My Beer Sucks. Now What?

I mentioned in previous posts that I entered a few beers into some competitions. Well, I got the scoresheets back on the first one of those comps and the results are… not good.

Woof.

Well, in the parlance and scoring of the BJCP they’re technically “good,” but here in reality where we live: they’re straight up bad. In fact, both beers got called “lifeless.” Ouchie.

To be honest, I knew one of these beers had significant flaws. The maibock definitely suffered from some fermentation issues, and had a noticeable green apple flavor that is a tell-tale sign of acetaldehyde. I also got dinged for no carbonation on both beers, which probably drove down the scores both because of the lack of carbonation (and it’s contributions to aroma and mouthfeel) but also from oxidation in the bottle. The stout also got dinged for diacetyl which I didn’t pick up but could be result bottling conditions.

So what now?

Obviously this was a pretty big shot to the ego, but a much-needed one. I get to enjoy my beers both as the output of my hardwork, but also under near ideal serving conditions. That’s not the case for other people, and it’s definitely something I need to take a long, hard look at improving.

For one, I need to do some more research on my Blichmann Beer Gun, because it clearly isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to in terms of bottling from the keg. I also think it may be time to ditch all of my fermenting buckets. I wouldn’t have thought fermentation was an issue with my process – outside of the lagers – but apparently I’m getting significant off-flavors.

I also probably won’t to look at how I store and care for my beer after it’s been kegged. Right now I’m sort of “between solutions” for my post-carbed beers. They tend to sit in a big chest freezer, but not constantly on CO2.

A big purge is on the way as the weather starts to get nicer around here. I have plans to dump a bunch of old brews and some unused equipment. I also plan to build a full-fledged kegerator over the Spring with some help from the guys in my homebrew club.

I’d been underwhelmed with my progress as a brewer over the past year, so this was a well-timed wake-up call. I’m going to revisit the basics and try to hone in every detail of my process. I expect 2018 to be an expensive year with a lot of trial and error, and hopefully some vast improvement.

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Where’s the Time Gone?

Well, damn.

Time flies when you’re an adult (in the legal sense, not the – ya know – maturity sense). A lot has happened since the Jambo update. So let’s go through the highlights.

The Return of Symphony of Decay

Last year I brewed two pumpkin beers, and entered a pumpkin milk stout into our club’s annual Pumpkin Beer Competition. Two things of note: I won the first year of this competition, and the trophy is named after me. When the pumpkin milk stout didn’t win, I had to hand over my beloved trophy.

Me, crying over lost trophies

Me, crying over lost trophies

So for this year’s competition, there was no fucking around. I rebrewed and slightly retooled Symphony of Decay for this year’s competition and well… the trophy is back where it belongs. Below is the updated recipe for Symphony of Decay:

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable Maltster Use PPG Color
11.5 lb

Maris Otter Pale (UK)

Any Mash 38 3 °L
1.0 lb

Maple Syrup

Any Boil 30 35 °L
14.0 oz

Crystal 20L

Any Mash 34 20 °L
0.5 lb

Rice Hulls

Any Mash 0 0 °L
0.25 lb

2-Row Chocolate Malt

Briess Mash 34 350 °L

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
0.75 oz Northern Brewer (US) 60 min Boil Pellet 9.0%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
San Diego SuperYeast White Labs WLP090 79.5%

Extras

Amount Name Time Use
30.0 oz Pumpkin 0.0 min Mash
1.0 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice 5.0 min Boil
30.0 oz Pumpkin 60.0 min Boil

Notes:

  • Mash at 154*F for 60 minutes
  • The pumpkin is Libby’s Organic Pumpkin Puree. This is available at most grocery stores in 30oz cans
  • I spread the pumpkin across a cookie sheet and roast it at 350*F for 60 minutes
  • The first 30oz goes in with mash water before the grains. I have no scientific reason for this (or anything I do) but my thinking on it is that adds more orange color to the wort and makes it less likely to create a stuck sparge. Again, I base this on absolutely zero facts.
  • The second 30oz of pumpkin is added at 15 minutes left in the boil
  • The maple syrup goes in at 5 minutes
  • Boil time is 90 minutes

2016 Changes

  • The pumpkin pie spice addition is always more art than science. This year I used 2tbsp of McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie Spice with 5 minutes left in the boil.
  • Along with the pumpkin pie spice, I added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and all-spice. This was all based on feel (or rather, smell). If I had to estimate I’d say I added a tsp of cinnamon and 1/4tsp each of nutmeg and all-spice.
  • I also added a tbsp of vanilla extract with 5 minutes left. I can’t say that this was noticeable in the finished product and might be something I adjust for next year’s batch.

Presidential Election

The United States will soon be run by a fascist Cheeto, and in similar fashion my homebrew club will be trading down from a competent leader to an inexperienced buffoon. In the case of the Mash Holes, that buffoon might end up being me. Our long-term president has decided to step down. As the Vice President that will make me the de facto leader if no one else decides to step up. Club elections are in two weeks so we’ll see how that all shakes out.

The December meeting is also our Wee Heavy competition. It’s the last of our four club competitions that will ultimately decide our Brewer of the Year for 2016. I still need to brew an entry this week, which is going to be difficult with the weather, but I’m shooting for Thursday as a brew day. It doesn’t give me a lot of time for fermentation and aging, so my entry will be a bit young, but we’ll see how it turns out.

Non-Controversial Pipeline

As far as other brews in the pipeline, I have Obie’s Oatmeal Stout about to go into the keg. It’s another “classic” recipe that I’ve updated as I’ve gotten more experienced at brewing. The club just brewed a Russian Imperial Stout to into a Woodford Reserve barrel two weeks ago. That’ll probably spend 6 months in the barrel. We’re also working on pulling out a barleywine in the next few weeks and replacing it with a golden sour ale.

Back here at Anti-Hero Brewing, I plan to do something really crazy: science. Brulosophy recently did an ExBEERiment on flaked oats in New England Style IPAs. The purpose was “[t]o evaluate the differences between a NE-Style IPA made with flaked oats and the same beer made without flaked oats but an otherwise similar recipe.” The idea being that flaked oats impart some of the smooth mouthfeel and haziness typical of NE IPAs. I’ve written about NE IPAs before, and one of my theories is that it’s the dry-hopping timing has the biggest impact on haze. So I’m planning on doing my own *gasp* exBEERiment to test this theory.

Closing Up

So 2016 is winding down to a close, and I intend to do a year-end recap next month, so be on the look-out for that. It looks like I’ll miss my goals in some areas and hit them in others. As of now I’ve brewed about 70-75 gallons of beer this year, which is easily a personal record. I’d like to shoot for 100 gallons next year.

Until then.


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What Does Your Favorite Beer Style Say About You?

You can learn a lot about someone from the type of beer they drink (is the way that most of these articles start). So what does your favorite beer style say about you?

IPAs and Double IPAs

You like IPAs. And maybe Double IPAs. Possibly even the occasional Session IPA.

Pale Ales

You like pale ales.

Stouts or Porters

You like stouts. Or maybe porters. Or maybe both!

Sour Beers

You like sour beers. Or you’re trying to stay up with the trends, but since I don’t know you I’ll assume you just like sour beers.

Hefeweizens

You like hefeweizens. You might also like fruit in your beer, but you might not. You should eat it anyway though, because you’re probably not getting enough Vitamin C.

Some other type of beer not listed here.

Look, man, I don’t care what you drink. In fact, I don’t even judge you for what you drink (unless it’s Heineken, because fuck that shit). And really this post has no reason to exist, much like it’s several billion click-baity predecessors. Instead of reading crap like this, maybe – I don’t know – go have a brown ale, or a bock, or an Oktoberfest, or an amber ale, or shit even…

Macro-Brewed Light Lager

You don’t give a fuck, and I respect that.

Some Days You Just Need A Beer

As the title says, some days you just need a beer. Tonight’s beer is Out of Bounds Stout by Avery Brewing out of Colorado. The label depicts a skier traversing a back-country slope. I had the privilege to get stranded in Colorado while on a snowboarding trip. A big storm hit Boston and delayed our flight home; my dad, brother and myself spent the weekend in Denver and made a trip out to Avery’s brewery. Avery is fantastic. The majority of their beers are just killer.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Summer was busy, which is to be expected. Birthdays, BBQs, camping trips, weddings, and (unfortunately) funerals. As this is, ostensibly, a homebrewing blog I didn’t feel much need to update it since I hadn’t been brewing very much. The last two brew-days I’ve had were group brews with the Metro South Homebrew League. I’m hoping to squeeze another one in this week after Sunday’s semi-successful session. The club bought two barrels from Jack’s Abby, and we’ve brewed a Belgian Dubbel for one and a Flanders Red for the other. It’s shaping up that the Belgian barrel will get some kind of stout next.

Avery OOBS

Out of Bounds is roasty and dry. It smells sweet and chocolaty, but the flavor is more bitter with a strong roasty flavor. The bottle states that Avery isn’t “afraid to use a ton of roasted barley and a mountain of hops to give this full-bodied stout that little extra something.” It is definitely robust, finishing dry with a little bit of sweetness. A solid beer. Not what I was hoping for, but certainly not a disappointment.

I’m planning the next beer to be my pumpkin ale, Symphony of Decay.

Quick Beer Review: Heavy Seas’ Siren Noire

Look, it’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a long week. So this is the compromise: I steal someone else’s picture, give you my quick thoughts on a pretty damn tasty beer, and you get off my case. Deal? Good.

Unlike most things that go into and come out of Baltimore, I like Heavy Seas. Siren Noire is an imperial stout that is brewed with chocolate and aged in bourbon barrels. I’m guessing they couldn’t find a way to work unicorn tears into the recipe. This is the 2013 entry from their “Uncharted Waters” collection.

The beer pours a rich black color with a brown head that starts off strong but fades quickly, probably due to the 9.5% alcohol. The smell is a tantalizing mix of cocoa powder, dark chocolate, vanilla, bourbon and maple syrup. The taste is similar to the smell: rich, heavy chocolate character; a oaky, vanilla bourbon flavor, some light roasty notes and a warming alcohol finish that is dry. The beer is thick but not syrupy or cloying. A perfect body for a heavy beer like this. Siren Noire is definitely a dessert beer, and it is delicious.

Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5. Buy it.

 

Brew Year Goals for 2014

Happy New Year, kids.

I kicked off 2014 right with a can of Heady Topper, while my girlfriend and dog slept on top of me/my couch in the post-midnight afterglow. Today consisted of some Winter Classic action, some homemade pizza and now this blog. I want to kick off 2014 with something I rarely make: resolutions.

As I try to mature (pronounced “ma-tour”) as a brewer, I want to give myself some milestones and guide-markers to aim for; so I’m setting some Brew Year Goals for 2014.

2014 Brewing Goals

  1. Compete in a Homebrew Competition. Pretty straight-forward. The best way to improve is to have your beers critiqued. While I appreciate the general thumbs up/thumbs down from my friends, so more pointed criticisms should help me as a brewer.
  2. Join a Homebrew Club. I sought to do that in my first year as a brewer, but I’ve struggled to find one whose time and geography fit my schedule. Since I travel a lot for work, weekday meeting nights don’t really work for me. I also don’t want to drive more than 30 minutes away from home if I can avoid it.
  3. Improve my Homebrew Setup. This is one-part buying new/better equipment, and one-part analysis of my setup to better understand where I’m losing efficiency and how I can make my brewdays more productive.
  4. Re-Brew Cheeky Bastard. Cheeky is probably my most successful brew to date. The aroma on this brew was awesome – 5 outta 5 awesome. I’d like to dial in the bitterness and mouthfeel on this beer because I think it could help me with…
  5. Develop a “House” Beer. I want to start establishing a “roster” of beers that are 1. good and 2. re-brewable so that I can start dialing them in and perfecting them. Obviously an IPA should be one of those brews, so I think Cheeky will make the short-list. I’m also enjoying Winter Sun, but want to wait to see how Hairy Dog’s Breakfast turns out before settling on a stout.
  6. Switch to Kegging. This is something I almost pulled the trigger on multiple times this year. So far the more consistent problem I’ve had with brewing is carbonation. I pitched extra champagne yeast into Cheeky and that sort of threw off  the mouthfeel of that brew; Suicide by Hops, 187 and Midnight In the Garden all failed to carbonate.
  7. Improve My Yeast Ranching. Part of the reason I believe those beers failed to carbonate was due to poor yeast ranching on my part. I want to improve my ability to wash, harvest and propagate yeast. I have some Conan from Cheeky that I plan to propagate for another brew.
  8. Finish Reading BrewingYeast, and HopsI have been buying/reading various different brewing books, but I haven’t finished one since How to Brew. I plan to sit down and focus on reading a few of these books to help improve my brewing knowledge.
  9. Brew 20+ Time in 2014. This is a pretty ambitious goal and comes down to one brew every 2-3 weeks for a year. I think I can hit this target and if the brews keep improving, I should make for some interesting beers.

Is there anything else that you think should be on this list? I’m leaving room for #10 (because 9 is my lucky number), so feel free to leave some ideas/advice in the comments.

Happy New Year!