Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Red Off IV

I wrote about a new homebrew competition a few months ago where brewers interested in participating selected two preferred styles and submitted them for random selection as the guideline for a brew off.  With Irish Red as the ramdom choice, all brewers set off to craft their entry.  This past Saturday, six brewers met and shared beers and knowledge at Red Off IV (so named because we've hosted three previous red-style homebrew competitions, all American Amber Ales).  In addition to the six different brewers, another thirty friends and family showed up to taste, eat and enjoy each other's company.  There was plenty of homebrew beyond just competition entries being shared, and the actual contest had a very positive vibe permeating it.  In the end the judging proved accurate in identifying the best beers, though all entries were very drinkable and close to style with aggregate scores between 30 and 40 for all beers.  The results:

1st:        Lewy 
2nd:      Scotty P
3rd:       Raul
4th:       Cracker
5th:       Sean 
6th:       Danny 

Lewy's Alroy Irish Red was clean and balanced with a beautiful red hue and just the right type of maltiness you'd expect in an Irish Red.  It had delicate hop aroma and flavor and muted but detectable yeast character.  It was a definite winner.

Take a look at the score sheet used below.  It follows BJCP guidelines but is simplified for novice and experienced judges alike.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Brett B Trois

White Labs came out with a new Platinum offering: Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois.  It contains three different strains (correction: two different strains; see Jeff's comment below-thanks, Jeff!) of Brett B in a single vial and is meant for 100% Brett fermentations.  Their timing was pretty much perfect for me.  Chad Yakobson wrote the title article in this month's Zymurgy about the potential of Brett as a primary fermenter and shared some recipes for 100% Brett beers modified for homebrewers from his own experiences as the mastermind behind Crooked Stave.  Chad's recipe for an all Brett Baltic Porter really caught my eye.  The best lager I've ever made was a Baltic Porter, and it has become one of my favorite homebrews.  So I decided to brew Chad's recipe with some small changes to make it my own.  I used Nelson Sauvin hops instead of Chad's recommendation of Glacier.  I figure the clean cold fruitiness that Nelson is known for has its place in a Baltic Porter fermented with Brett, especially since the Brett B Trois has a pretty similar flavor reputation.  Chad's recipe considers Brett's penchant for eating away almost any and every thing with an -ose suffix by incorporating flaked oats as mouthfeel compensation.  I added honey to provide some additional fermentables and flavor/aromatic complexity.  Here's my version of Chad's recipe:

9 hours after pitching the Brett B Trois starter.
I had the chance to listen to Chad speak at NHC 2011.  One of the most interesting things I learned from his lecture (and from his radio appearance on the BN and reading his writing online and in Zymurgy) is the way that combining different strains of Brett adds desirable complexity.  Brett B Trois makes this conveniently possible.  I also followed Chad's direction in the creation of a proper Brett starter, allowing it almost nine full days of fermentation before pitching it into the Baltic Porter wort.  The result was one of the most violent and rapid fermentations I've experienced as a homebrewer.

Pooling at the bottom of the fermentation chamber.
 On the day I brewed this beer, Lewy came by and brought me a taste of his 100% Brett C Pioneer Series Citra beer that was still fermenting (it's gravity was at 1.030).  It looked, smelled and tasted like doctored fruit juice.  There was distinct tropical fruit notes (heavy pineapple and over-ripe mango and papaya) in both the aroma and flavor.  It was about as far away from tasting like what I know to be beer as is possible, but I liked it, even though it was unfinished.  It's potential is one of the most exciting things about it.  I can only hope that my beer does something similarly revolutionary when it meets my palette.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tart Cherries...

The Riesling Pyment I brewed last month with raw clover honey has been steadily bubbling away for the past 4 weeks.  I added nutrient additions carefully and in in stages so as to help the process along, and the mead appears to be on track based on gravity, taste and appearance.  It slowly turned a beautiful deep golden straw color as the grape juice and honey mingled.

Last night I racked it off the lees and onto 7 pounds, 4 ounces of Montmorency Tart Cherries.  When gathering ingredients for the recipe, I had some trouble accessing fresh or flash frozen tart cherries out of season here in San Diego, so I compromised.  I ended up purchasing Oregon brand canned tart cherries.  Flash frozen tart cherries from Michigan cost about twice as much per pound, and $80 - $110 to ship to San Diego overnight.  The 7+ pounds I bought through Amazon cost $30 and shipped for free.  They're grown in Oregon, picked ripe from the tree, pitted, sanitized, and packed in water. I know that there are many who might consider these an inferior choice, but I'm not certain I believe that.  I'm just going to have to make more meads to find out.  [As an aside: Is this now a melomel with the cherry addition?]

Racking off the lees.
After sanitizing a colander and all other equipment, I drained the cherries and placed them in the fermentation bucket.  They tasted deliciously tart and ripe, and had a clean maroon color.  As the pyment slowly filled the fermentation bucket, the cherries began to float upward.  I plan to let the pyment sit on the cherries for 6 months or so.  I'll be checking gravity (which, because of the addition of the cherries is pretty much obsolete for alcohol content) and tasting throughout.  After bottling, it will likely sit for years before being completely "done."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NHC 2012 Results

I entered Low Country Pale Ale into the NHC on a whim this past March, with little expectations beyond personal growth.  When entering I spent some time considering the implications of doing so.  I like to brew for the same reason that I like to surf: it's inherently satisfying on a stand alone basis and by its very nature is non-competitive.  Surfing in a competition is the antithesis of what makes the activity rewarding.  Like most things beyond formulaic interpretation, beer brewing and surfing encompass a "beauty in the eye of the beholder (participant)" mentality.  To be blunt, drinking and enjoying beer is a vastly personal experience.  Something I enjoy may not serve your palette well, but my piquancy hardly deserves relegation into obscurity.  The reality is that we don't have to enjoy all the same things.  We can have different tastes, and each can be valid.  Assigning a score to surfing is comparable because the individual's personal enjoyment (that rapt moment of bliss-i.e. the most important thing) is unaccounted for.  I don't intend to trivialize the role that categorization plays in standardizing our experiences and providing context for discussion.   The truth is that I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

 I appreciate the feedback that I received from NHC judges.  Their interpretation of the beer I submitted is different (but equally relevant) from my own.  I'm honestly uncertain about what sort of take-away I might get from this experience.  I'm not particularly disappointed in the result; I'd just like to get more somehow.  I feel like I get more valuable feedback from drinking beers with Lewy.  So why should I pay a stranger to do something that seems more superficial?  I suppose my personal satisfaction (on a wave or at the bottom of a pint glass) is cheapened by categorization in some way.  But if I don't have a point of reference, then what's the use in discussing it?

Low Country Pale Ale received a 30 and a 27, with an averaged score of 28.5.  I think the judges did a good job of identifying strengths and faults in the beer; I learned a lot from the experience.  Take a look at the judges sheets below:


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Homebrew Think Tank

On my short list of awesome professions, "Brewer" has an esteemed and deserving place.  Who wouldn't want to get paid to make, taste and purvey beer?  [I know that it's not that simple and issues like creative control, unrealistic hobby-to-profession expectations, monetary woes and many others complicate the above statement, but that's for another blog post].  Earning a similar place on my list is "Think Tank Scholar."  Think Tanks (or Policy Institutes) produce policy papers that are basically learned recommendations on a myriad of topics.  Think Tank Scholars get paid well (an average $160,000 by one estimate) and are perceived (correctly or not) to have pretty undefined job responsibilities.  Do they sit around all day thinking?  Reading a bit and having an occasional meeting about Middle Eastern agriculture or Maritime Law?  Chatting in the cafeteria about how NGO's mismanage resources in urbanized African cities?  I like jobs with flexibility of space and discretion of time management.  But the real reason I like the idea of Think Tanks is that there's an inherrent intelligent collaborative requirement to their success.  I like sharing ideas with other people who have something to offer in return.  More often than not their views change me in a meaningful way.

Homebrewing is poorly served by isolation.  You can make a beer on your own: formulate the recipe, manage the brew day and fermentation, condition and drink the final product.  But it would be hard to learn from the experience beyond a certain point.  We need other people to bounce ideas off of and to learn from.  For me, the best results have consistently come when collaboration takes place.  I need input from other brewers to add to my own knowledge and help me make decisions.  In this way, homebrewing is like a Think Tank.  You make connections with other informed individuals and base your decisions on the shared understanding that results.  If you're smart, you rely on those individuals to guide you through crises or make "policy" decisions.

I brewed a Kate the Great clone this past February after tasting Lewy's and being really impressed with its flavor and complexity.  I added bourbon soaked oak cubes to it in early May and watched as the yeast slowly ate away at the original gravity of 1.104.  However, for the past three weeks there's been almost zero airlock activity.  I took a gravity reading this past weekend and there had been no change.  The beer was stuck at 1.030.  I know that I'm pushing the limits of WLP001 with the high alcohol content, but I was hoping to get down in the mid-teens before bottling.  I called Lewy for advice.  Do I repitch?  Raise the ambient temperature?  Bottle at the current gravity and risk bottle bombs?

The next day, there was a package on my porch.  A small, soft, ice-filled cooler containing two packed-full vials of washed WLP001 from a previous fermentation that Lewy had done.  He had gathered it and dropped it off for me-just because he's cool like that.  I let the yeast free rise to ambient temperature overnight and then pitched it into the KTG clone.  It's a pretty good solution to a stuck fermentation problem and I'm hopefully optimistic about it working.  In case you didn't know, they serve beer in the Homebrew Think Tank cafeteria, and I'm buying rounds.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Golden Raisin Dubbel

One of the best places to get interesting and rare beers in San Diego closed its doors last year. South Bay Drugs in Imperial Beach on Palm Avenue got forced out of their location in an eminent domain dispute after inhabiting the space for 28 years.  The store provided prescriptions, minor sundries, and most importantly an excellent selection of craft beer.  The owner's son, Geoi, is an avid supporter of craft beer and his collection of beers was stellar.  Geoi shared many different rare and interesting bottles with me, but a few months before they were forced to vacate, he gave me a 3 year old bottle of Rochefort 8.  It smelled of candi sugar and maple with some small vegetal notes mixed in.  Its taste was sweet but far from cloying, with plenty of soft fruit (big raisin, fig, plum) flavors and even some caramel/toffee present.

Golden Raisin Dubbel in the chamber.
I made a dubbel yesterday with that specific beer in mind.  In working on the recipe, I wanted real complexity and big aroma/taste throughout.  The recreation of that raisin/plum flavoring was also important to me, as it made a huge impression on my palate, and lends itself well to the style when included in modicum quantities.  I was influenced significantly by Tomme Arthur's Dubbel recipe in Brew Like A Monk by Stan Hieronymus.  In tasting some of Tomme's beers for Lost Abbey I like the soft fruit presence, but think that it often gets taken too far.  Golden Raisin Dubbel should be dark and smooth with deeply complex flavor and a small alcohol bite to it.  The flavors from the golden raisins should be present from the start but mature and ripen with age; hopefully they won't be overpowering.  I chose to ferment with WLP500 Trappist Ale Yeast as opposed to WLP530 Abbey Ale Yeast in order to help accentuate the desirable fruit characteristics.  I anticipate aging this beer a little longer than most.

South Bay Drugs has relocated to Normal Heights and has gained new life.  Their new name is Bine & Vine Bottle Shop.  I have no illusions about my dubbel being comparable to that aged Rochefort 8, but I still need to set aside a bottle of it for Geoi.