Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

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Location: Upstate New York, United States

Favorite Beers: Orval, Samuel Smith, Duvel, Hennepin, Oude Gueze, Chimay, Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam, and anything made by Trappist monks.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Batch 13

Counting the beer I made with Jeremiah, yesterday's batch was my thirteenth. I think I got away with it, more or less. Cat's Paw Pale is not going to be very pale. That Smuttynose grain bill produced a drop-fucking-dead gorgeous ruby, pomegranite wort. It was just stunning to look at. What color it'll be in a couple weeks is anyone's guess, but I think it'll be fairly far from pale. Shoals Pale Ale is noticably too dark to be a pale itself, and I think mine may be half a shade darker than that, plus this extra, red register, wherever that came from. On the advice of a guy at Northern Brewer, I subbed Simpson's Caramalt in for Hugh Baird Carastan--they're about the same Lovibond, and, supposedly, about the same malt. I'm guessing that's the difference--their catalog says it gives a slight red hue. Any rate, beautiful beer.

My mash must've have been insanely efficient somehow. I was trying to get 6 gallons at 1051. I wound up around 1065 late in the boil and added water like crazy. I got it down to 1054 FG, but basically filled the carboy. All numbers are approximate because my volumes are all guesses (should just graduate all my carboys), but no matter how you slice it I'm pretty sure the efficiency on that batch of beer was close to 90%. I filled the carboy up into the tapering part--there's probably eight inches of beer surface on the top--aerated, pitched, and kept my fingers crossed. There's something like 6.75 gallons in there--and I actually had to leave perhaps a pint and a half in the kettle. I attached a very loose blow-off tube. Lag time was short--was bubbling slightly a couple hours later. Sometime in the middle of the night, the stopper blew out, which I kind of expected. I put it in really loose, lest the damned carboy explode or something. This morning I cleaned up the top with a sanitized turkey baster, picked out the hop fragments that had jammed it up and re-did the blow off tube. I'm not too freaked out about the sanitation thing since, realistically, it had to be producing enough CO2 to protect itself for a little while. It's chugging along well now. The blow-off tube calmly moves trub-tainted foam through while bubbling steadily and periodically blasts air into the little jug of scum in a slightly alarming fashion. So I think it'll be alright. It damn well better be good because I'm going to have a shitload of it.

Oh, I also racked Dr. Doom--tastes very promising and has gotten down to, like, 1009 or so. It's now in the basement dropping sediment for a few days--may bottle this week.

Twiggy Pilsner got racked out of primary. It's at 1014, which is about right. I'm giving it a two-day diacetyl rest in the kitchen and then will put it back in the basement. My hope is it starts to clear up. I may wait one week, rack it again, give it one quick violent stir to drive out the air bubbles, wait another week for it to chill, and then bottle two weeks from now.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Brewing Schedule

I've ordered all the grain for the last few beers I've been rambling about. The rough plan goes something like this. Make a pale ale this weekend. 2 weeks later, bottle that and pitch a barley wine on the yeast cake. In the intervening week I'm making a smoked Marzen, to get that lager thing out of my system for a while. One more double decoction and I shouldn't want to make one till next winter. Of course, I could make another Pilsner on top of the old Pilsner yeast, or make a Bock on top of the Marzen yeast, but that would be insane, no? This makes for a very hectic three weeks of brewing, but what the hell. I also ordered materials for an IPA which can be made on the barley wine lees at such time as seems appropriate. Maybe I'll give the barley wine a two week primary and use the primary sediment. Spring break presents some opportunities--maybe I can fit the IPA in then, plus planning some more Belgians and at some point just a good simple stout. The IPA isn't too terribly time sensitive though--I'll keep the grain cool and the hops in the freezer. I could even make it before the barley wine, but I'd like to be able to age the barley wine at cool temps for a while--better get it out of the way. Oh crap, I forgot the oatmeal stout. That's happening sometime. Worst case scenario things'll get hectic and I'll brew three or four times of break. No reason not to. I think I'll also learn to cook Indian food over break

By the way I like my porter. Yes, it's awfully high on the aroma hops, but those Willamettes blend rather nicely with the roasty, toasty malt.

Am I going to have enough bottles?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What the hell

And one more before I go read King Lear. Since I was figuring out IPA the other day, I grabbed a bottle of Acme IPA (Northcoast Brewing Co.) from Marcy just for old time's sake. Was one of my all-time favorite 4.99 a six-pack Trader Joe's beers. Quite pale, slight orangeish cast. Very dry and crisp and hoppy. I remember this being a bigger bodied, fatter IPA--I wonder if it's changed in the last 18 months or so. The nose is hoppy, but not overwhelmingly so--maybe more on the Cascade end than the Cenntenial or Chinook end. This is good, but I have a feeling it's a little beaten down from the trip east--I do remember it as being a little bolder in the overall impression. Interesting how much locale and shipping affect beer. Overall, the east coast beers I've found have been remarkable enough that I haven't missed too many west coast beers. And many of them ship well too--the Stone beers are very, very hardy--Anchor is if you spot a new shipment. But paler beers and lighter beers and beers that are really dependant on subtle aromatics can take a beating, can't they? Which is why, if I ever see, say, Hubsch Pilsner or Northcoast's Scrimshaw here, I probably won't bother. Lagunitas, on the other hand, I really do miss. Fun beers those.

On a marginally related note, if anyone reads this blog, do you remember how good Fat Tire used to be?? The first bottle I had was unreal. This was back when they had a "don't drink till" date and were bottle-conditioned. I had a twenty-ounce-or-so bottle Trina kindly brought from Colorado and it was just marvellous. I think they dropped the hopping rate considerably, that they thus damaged the overall balance, and that the maltiness went from very dry and tight and delicately toasty to being sort of flabby and slightly cloying. I also think it used to be more attenuated. Blast. But a lot of their other beers are still great.

Distant horizons

I picked up the malt for my pale ale this evening and I still haven't decided exactly how I want to manage the hop additions for it. . . But, while stowing supplies in the basement, I got distracted by a Westmalle Tripel. Which seems a good excuse to start at least provisionally thinking about my Quasi-Trappist series. I'm obviously addicted to planning beers.

This is not a bottle in totally perfect shape. Good head, nice color (though I accidentally poured a little sediment). It is pale, but a lot deeper color than, say, Duvel, or my own Saison (the most recent things on my mind). I forgot how rich this beer is. It's odd because their double is pretty restrained. But I think this bottle of tripel is a little less tight than usual--maybe it took on a little heat somewhere along the line. I think I'd like to make my first tripel a little more along the Chimay white lines. That is, a little lighter and a little hoppier. But that could change.

What I get here is a very flowery nose. Quite clovey. Moderately high esters. Moderate hops. I'd say Saaz and Styrians? Silky and pretty rich on the palate. Maltier than I remembered. I think, given the advantage of not having to have my beer travel from Belgium to Washington state and then back to New York, that I could compete with this if I designed a really solid recipe. I think we're talking, really, about the best Belgian Pilsner malt, a fair quantity of candi sugar, a quotient of really good Munich for a little malty depth. Bitter with a delicate application of Northern Brewer perhaps, or just bitter with something really low alpha, like Styrian Goldings. Get enough bitterness that it has a good solid spine to it. Tripel shouldn't be all that bitter, but I don't like flabby strong beers and it needs to cut through cleanly in the finish. Delicate flavor hops, but fairly substantial aroma addtions, based, I think, around Saaz, Styrians, Hallertau, maybe Chinook. Just kidding, no Chinook. Saaz and Hallertau sounds good somehow.

One big question to mull over: Seems to me there's three ways to do an abbey/trappist series.

1) Chimay-esque. Three fruity beers: Modest-sized, fruity double, modest-sized, very dry, hoppy tripel, and finally a big, gallumphing grand reserve type thing, with some dark malts.
2) Westmalle-esque. Three totally different beers: A delicate, monkish singel, a dry, elegant, restrained (but malty and earthy) dubbel, and a large, dramatic tripel.
3) Westvleteren/Rochefort-esque. Here we'd be talking about designing a funky, earthy malt base and fortifying with sugar to three different degrees: fairly subtle, pretty big, and downright outlandish.

I think the last one is the hardest to pull off so we'll wait on that. Somehow in the next couple weeks I should decide amongst the other options and that will sort of help determine my yeast choice, among other things. Back to the salt mines.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Cracking the IPA Code

So, having noted that my early IPA's were vexed to nightmare by attenuation issues bred of ignorance, I thought I'd correct the problem just for the sake of frugal yeast use. (There was an allusion there by the way). I figure if the Pale and Barley wines go well, I'll have a yeast cake of Wyeast 1056 still available and there's no reason not to throw a third beer on it. So I thought I'd peruse the options on the IPA front--I figure I'll brew this over spring break along with a Belgian Singel. Info gathering via a great old Brewing Techniques article. . .


British or American?

Oak or no Oak?

Go for a relatively neutral, all-about-the-hops malt profile, or look for a little color and a little balance, a la, say Celebration Ale or Victory's Hop Devil?

American IPA parameters according to David Brockington:
85-95% English or American pale ale malt (Prefer the former)
1-2% Caramel malt
5-10% Munich malt
1-4% Carapils
O.G. >1060
IBU >50

Easy on the Crystal/Caramel malts.

A small dose of wheat is also a nice touch for the head.

This article discourages 1056--add esters by mixing in a touch of something else? Of course 1056 is used for several IPA's I like a lot. . .

Use Burton salts? At any rate, a decent gypsum addition is mandatory

Mash regimen? I want some body, but pretty thorough attenuation. . .

Make that tiny shot of crystal a fairly dark crystal for complexity's sake?

Columbus hops are a really key addition in many great IPA's. Single hop variety thing aside, maybe incorporate some?

The malts for Hop Devil are Vienna, Caramunich, and Caramel from Weyermann, plus Centennial, Tettnanger, and Cascades. 1063 and 55. Could easily work out a quasi-clone with that much info if I wanted.

Anderson Valley (yum) is all Columbus and 1062.

Brockington uses a single infusion at 151.

My responses to these issues go something like this. To hell with England; this will be an American IPA. To hell with the oak; I'd rather concentrate on the hops for now. I'm leaning toward the leaner malt profile, but will order the best malts I can, emphasizing Munich and maybe a small dose of something offbeat like Biscuit or Cara-Vienne. I will barely use Crystal at all, just a little bit of something dark. I will throw in about 2 percent wheat. I've already got the Wyeast 1056 lined up and there are different schools of thought on that--will go with that for now, in favor of good, relatively neutral hop presentation. I'll add gypsum for sure. I'll keep the mash in the 150-152 area, keeping unfermentables under control. I'll bitter with Chinook, flavor with Columbus and Chinook, and dry hop primarily with Chinook. I love Chinook, but I think the Columbus will add complexity and something different. Cascades I'll save for another time.
All hops whole.

Consulting the oracle. . .

This leads to the following monstrosity:

For a gravity of 1063:

9.5 lbs Maris Otter
1 lb German Munich
4 oz Cara-pils
4 oz Wheat
3 oz Crstal 60L

Single infusion mash at 150-152. Or could do an upward infusion with a not-so-necessary protein rest, scaling through the 140's briefly.


For 92 IBU's (I think ProMash is exaggerating):

1 oz Chinooks (60 minutes)
1 oz Columbus (15)
2 oz Columbus (5)
.5 oz Columbus (dry)
1 oz Chinook (dry)

Is that too much? Dropping the bittering charge to .75 ounces returns us to a more rational 78 IBU's. That might be best. . . I'll consider.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Barley Wine Recipe

Guidelines and concerns:

Will boil forever--keep the specialty malts to 15% and under.

Thick mash: scant quart per pound.

Mash on the low side: 145-152. There'll be plenty of unfermentables.

Don't recirculate too fast (danger of compacting the grain bed).

Boil for 2-2.5 hours; with hops, no longer than 90 minutes.

Are hop corrections for high gravity beers considered by ProMash? If not, add an extra 2%.

Don't ferment too hot: 66-72. i.e. leave it downstairs? Expect to rouse the yeast.

Expect to re-dose with Yeast at bottling? (see Barley Wine, 108)

Try to age at 60 and under.

Be prepared to ad-lib when all the mash won't fit in my sparge bucket.

Anticipate space problems and get a junky Asian market 5-gallon kettle.

Consider just making 4 gallons? That keeps the quantities quite manageable

For five gallons, here's a draft recipe I'll try to run by a couple people before I buy the stuff:

15 lbs Pale
2 lbs Carastan (35L)
.5 lbs Crystal 75L
.5 lbs Cara-pils

2-hour-plus boil

Hop additions:

Chinook: 1.5 oz. (60 minutes)
Centennial: 2 (20)
Cascade: 1 (15)
Centennial: 1 (5)
Cascade: 1 (5)

Ferment withWyeast 1056 via Pale Ale yeast cake

Dry-hop for 2-4 weeks with 1 oz Chinook and .5 oz each Cascade and Centennial.

More beer planning

So, I was so enthused by the Pilsner finally fermenting that I'm just stupid enough to do another lager before I have any real returns on the first one, or any idea how well it worked. Here's the plan: I -love- Aecht Schlenkerla RauchBier Ur-Marzen and I can't get any. So as long as that pilsner seems to be working, and as long as I'm basically playing the intrepid brewer, why not do one more lager? The basement temperature is totally perfect. After I knock out that pale ale, while I wait for it to finish up and leave yeast for my barley wine, I thought I'd make the following, basically using a recipe from Smoked Beers by Larson and Daniels:

5.5 lbs German Munich malt
5 lbs Weyermann smoked malt
2 oz Carafa II

option: should I add a little carapils for body? Maybe not. The double decoction has a saccharification rest at 154 anyway, so that oughta give some dextrins. Perhaps I'll just follow the recipe. They give an OG of 1056; Promash calculates at 1059. That's fine. They hop to 30 IBU's with pellets; the numbers I give below produce 29.7 with whole flowers. Could add an extra flower or two to the boiling hops. . .

Hops are Tettnang with an ounce and half for bittering, and a tiny (.25 oz.) addition with two minutes left.

For yeast, I'm torn between Wyeast's Bavarian and Munich lager yeasts. They basically have identical flocculation and attenuation, but the Munich needs a diacetyl rest and is happiest at a slightly narrower temperature range. The White Labs German Lager yeast is also a good option. I should really ask Randy for a recommendation. The recipe asks for either Bavarian or Munich, with no distinction made. I'll look into the yeast question and then order supplies for this one from Northern Brewer mid-way through next week.

Oh, one big brewing note here: Must be very careful with water. Apparently the smoke phenols do horrible things when they encounter chlorine. This would be a good window to set up some charcoal filtration, otherwise it's another bunch of wasted money buying bottled water.

Note to self: Order the Carafa uncrushed. There's no reason I can't keep odd-ball specialty malts uncrushed for a long time in a tin, then attack them with a rolling pin on brew day, pending purchase of a proper mill. I don't anticipate using lots of Carafa on a regular basis.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Another Porter Tasting

In an on-going search for perfection, I'm lining my (now slightly more mature) 16-Penny Porter up against another quality porter, this time Smuttynose's Robust Porter, possibly the best bottled domestic porter available. Won a buncha gold medals and such. Try it.


Smutty: Basically opaque. Thin, slightly tan head.

16-Penny: Also opaque, maybe a little redder around the edges. Thin, slightly paler head.


Smutty: Huh. I'm going back and forth and it's remarkably hard to differentiate between these beers for the first few sniffs. Here, I'm getting coffee, a little caramel, rich dark chocolate. Delicate whiff of Cascades?

16-Penny: Coffee, toffee, dark chocolate. Mine got a Willamette dry-hop and I think that's adding an extra little resiny dimension, that, depending on your taste in porter, might or might not be desirable. That's pretty much the difference. It depends on the temperature, but the hopping can be slightly distracting from the primary porter flavors. Although it's a lovely aroma actually. Right out of the fridge they smell damn near the same, but with a little warmer temperature, the hops come out. I added the hops when I smelled the beer coming out of primary and thought it was so roasty as to be vegetal. Figured something needed to compete with that or I was going to be in trouble. That aroma calmed down a ton and now the hopping is just slightly obtrusive. But I like hops.


Smutty: Dry, coffee and chocolate, a little earthy bitterness. Clean, full. Not a ton of body, but enough.

16-Penny: A tiny bit richer, but still the same basic flavor palette. My friend Buck said my porter needed a touch more body, and I'm inclined to agree. Porter is not supposed to be a heavy beer exactly, but a little more crystal malt, a touch of carapils, or a mash that ramped up into the upper 150's 10 minutes sooner, might give me a little fuller palate. But it's hardly a prominent defect.

Overall impressions:

The biggest difference between the grain bills of my beer and theirs is the presence of black patent, which they eschew and I used quite a lot of. This was what I thought made my beer taste a little harsh alongside Anchor Porter. It doesn't really taste harsh next to this one (the Anchor is a relatively effete Porter, not that it's not lovely).

I could easily redo the recipe, using no Black, more dark Crystal, and work in a little Carastan and I'd have something closer to Smutty. I'd also have to lose most of the aroma hops. I like my porter a lot and I'm pleased at how well it holds up, but I might, next time I make a porter, drop the dry-hopping, drop the aroma hopping a little, and even drop the IBU's by 10 or 12, in search of a more balanced beer, and one that emphasizes the malt characters more overall. After all, porter is about those coffee flavors and, though hops can co-exist with them, one might do well to let the character malts really do their thing without potential distraction. Still, I made an awfully pretty beer that maintains its own kind of balance.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Planning a Pale

So, in preparation for my next, relatively pedestrian, brewing stint--no more Belgians or Lagers for a month or so--here's the pale ale plan, which will later start my barley wine. I think I'll order supplies from Northern Brewer which seems to have a quicker turn-around than More Beer, and a slightly nicer selection of malts--or go with my local guy. So this is my Shoals-Pale-Ale-inspired attempt at beginning to formulate a house pale ale that combines the vivaciousness of American hops with the tight elegance of an English maltiness--because it seems to me a lot of the British ones are thin on the lupulin, and that many of the American ones have one-dimensional, "throw together some 2-row and Crystal" kinds of grain bills. Thus the following rough plan:

Pause to swear at ProMash and jam in some numbers . . .

Infusion mash, possibly stepped
6 gallon batch, instead of 5

Grain bill:
9 lbs Pale Malt (get the good British stuff?)
13 oz Carastan 35L or appropriate substitute
12 oz Crystal 120L, or the closest I can get thereto
6.7 oz Wheat Malt

This is for a target gravity of 1051.

For a total of about 31 IBU's I'm thinking:

.5 oz Chinook--60 minutes
1.25 oz Cascade--15 minutes
some amount of both at shut-off
The question there becomes exactly how much hop aroma I want. The conservative move would be .5 oz of each variety. Could do 3/4 oz each, or give the extra 1/4 oz just to the Cascades so they don't get drowned out.

Ordering is easy. I've already got the wheat and the Chinooks. Fuckin' A. Should be a fun, uncomplicated brew day in a week and a half. Hopefully completely unlike making a double-decocted Pilsner. . .

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

How not to brew IPA

So here's that IPA line-up. Due to an ordering snafu with More Beer that resulted in me getting a kit and a half free, I wound up with two mini-mash IPA kits. These are British-style IPA's, bittered neutrally with Magnum but with large late additions of East Kent Goldings. The first (my second beer overall) I made as close to the book as possible, the second I got cute and decided to dry hop (with more Kents). My last extract beer was also a kit, this time the Rogue I2PA kit, hopped with assorted West Coast hops, most notably the Amarillo dry hop. Their original gravities are, respectively,1077, 1075, and 1078. The finishing gravities were too high and ranged from perhaps 1019-1023. I'll refer to them as IPA1, IPA2, and IPAR, respectively.


IPA1: Fabulous head, cloudy, russet-tinged gold.

IPA2: Weak head (not typical of this beer though), deeper, redder, prettier color.

IPAR: OK head. Slightly hazy, somewhat browner, but in the same color family as IPA1.


IPA1: Fairly pretty, with flowery Kents, a little yeasty, sourdough quality, spicy.

IPA2: More different than seems possible, considering it was the same kit and the same yeast. Smells maltier and rounder. Considering it was dry-hopped there's not a lot more hop aroma. Smells a little sweet.

IPAR: Totally different hop profile (obviously). Grapefruity, spicy, lively bit of resininess. Anyone who know anything about hops would recognize Cascade and/or Amarillo. Sterlings were another late addition but I'm not sure what they really taste or smell like. All in all, a pretty inviting aromatic profile.


IPA1: Blech. Under-attenuated. It's hardly undrinkable, but it's too sweet and rich for the style, making the malt profile seem flabby and unfocused.

IPA2: Not any better and maybe a trifle worse. Too rich, unbalanced, poorly attenuated. Finish is a little nauseating.

IPAR: Still on the rich side, but better attenuated. Malt profile is hardly interesting--this was, by the way, the one-and-only extract-only beer I ever made. That's right, not even any steeping grains. So it's somewhat one dimensional.

Finish/Final impression:

IPA1: Inviting aroma, but ultimately a little putrid; finish is coarse.

IPA2: Hope this is the worst beer I ever make. It really sucks.

IPAR: Decent finish. Not really my kind of IPA, but a respectable beer that I could serve without cringing. Much.

What to do with them:

IPA1: Cellar and hope it vaguely improves somehow. There isn't much left, fortunately. Drink only when already intoxicated.

IPA2: Cellar and hope it vaguely improves somehow. I think I've got three six-packs still. Damnit. Drink only when already intoxicated.

IPAR: I may have under-rated this beer the first few times I had it. I've been trying to drink it up. Some should stay in the cellar for another couple months to round out. The rest should be drunk a little more chilled, not right out of the cellar like my better beers. It's O.K.

On the plus side, the Pilsner I was worried about started fermenting merrily sometime in the wee hours this morning. It's now chugging gently away in a 50-degree corner of the basement. This made my day.

As far as rectifying the IPA problem, it shouldn't be too hard. These beers were made very early on and it's amazing how much you learn in your first two or three months of brewing. Now I mostly know what I'm doing. They were all victims of my mistaken assumption that I could just pitch a vial of White Labs yeast into a 1070-plus wort. All my beers, barring perhaps the occasional mild or ultra low-gravity beer, will now get starters--from my very nice Porter forward, they all have, thank God. But I didn't know that somehow. Hell's bells.

I do love the IPA style and I think the way to make one I'll truly love is to design a simple, clean, relatively uncomplicated malt base, shoot for a gravity in the1065-1070 range, and hop it liberally with cool American hops. Fuck the English ones, unless I'm making a historical beer--this is our style now. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus, and so forth should do the trick. Could also experiment with Santiam and Simcoe, the aroma hops for Smuttynose IPA. Probably it should just start with Pale Ale malt, some Munich, a little Crystal, and either Carapils or Wheat. Not rocket science to design. I'm thinking I'll design a simple malt base along those lines and then experiment, over a couple of years, with single varietal IPA's, looking to hone my hop knowledge en route to building some perfect melange of the ones I love most. Thus ends a mildly irritating trip down memory lane. I'm going to go sit and day-dream about my Belgian strong while it works its way through secondary.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Just a thought

Apart from that yeast snafu, I keep rambling about how good my beer is. For the sake of balancing things out, tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, I'll do a vertical tasting of my IPA's, which I brewed way too early on and which have substantial weaknesses. So stay tuned for an entry on IPA's, from the ho-hum to the downright wayward, with an explanation of their stylistic flaws and technical solutions to be applied to later IPA's (one is in the works in the not-too-distant future), probably as part of a single-yeast series: American-style pale ale, IPA, and barley wine.

Crap. . . Woo-hoo!

On the first note, my Pilsner is not fermenting. What the fuck? I pitched a decent starter. The yeast was nowhere near the expiration date. What's the deal? It's been sitting since Sunday evening doing absolutely nothing. The idea was to start it fermenting at room temp and then run it down to the basement where it's about fifty in a drafty corner. It's in the kitchen and not a damn thing has happened. And I aerated it too. I'm distressed. If it hasn't done anything by tomorrow mid-day I think I'll run it down to the basement and give it 24 hours there. At some point I'm going to have to say "fuck it" and ferment it with either a packet of Saflager which requires a trip to Oneida, the leftover yeast from my Belgian strong, or a packet of Nottingham ale yeast. Not good options but I think I'll take the second.

On the second note, my Saison beer, La Chemise Enflamme, is just lovely. I really shouldn't be drinking it yet. It should mellow for a little longer and ideally have some cold storage, but it's hard to resist. It's a gorgeous orange-gold color. The head is massive, snow-white, and lasting. The nose is rife with lively, very Belgian-tasting esters: a little banana and bubble gum, some hoppiness from the dry-hop, some citrus and spice. The palate is clean and bright, with some tightly articulated malt, and a finish with potential. The only flaw, at this point, is a little rough bitterness in the finish that lingers too long. I suspect this is from the grapefruit zest, which I would tone down next time--but it may well drop down with a little more bottle age and some moderate lagering. Added to which, my Belgian strong tasted just beautiful when I racked it to secondary. How cool are Belgian ales? Fucking Germans. . . Oh, wait, make that Czechoslovakians. . . (It was a Pilsner-Uequell-ish beer) Note that I've already begun referring to it in the past tense. Soon it will be a crazy Belgian Pilsnerale if something miraculous doesn't happen.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Le Gout d'Orval

Was suddenly thinking of Orval and realized I had one stashed in the basement, which I am now sipping. So, this is a bit proleptic since I don't intend to take on such a project for a while at least, but brewing an Orval-ish beer really appeals to me and I think that it might not be that unduly difficult. I guess what I love about Orval is that it combines the wonderful yeast complexity that is the hallmark of Belgian beers with an English-style dry hopping rare on the continent. What's not to like? Plus it has that little lambic-y twang. In fact it's more like lambic than the only lambic I can get in this area . . . Damned Lindemann's. Excepting Cuvee Renee of course.

The O.G. is 1040 at the all-malt stage and then ramped up to 1052 with candi sugar. The malts are all pale with a small amount of some kind of caramel to get that orange glow. The hops are apparently Hallertau and Styrian Goldings--though I've heard Kents elsewhere. Yeast-wise, the main Orval yeast is available--White Labs 510. Then, once it got down to perhaps 1008 or 1010, one could pitch a small quantity of Brettanomyces to get that little hit of tartness, dry hopping at the same time. I used to think of hops as the key to Orval, but now that I've been brewing for a while I'm thinking it's all about the yeast. Yes, a thorough bittering with low-alpha-acid hops would be a must, plus the requisite flavor additions and the very distinctive and, I suspect, rather liberal dry hopping, but clearly the trademark dryness, the slight puckeriness, and the lambic-y bouquet have a ton to do with the yeast. So, within one year of today, February 9, I will cook up a batch. Why not? In the meantime, I will just think of monks and smile despite plunking down five bucks for a bottle every couple months. I'm thinking one could brew 5 or 6 gallons for, oh, 30 bucks, counting pricey yeasts.

Note that when returning to this post and brewing Orval, the monastery's website has valuable brewing information: For instance, Hallertau's may be a bigger part of the flavor than I might've guessed.

Monday, February 07, 2005

120 Minute and a meditation on giant beers

So, as long as the day's activities are subsiding, I thought the perfect way to ease me into fixing up my grade book would be a Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA that's been in the basement for about four months. There's one more down there, which I'll try to give a year, but I'm not promising anything.

This beer is simply madness. After popping the cap and inhaling, my first impression is actually of white wine, specifically a really wicked Chardonnay--this is how big and toasty and fruity a beer we're talking about. You wouldn't want to have this more than a couple times a year because it's really too much . . .

Pretty pale, with an amber tinge. White head is not particular big or lacey, but remarkably stable for a beer of this size.

Nose: Oak, pineapple, butter, tropical fruit meets toasty, delicate woodiness. A little twang of citrus, but not as Cascade-ish as I remember. In fact it really doesn't have a conventional hop aroma in a sense. There's too much going on to name a hop, or even a hop family. There are some resin-y things going on but I think those white wine aromatics are really in the foreground. This reminds you just how extraordinarily broad a range of flavors can be squeezed into the category of beverages we crudely dub "beer."

Palate: This is simply the biggest beer I've ever had and hence leaves one groping for adjectives. Their Worldwide Stout is amazing, and, in fact, most days I'd rather drink that if I had nine bucks to plunk down, but this, despite its undoubtedly simpler grain bill, is a more expansive beer in some ways, with waves of crushing malt. Surely this has got to have some of its 21% alcohol derived from some form of chaptalization, but you wouldn't know it considering how fat the damned thing is. And, for all that your taste buds are rather assaulted, I can think of beers with six or ten percent less alcohol that are ultimately more cloying. Go figure.

The finish, by the way, lingers and lingers, a mixture of pure alcoholic heat, lingering malty sweetness, and just enough resiny hoppiness to kind of, sort of, balance it all out somehow. So this is as close as beer can get to some form of Sauternes or sherry.

Now, for the sake of argument, brewing something like this would be pretty intriguing. Obviously the fermentation would be a bitch, involving much ungainly yeast coddling, but given the availability of things like the White Labs high-gravity yeast, one could fool around and experiment. Perhaps a plan is in order.

Proposal: Once (1 times) per annum, I shall brew, in the quantity of 2.5 gallons or less (who the hell needs five?) a beer of 15% or more alcohol, just for the sake of learning. Most obvious candidates: An imperial, imperial stout, an imperial IPA, a double barley wine, an eisbock, and perhaps some sort of Belgian monstrosity, like a La Chouffe on growth hormones? And, really, though there may be some trial and error, I ought to be able to make something on roughly this scale and, seriously, it has to cost a little less than $8.99 for a twelve-ounce bottle, yes?


I'm feeling that my life is unduly packed right now. This semester is a bitch and it's all I can do to stay on top of it. Then I have these high-maintenance hobbies, like my circa ten-hour-a-week brewing job. Then there's cleaning the damned house, entertaining friends and colleagues where possible. Shit. I've got a kingdom to run, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. God forbid I should ever have time to, say, go to the dentist, or watch a movie.

So I'm taking a break from Henry V, which I'm not that wild about, and having a beer. Having made two Belgian beers in the past few weeks, and having planned a Pilsner for this weekend, I need to do two drinkable, simple beers for a party I'm planning. The idea is to throw a sizable, bring-your-own-appetizer party for a variety of deserving colleagues as the semester starts to wind down. And if I want to squeeze in a barley wine to age for the rest of winter I need one of these party beers to be capable of providing a yeast starter for a barley wine to be made shortly thereafter. This is skipping over the whole issue of Pilsner production, which is no small challenge--need to squeeze in some research on that. I'm leaning toward double decoction.

So as for the party beers: I figure I need a Pilsner or a Pale Ale or a Wheat beer, plus an approachable dark beer. The last beckons for an oatmeal stout. The one I made from More Beer is my most popular beer to date so why re-invent the wheel? In principle I'd like to write a recipe, but I'm leaning toward just getting an all-grain version of that kit and letting it rip. Should require little thought and should produce a very nice beer that people will dig. As for the triumvirate of pale beers, I don't feel like wheat beer; one batch of pilsner (I'm splitting the yield on that one with a friend) is enough trouble and I'll need time to trouble shoot--that may well be my one and only lager until next winter unless it comes out perfectly and I decide I can squeeze in one more before it warms up. That leaves the pale ale, which, conveniently enough, can provide a perfect barley wine starter too.

The barley wine will be my Bigfoot-inspired, all-malt, heavy-on-the-Chinooks monstrosity and I anticipate using White Labs WLP001, the sturdy Sierra Nevada yeast. Why not? Even more conveniently, this is the yeast for at least some of the Smuttynose beers. So, I'm sipping a Shoals Pale Ale, which I don't wish to slavishly copy, but I adore its clean, robust malt base and I know the grain bill. I think it's worth trying and if the resulting beer is comparably good, that grain bill could prove the basis for years of delicate tweaking and hop profile adjusting--all in search of my perfect house pale ale. Here's the rough plan:

Shoot for an OG of 1050.
IBU's in the low to mid 30's.
Bitter carefully with Chinooks for some depth.
Flavor with Cascade.
Late addition of both Chinook and Cascade.
Don't get too carried away with the hops.
Grain bill is 80-82 percent pale malt with 8 percent each medium Carastan and very dark Crystal, plus a dash of wheat for head quality.

I'll see how that sounds in day or two and then order some grain. Could order seven pounds of pale, plus a pound of each of the specialty malts, plus oatmeal stout supplies. The only problem is that part of me would rather be making Belgians. I'm going to try to wait for early returns on the last two and wait six weeks or so before launching a series of Trappist-style beers.

"Dr. Doom," my nascent Belgian strong, is fermenting happily. "La Chemise" is bottle-conditioning and beckoning to me prematurely. Patience . . . patience . . .

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Belgian Strong Schematics

I'm spending the evening ensconced in my home office, sipping beer, organizing my now voluminous beer notes, and, finally, figuring out some of the subtleties of this weekend's brewing exercise, a Belgian Strong in the vein of Duvel. Here's the issues I figure I need to contend with that go beyond the relatively skeletal Mosher recipe I started with:

1. Water quality, in a beer this simple, is probably key. Not having set up carbon filtration yet, I anticipate using half boiled tap water, and half bottled spring water, roughly. I figure that'll yield a slightly cleaner, tighter beer.

2. I'm planning a thorough cold secondary--this may kill or severely inhibit the yeast. Moortgat re-yeasts at bottling. It's possible I could do a shorter secondary and just focus on a long, cool aging in bottle, but I'm inclined to be a stickler for details in a beer this minimalistic. I think it might be best to have a warm primary for one week, rack to a slightly cooler secondary off the trub, then rack once more (retaining a small, clean sample of the yeast sediment for later) to the colder secondary. That colder secondary I'll give about two weeks, shooting for something like 30 degrees. The extra racking, in addition to procuring a re-yeasting culture, will provide for a clearer beer.

3. Mosher recommends a step infusion with a protein rest, in the interests of clarity. I agree but need to come up with temperatures. This needs to be a very dry beer. I ran into a step mash program designed for dry stout when researching Jeremiah's unfortunately named stout. That mash ran something like 145 for 30-45 minutes, 150-152 for 15, and 158 for 30. That certainly ought to convert everything... I'd like this beer to get down to about 1010. Brewery Ommegang, to get Hennepin down to a very dry 1008, uses a multiple-step mash starting at 122º F and ending at 152º F. That oughta work too. I propose a protein rest of 122-125 for 20-30 minutes, following by a water addition to get up to 145 for 30-40 minutes, followed by direct heat up to 152 for 25 minutes, followed by a mash out. Conveniently enough, the most efficient step mash I've ever done (following Papazian's Silver Dollar Porter routine) also involves exactly 10.5 lbs of grain. This means I can steal water quantities. Thus:

Mash 10.5 lbs Belgian Pils into 2.5 gallons of 130 degree water. Hold 25 minutes.
Add 5 quarts of hotter water to raise temperature to 145.
(ProMash somehow isn't helping here. Papazian uses 200 degree water to hit 150, so perhaps 190 degree water would hit about 145?)
Hold around 145 for 30-40 minutes. Apply direct heat to raise to 152. Hold 25 minutes. Test for conversion as needed and mash out by adding a gallon or so of simmering water. Sparge with 4 gallons at 170 degrees.

Seems like a logical mash to me and ought to produce full conversion and a highly fermentable wort.

4. I'm running the recipe specs in Pro-Mash to check issues of gravity and bitterness. Duvel reaches 1056 with malt alone. 10.5 lbs Pils produces, in theory, 1058 at 75% efficiency. Close enough. If my efficiency gets out of hand I can always dilute the final wort slightly when I'm getting ready to end the boil. The corn sugar quantity is tricky. I plan on adding Mosher's 1.75 lbs, though I think it's a little higher than the Duvel percentage at that point. Priming will require 6 oz for the batch, resulting in the sharp carbonation essential to the style. This would raise the final gravity to 1075-1076, which is just slightly over Duvel. I have a hunch this recipe will come out just right if I put 5.5 gallons in the primary. So, I'll follow the Mosher grain and sugar quantities. I will, however, take the precaution of adding the sugar at the very end of the boil, lest I produce unintended caramelization and overly rich flavors. This is, as recent tastings have reminded me, a supremely pale and delicate beer.

5. Mosher's hop additions produce 62 IBU's according to ProMash. Seems about right to me. Would it be wrong to add an extra pinch of of Northern Brewers to compensate for lost bitterness and swing up the hop flavor a tad by delaying the flavor additions from 30 minutes remaining to 20? Or to add 1/2 oz. of Styrian Goldings nearer the end instead? I'm envisioning the following hop schedule:

1.25 N.B.'s 60 minutes
1 oz Saaz 30
1 oz Styrian Goldings 30
1 oz Saaz at cool-down
.5 oz Goldings at cool-down

All are whole flower but for the Northern Brewers by the way. I need to be careful about the final steeping hops as my beers cool down very quickly--because my tap water is ridiculously cold. I might let the beer sit for a minute before turning on the chiller to get a little better hop extraction.

6. So the goal is to get the beer from 1075 or so down to 1010 or 1011, for an alcohol content of about 8.5 and a hop level that is bitter, but but not at all overly bitter, with hop aroma, but nothing overwhelming. Duvel, as I think of it, has that subtle, breezy Saaz thing going on, but not a lot of hop flavor, which may justify those odd 30 minute additions.

7. Aerate well and ferment with Wyeast 1388, in my case by pitching it on the yeast cake left by La Chemise Enflamme.

8. Rack around as described above, bottle with priming and a small dose of yeast, warm condition a week and then cold condition until I can't take it anymore. 1-2 months in the garage fridge?

Surely there are loose ends here, but that might work pretty well. After this slavishly imitative project, I'll probably come up with a loosier, goosier spiced Belgian strong in a few months, maybe with some aromatic malts, a touch more color, some star anise, a heavy dry hopping, something like that?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Porter Tasting

In a continuing quest for objectivity in gauging my own beers, I introduce my own Sixteen- Penny Porter to Anchor Porter, in a battle to the death.

Visuals: Similarly red-tinged black. My beer is half a shade darker and perhaps 15-20 percent more opaque. Neither beer has a super-retentive head, but 16-Penny's is a trifle darker and a little bigger and longer lasting.

Aromatics: The first impression from the Anchor is coffee--good, delicate, city-roasted arabica. Also a little bit of a fruity, winey, estery thing. The first impression from mine is heavier coffee, more like the harsher tones of a Thai coffee--not terribly harsh or anything, but definitely more on the robusta end. In place of the fruitier winey hints is a deep raisiny, chocolatiness. Getting some chocolate now in the Anchor too and I want to link the winey esters to some of the flavors you get in the darker Belgian beers, a yeast thing perhaps.

Mouthfeel and flavor: The Anchor is very clean and tight, dominated by coffee flavors and a dry spiciness. It's not at all heavy, but it does linger substantially. My beer has a substantially thicker mouthfeel and tips the scale from sharply focused coffee, toward rich, earthy, expansive chocolate. It also lingers more, probably too much.

Finish: The Anchor has an indelible finish--totally focused, coffee-laden, spicy, aromatic all the way into the throat. It lingers well. I'm clearing my palate with a bit of bread to adequately gauage 16-Penny's finish. Its finish is a little thicker and heavier and this is probably a small stylistic flaw. But it's not a disagreeable or sharp finish, just a little thicker and a -tiny- bit harsh. This may in part be due to the fact that the beer's only been in bottle for seventeen days. Still, it does suggest a mistake in recipe formulation I had already surmised. I made an awfully good beer and got away with it to a degree, but I did nevertheless overload this porter with specialty malts.

Solution: Cut back the chocolate and black patent by at least 1/3 each, perhaps a touch more. This would allow more fruitiness and other elements to integrate with the roasted flavors, and would make the beer more of a porter--it veers toward stout, frankly. Nevertheless, it's cheering to note that, alongside a venerable example of the style, Sixteen-Penny Porter tastes pretty damned good--imperfectly balanced, a little less subtle, in need of tweaking, but nevertheless rich, interesting, roughly within the flavor parameters of the style, and very pleasant to drink. This was a revealing exercise as always. Now . . . dinner.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

And there it was . . .

Bigfoot. I had resigned myself to not having any this year, as I left CA a month or so before its release. But Marcy Discount Beverage came through and I brought a six-pack home, cooled one in a snow bank while I took out the garbage, and poured up a big, ruddy snifterful of poetry. I think the weather makes this taste even better up here in the Northeast. Note that this acquisition does -not- reduce the likelihood of me making a barley wine within 4-6 weeks. Oh, no. Far from it Dude. There's a lot of barley wines I love. There's the liquer-like delicacy of Old Foghorn, the sweet, malty, treacly Immort Ale, the more slender, but brilliantly fruity and aromatic Old Nick. There's the belting warmth of Scaldis. There's the visceral, prickly Old Crustacean. But if I could only have one, I'd be inclined to go with Bigfoot.

The color comes from English caramel malts (not sure what degree). It's a ruddy, orangey, deep amber. The head is pretty sturdy for a barley wine and has a microscopic bead. The nose is simply fabulous. I know it comes from a three-variety dry-hopping (Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook). I think it's the latter I notice most, the eucalyptus resin riding waves of alcohol out of the glass--you can literally smell the beer a foot away. It's a precarious aromatic balance between that resin-y, pine-y thing and the huge belt of sweet, malt aroma. Come to think of it, for all it's over-bearing hoppiness, this is a better balanced beer than I remembered. There's a definite vegetal/herbal thing going on in the aromatics too, hints of mint and lemon balm--or is it grapefruit and rau-ram?

The palate is also a halancing act, between the very layered malt and the sharp astringency of the hops. What holds them together is a creaminess I had forgotten. The finish makes me shiver, perilously bitter, with suggestions of undergrowth and earth, tree bark and pine needles. And, at 9.6% abv, it does help you forget your troubles. . . Here's hoping I can pull off something comparable. I shall spare no expense.