of their “Yeast Vault” strains that apparently has only been used in-house.

This is a blend of many IPA strain favorites. If you’re tired of only using WLP001, this strain is for you. It has the attenuation of WLP090 and the character of WLP007…
In the Tasting Room, the strain produced dry attenuation, was hop-forward, with minor ester production, and was a great flocculator, according to White Labs Brewer Joe Kurowski.

After checking the notes White Labs provided from their tasting room, I assumed an attenuation of around 78% and asked them to provide a good fermentation temperature for the strain. They suggested 65*F – 71*F. I started my chamber at 65*F and allowed to rise towards 68*F-69*F which is where I plan to let it sit for about 5-7 days before finishing out around 71*F.

I made a starter for this strain and then stepped it up so I could harvest out some additional yeast for my next brew. I may retry IPA #1 with this yeast strain to see how it comes out.

Wrapping Up

I concluded my brew day by force-carbonating IPA #1 and celebrating with Castle Island’s Keeper IPA. As of last night there was some noticeable activity from the fermentation chamber, before I bumped the temp up 2-3 degrees. I expect IPA #2 to have a much more West Coast flavor than #1, as I try to figure out my “perfect” IPA.

I know this was a (much) longer than usual post, and I’d love to here from you all if this is the kind of content you’d be more interested in going forward, as I’m trying to dial in my blog as much as my beer.

Cheers!