Softland Aleworks

Big Beers Brewed in a Tiny House

Month: April, 2013

WLP023: Burton Ale (pt. II)

Old Ale

In my last post, I mentioned brewing a Bitter to build up a yeast cake of the Burton Ale strain from White Labs in preparation for an Old Ale I was planning to brew. This was another attempt at a Big Beer, in this case as a wedding gift for some friends. The idea was to brew an ale that would age well and that they could open on special occasions over the years — anniversaries, moving into a new house, etc.

For this batch, I used a shortcut that I know many homebrewers employ:  pitching onto an existing yeast cake. This practice is kind of poor form for a number of reasons — you are using way too much yeast, you are not washing away the dead yeast cells/break material/etc. — but damn if it isn’t convenient. I can say that for my part, I have not detected any off flavors that resulted from the use of this method in this case. And while I would not necessarily recommend it, it’ll do in a pinch.

The one thing that you will really need to watch for, should you pitch onto a yeast cake, is an explosive fermentation. And I do mean explosive. After about a day of active fermentation I thought I had reached high krausen. The next day, however, I awoke to find that my airlock had blown out of the carboy, hit the ceiling, and landed on top of a cupboard. I spent the morning cleaning up my mess; thankfully, the beer was safe, sound, and bubbling away. Lesson learned: Use a blow-off tube.

In packaging the beer, I decided to cork & cage the bottles in order to give them an extra special presentation. To do this I used the Colonna Corker — I found it to be really easy to work with, and would highly recommend it. I also ordered labels from Grogtag again — this time with better resolution and a crisper image.

Here’s the recipe:

16 lbs Maris Otter
10 oz. Crystal 60
4 oz. Chocolate Malt
10 oz. Dark Molasses (late addition)

3 oz. East Kent Goldings (5.4% AA) – 90 min
2 oz. Fuggles (4.4% AA) – 90 min

Pitched onto the full WLP023 yeast cake

OG: 1.077
FG: 1.020
ABV: 7.5%

Since this was brewed as a gift, I don’t have many bottles for myself. I plan to drink the first one on my friends’ anniversary and will post the notes at that time. One thing I can say after tasting what was left in the bottling bucket, however, is that the strong fruit esters that appeared in the Bitter are not nearly as prominent in this beer. Perhaps it is the gravity, or the fact that I overpitched and thereby subdued any ester formation; or perhaps it is simply that the esters are hidden behind the prominent molasses character. Whatever the case, the beer tasted great and I look forward to drinking it in several months’ time.


WLP023: Burton Ale (pt. I)

Bitter Ale

Those of you keeping track at home will note that I have been focusing on traditional British styles recently. On the hunt for a reliable yeast that I can use for a variety of styles, I have tested a handful of different strains: WLP002, 005, 007, 013; S-04; probably others. And then there is WLP023. White Labs’ description is enticing:

From the famous brewing town of Burton upon Trent, England, this yeast is packed with character. It provides delicious subtle fruity flavors like apple, clover honey and pear. Great for all English styles, IPA’s, bitters, and pales. Excellent in porters and stouts.

Sounds pretty great, right? I’ve had a few experiences with the Burton Ale yeast over the past few months, and overall was more or less nonplussed with it — I never was quite able to make it work for me.

Recently, I made a six gallons of 1.040 Bitter to build up yeast in preparation for an Old Ale I was planning and decided to give WLP023 another try. I ended up getting pretty good attenuation and a dry-ish beer with pronounced bitterness. It came through a little thinner than I expected (a low mash temp and a pound of honey will do that), but the FG really wasn’t that low. What really intrigued me about the beer, however, was the ester profile. I couldn’t quite place it — I certainly didn’t get apple or pear; truth be told, I didn’t much care for it and I wrote it off for the first dozen bottles or so.

Then, as I was nearing the last bottles of the batch, I placed it: Pineapple. All this time I was searching for pear-fruit esters and finding something else. Once I identified what it was I was smelling and tasting (and addressed it not as a defect, but simply as something different), the beer totally clicked for me. Here’s the recipe, which is based on one I found for a Camerons Strongarm clone in Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own Real Ale:

7 lbs Maris Otter
6 oz. Crystal 90
4 oz. Black Malt
1 lb Honey (the recipe calls for invert sugar, but any easily fermentable sugar will do)

1 oz. Target (9.8%AA) – 60 min
0.5 oz. East Kent Golding – 10 min
0.5 oz. East Kent Golding – 1 min
1 oz. East Kent Golding – Dry hop (1 week)

0.8 L starter of WLP023; Fermented at ~65F (ambient temp)

OG: 1.045
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.3%

Bitter Ale 2

I have been on the prowl for an English yeast that I really love*; and while this is not it, I will say it is distinctive and worth a glance.

I would be interested to hear others’ experiences with this — Any recipes in which you have used WLP023 to great success?


* I have since fallen in love with WLP013. More on that soon…

BIAB Barley Wine

Brewing “Big Beers” can be a challenge. The cost of materials is about double, it is labor and time intensive, and you’ve got to wait. So while we are waiting, I thought I would post about a Barley Wine that is “in progress”, brewed in December 2012 and bottled in February 2013.

This was my first and only attempt at doing a beer this big using the “Brew in a Bag” method — and this was its own challenge. Say a typical Barley Wine grist contains north of 20lbs of grain (dry); it is a tall order to fit that much into a bag in your kettle. Foisting this over the kettle and letting it drain, however, is enough to make you drive to the hardware store and buy an igloo cooler right then and there. Some folks build pulley systems to get around this. Since BIAB was just a stepping stone for me, I decided to turn to extract for a sizable amount of fermentables. For such a big beer, one would never be able to taste the difference anyway. I ended up losing a fair amount of runnings simply because I had no interest in trying to hold this heavy bag of wort-soaked grain over the kettle while I let it drain. Color me lazy.

Initially I was going for a simple, Burton-inspired recipe, relying mostly on English pale malt and a long boil for a rich malt character. Ultimately I couldn’t resist adding specialty grains, but I did keep the hops (mostly) traditional with Fuggles being the primary variety.

13# Maris Otter
10 oz. Crystal 60
4 oz. Special B
4 oz. Chocolate Malt
6# Extra Light DME

2.5 oz. Fuggles (4.4% AA) – 60 min
2 oz. Target (9.8% AA) – 60 min
0.5 oz. Fuggles – 15 min
1 oz. Fuggles – 5 min
1 oz. EKG (5.8%AA) – Dry hop (3 weeks)
1 oz. Willamette (4.7%AA) – Dry hop (3weeks)

2.2L starter with washed WLP005 slurry

OG: 1.088
FG: 1.022
ABV: 8.6%

When it was young, this beer was very estery — lots of banana and yeast character. I was disappointed because this was not the profile I was looking for at all. However, after two months in the fermentor, it cleaned up nicely. Proof once again that patience is key for these beers. There is more of a pronounced bitterness that comes through now and a bit of alcohol on the tongue.

I know that the late hop additions were kind of silly — as this beer ages those hops are just going to fade — but I had the hops laying around and figured what the hell. Tasting this beer after 1 month in the bottle, it drinks like an Double IPA that didn’t quite finish dry enough, and has a really great nose on it.  I will refrain from doing full tasting notes since this beer won’t be “ready” for quite some time. Looking forward, I’m hoping that the Special B dark fruit character will come to the fore as the beer oxidizes slightly, and that this will blend nicely with the earthy, tobacco notes from the Fuggles. Cheers!