Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ringing the Final Bell

Foaming out of the chiller.
My Dad retired about a month ago.  He and I have been working together for a decade, and seeing his face and connecting with him on a daily basis has been a blessing that few children are able to share with their parents.  My Dad's a pretty amazing guy, too.  He has a huge heart.  He's tireless and passionate about his work, almost to a fault.  I'm happy to say that I'm a little bit like him.  Working with him changed the dynamic of our relationship and made us closer, and his absence is something that I feel acutely.  If I really think about it, I realize that we became adult friends at work.  When you're trying to raise your kids you can't be their friend.  You can be friendly, but that authoritative distance has to be maintained if you really want the best for them.  My Dad was never overbearing or domineering, but as I grew up and we worked together, I had the chance to see him in a different light.  We became friends, and his absence makes me realize how special that relationship is.

He asked me to brew a beer for his retirement party this summer.  His request? Amber Ale.  He's a fan of Sierra Nevada, so I decided to make adjustments to a tried and true Pale Ale recipe, adding additional color and hop presence.  The result is Final Bell Amber Ale:

Malts and Grains
11.50 pounds 89.5% of grist
1.25 pounds 9.7% of grist
0.10 pounds 0.8% of grist
12.85 pounds
Total Grain Weight (Water Amounts)
100% of grist
0.33 ounces 13% Pellets @ 60 minutes 
Type: Bittering
Use: Boil
4.3 AAUs
0.50 ounces 8.9% Pellets @ 30 minutes 
Type: Flavor
Use: Boil
4.5 AAUs
1.00 ounces 5.5% Pellets @ 10 minutes 
Type: Aroma
Use: Aroma
5.5 AAUs
1.00 ounces 5.5% Pellets @ 0 minutes 
Type: Aroma
Use: Dry Hop
5.5 AAUs
2.83 ouncesTotal Hop Weight19.7 AAUs
Total Boil Time:60 minutes
Name:California Ale
Manufacturer:White Labs
Product ID:WLP001
Temperature Range:68–73°F
Amount:35 ml

I brewed this beer over the course of an afternoon and it went exactly as planned.  I mashed at 153 degrees F for an hour and gathered 5.5 gallons of wort.  I'm hoping the addition of Amarillo hops will give this beer additional complexity.  I may dry hop it if it seems appropriate after primary fermentation.  Next up?  Cascadian Dark Ale and a rebrew of KTG.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

BJCP: "It's Tough But Fair"

I passed the BJCP Tasting Exam last August and have been slowly immersing myself in the process of evaluating beer objectively.  When people unfamiliar with craft beer talk to you about being a beer judge, the reactions are pretty typical of what you might expect.  People think you get paid to drink beer or that judging is an excuse to over indulge.  The truth is that being a beer judge is actually pretty challenging.  For the uninitiated, I thought I'd share some information about the BJCP, and maybe provide some insight for those of you thinking about judging beers, too.

The Process

The BJCP has gone through some changes recently and the process of becoming a part of the BJCP has been steamlined significantly.  Becoming a judge is a three part process, but continuing education and experience is an essential component.

Entrance Exam

This online assessment consists of 200 questions that have to be answered in one hour (over 3 questions/minute!) and covers the BJCP Style Guidelines and other beer and brewing topics that are essential knowledge for a judge.  I studied for the test for a solid week, spending time each night after work reading through the style guidelines and thinking about/tasting beers in different styles.  I was able to pass the first time, but it was a lot of questions in a short period of time.  Having the style guidelines around as a reference was helpful, but going into the test without any preparation would have been disastrous.

Tasting Exam

After passing the Entrance Exam you're eligible to sit for the Tasting Exam.  The exam involves tasting 6 different beers and evaluating them as you would in a beer competition.  You have 15 minutes to judge each beer, a process that involves the application of sensory skills to the beer and ends with those interpretations being communicated on the judging sheet.  You're told the beer style, just as you would be in a real competition, but everything else is on your own.  Beers can be doctored to make them taste different or can be miscategorized.  You're not allowed any notes or aids during tasting.  Passing scores on the Tasting Exam play a part (along with Experience Points) in determining your BJCP rank.

Experience Points

When you participate in a beer competition as a judge, proctor or organizer you earn experience points which help you advance through the ranks of the BJCP.  This makes sense, as the most capable judges are the most seasoned and practiced.  Here's how the rankings shake out:

Tasting Exam Score
Experience Points
Less than 60%
90% or above

There are additional rankings associated with Grand Master and the levels of Grand Master that one obtains with additional experience and service to the BJCP.

Judging table at AFC
So what's it like to judge beer in a competition?  I judged the first round of the San Diego section of the NHC last week.  I also judged the America's Finest City Homebrew Competition earlier in the year.  A month before you get an email from competition organizers asking you to participate and inquiring about your style preferences.  Before the competition date you are told what style you'll be judging.  Everyone meets at a certain place (in this case an Episcopal Church) at a certain time.  There's a bunch of socializing, talking and some homebrew sharing.  Then they serve a meal and go through the procedures related to judging appropriately.  You spend the next hour(s) drinking beer with a partner, writing down individual thoughts and impressions and then discussing your results with that person.  It's a pretty enlightening experience, as you basically bounce your thoughts and opinions off of another person/palate.  Beers that score well are set aside for a mini Best Of Show (BOS).  The most experienced judges in a style category drink and compare all of the selected beers, making a final decision about which is best.  And that's it.  You're hand is cramped from writing.  Your mouth is dry from eating saltines to cleanse your palate between beers, and your knowledge base has been expanded.

One of the best things about beer judging is the chance to meet people who have a similar passion for beer and brewing.  I learned a lot from the judges that I worked with both times and I look forward to judging more.  It's interesting to think about the role of labels and categorization in something like beer that has so many variations and is so dependent on individual taste.  On the one hand, it's impossible to compare beers and learn more about them without guidelines to follow.  On the other hand, many of the most interesting and exciting beers are those that ignore (or explode) the superficial parameters we use to categorize them.  Philosophical concerns aside, it's all part of the process of enhancing one's knowledge and finding new ways to enjoy something that has innumerable variations.  Judging beer properly is challenging.  I suppose that's why the BJCP website features the slogan: "It's Tough But Fair."

There's a wealth of additional information to be found on the BJCP's website.  It's valuable for those interested in being part of the BJCP or for those just interested in learning how to evaluate beer:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Lurker Chocolate Peanut Butter Coffee Porter

With coffee as the required ingredient for the next homebrew competition, I started doing some research and thinking about the type of beer I wanted to make and how to add the coffee.  I like the taste of coffee when it's not overly bitter, but I rarely drink it because I don't like caffeine.  In the spirit of the competition, I first thought I wanted to brew something without dark malts and really showcase the coffee without the intrusion  of roasted malt flavor.  After trying some different commercial examples (Mikkeller Spontankoppi, Ballast Point Victory At Sea, Kona Pipeline Porter, Haandbryggeriet Coffee Porter among others) I pretty much embraced something that was already intuitively known: darker beers lend themselves better to coffee additions.  In the end, I chose to brew something that incorporated other ingredients I've been wanting to use for a while, in addition to the coffee.

During San Diego Beer Week last November, I had a chance to try Karl Strauss' Peanut Butter Cup Porter and was amazed at how much peanut butter flavor came through in the final product.  They used powdered peanut butter when making it, which keeps undesirable oil out of the beer without compromising the peanut butter flavor.  They also incorporated cocoa nibs into the brew, the rawest and strongest form of chocolate flavoring.  I decided to try the same thing on a homebrew scale, using PB2 and also including cocoa nibs.  The addition of coffee would add another (hopefully desirable) element to an already complexly flavored beer.  All three flavors should make for something pretty ridiculously decadent-more calories than any reasonable person needs to consume at any one time-so I named it The Lurker because it should stay with you for a while, no matter how much Insanity you do.

Karl Strauss' version was a Brown Porter.  I decided to brew a Robust Porter and came up with the following recipe:

Malts and Grains
9.00 pounds 60.4% of grist
1.80 pounds 12.1% of grist
1.20 pounds 8.1% of grist
0.60 pounds 4% of grist
1.20 pounds 8.1% of grist
0.60 pounds 4% of grist
0.10 pounds 0.7% of grist
0.40 pounds 2.7% of grist
14.90 pounds
Total Grain Weight (Water Amounts)
100% of grist
1.00 poundsLactose (Milk Sugar)
1.00 poundsPB2
1.00 poundsPB2 - Chocolate
4 ozCacao Nibs
16 ozCold Pressed Coffee
1.00 ounces 14.2% Pellets 
Type: Bittering and Aroma
Use: First Wort
14.2 AAUs
0.75 ounces 5.6% Pellets @ 20 minutes 
Type: Flavor
Use: Boil
4.2 AAUs
1.75 ouncesTotal Hop Weight18.4 AAUs
Total Boil Time:60 minutes
Name:Dry English Ale
Manufacturer:White Labs
Product ID:WLP007
Temperature Range:65–70°F
Amount:500 ml

I brewed 7.5 gallons last Wednesday.  I mashed at 152 degrees F for an hour and had a rolling 60 minute boil.  The lactose was added with about 20 minutes left in the boil and should contribute some sweetness and body.  Two gallons were used to make Dregs beers (DREGS #9 and DREGS #10), and the other 5.5 gallons was innoculated with 500 ml of WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast and placed lovingly in the fermentation chamber.  I'll be adding the cocoa nibs and PB2/PB2-Chocolate in secondary in two separate additions, allowing at least a week (maybe more) of contact time for both.  I anticipate a restarting of fermentation with the addition of the PB2.  I'm not sure how many gravity points two pounds of PB2 will contribute, but the final beer should be pretty big.  The original gravity after chilling was 1.058.

As for the coffee, I want it to take a prominent role in the flavor, but not be overly bitter.  I'm going to cold press decaffeinated French Roast coffee (not sure what brand yet) and add sixteen ounces to the bucket at bottling.  I'm hoping that the coffee flavor will shine in the final beer.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Recipe Refinement | Special Competition Ingredient

3 Fountains IPA/Grassmarket IPA Split Batch

10 gallon IPA split batch coming out of the chiller
Recipe refinement is a glaring weakness of mine.  I rarely repeat brew a beer and I'm not exactly sure why.  Maybe it's because I always have an idea for something different and my brewing schedule can't keep up (it's getting harder and harder to find time to brew these days).  Or maybe it's because I usually want to drink something that I can't find anywhere else and the perfect pale ale, porter, IPA stout etc. has already been done beautifully by so many others.  In any case, I admit I don't have a whole lot of reference when it comes to the influence of individual ingredients.  Sure, I've played with hops and different yeasts and grains as well as some unorthodox ingredients, but comparative knowledge eludes me somewhat.  I have the capability of making 10 gallon batches, but it's only happened a few times.  So a few weeks ago I set out to brew an IPA with the influence of yeast in mind.  I had a lot of success making Chad Y's 100% Brett B Baltic Porter and I wanted another clean-fermented Brett beer to drink.  I've also been keeping up with Modern Times progress toward opening locally and have been following the Mad Fermentationist's brewing experiments as a Modern Times consultant.  So, I copied the malt bill for the Modern Times Super 100% Brett IPA test batch and adjusted the hops to my preferences.  I brewed 10 gallons worth of wort and pitched a massive starter of Brett B Trois in one 5 gallon carboy and Edinburgh Ale Yeast in the other.  I have no illusions about breaking new ground, as I know beers like this have been made before with plenty of success, but I am interested to see the difference between the two.  After 8 days of fermentation, the Brett IPA was at 1.012 while the beer inoculated with Edinburgh was at 1.018.  Both of them are being dry hopped aggressively as I write this, and I plan to put both on tap, adding a picnic tap to my kegerator exclusively for sour beers in the process.  3 Fountains 100% Brett IPA pays homage to the origin of Brett B Trois, cultured from Drie Fonteinen.  Grassmarket IPA references the historic grassmarket square in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Homebrew Competition

The longer that I brew the more people I meet and become close to who brew as well.  Over the years we've had quite a few different competitions amongst local brewers, operating at levels of seriousness varying between drunken party and near BJCP level judging.  All have been fun and educational-a great way to meet up with like-minded folks and brew something to talk about.  This time around we focused on BJCP Category 21 - Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer.  Everyone interested in participating submitted two chosen ingredients, and one select ingredient was chosen in a drawing.

Scott: Coffee, Honey
Danny: Squash, Grains of Paradise
Cracker: Maple Syrup, Watermelon
Eric: Coconut, Vanilla
Sisco: Chocolate, Nutmeg
Lewy: Popcorn, Powdered Peanut Butter
Jeff: Cilantro, Jalapenos
Sean: Kids Cereal     

So coffee is the featured ingredient.  It doesn't have to be present in any particular way, but must be used at some point in the beer.  I'm thinking either cold-pressed (to cut down on bitterness and because it's nicely concentrated) or cracked beans.  Either way the coffee would be introduced in secondary and I'm planning to go decaf because caffeine makes me shake.  Recipe to follow.