Softland Aleworks

Big Beers Brewed in a Tiny House

Fall Update: Brewing English Ales, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Malt

Time for another catch-all post, this time focusing on a new love of mine: English styles.

English Ales: Tasting Paddle

Special Bitter

I decided that I wanted my first all-grain batch to be a style that was not overly difficult to brew. However, I found that one can always find ways to make a mess of things — but that’s all part of the joy of homebrewing, no? In this case, I was working with Jamil’s recipe for an Ordinary Bitter from Brewing Classic Styles. It is an easy beer to brew and I was curious to try a proper Bitter, which (to my knowledge) I had not had. I went to my LHBS to procure the grains and misreading the scale ended up with much more Special Roast than I had intended. Now, Special Roast imparts a sort of tangy sourdough character to a beer, which when done right lends it an interesting (and, I’m told, authentic) biscuity quality.  However, with it being out of ratio, the sourdough tang easily took over. I suspect that I also miscalculated my other specialty grains, which in conjunction with a surprisingly decent efficiency gave this beer the gravity of a Special Bitter rather than an Ordinary Bitter. Unfortunately, I did not discover my error until after I had bottled and tasted the beer — way too late to adjust the hop schedule.  To my palate, it ended up out of balance and too tangy. Interestingly, the guys at my local homebrew club loved this beer. Go figure.

Lesson learned: Measure twice, crush once.

Spiced Pumpkin Ale

One of the things I look forward to ever year is the oncoming of the holiday spiced ales. Much like Egg Nog, every year I buy up all the Pumpkinator, Punkin’ Ale, Pumking, and whatever else I can get my hands on, and then promptly burn out on the style until next year. This year, I decided to try my hand at brewing my own Pumpkin Ale. After searching around the Internet for recipe ideas, I hit upon one that seemed vetted and successful. It is more or less a clone of Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale, which has a Brown ale as its base (though not technically an English Brown — I am going to sneak it in this post anyway), with additions of baked pumpkin, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. I baked the canned pumpkin the evening before and steeped it in a bag as the water came to strike temp. This seemed to be more than enough time for the pumpkin to produce a rich color and some fermentables too (you don’t get much flavor from the pumpkin itself). Doing it this way also prevents the pumpkin mush from clogging up your brew system. The rest of the brew day went pretty smoothly. When it came time for bottling I found that the 1.5Tbs of spice I added 10 minutes before flameout had mostly boiled off and had produced only a soft hint of spice, where I was looking for a more bold flavor. I simply added another 1.5 Tbs to the bottling sugar as it boiled. In hindsight, this was perhaps a bit overzealous. Next year I think I will move the spice addition in the boil to flameout and cut down the bottling addition to 1 Tbs. I found that the downside to adding spices at bottling is that they tend to lay on top of the other flavors, as opposed to blending and integrating. That being said, I was very pleased with how this beer came out and am inspired to incorporate spices (albeit more subtly) in other brews. More on that below.

Newhouse Porter

I was in New York for a wedding and put in a respectable session at the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House, where you have two options: Light or Dark. The former is an Amber Lager and the latter a Porter (what they call a Stock Ale). They come in small pours, one for $3 or 2 for $5, and are impressively delivered by barmen who carry upwards of two dozen of the small mugs in one go. It’s incredible. The beer is respectable, but it’s not revelatory. The experience, however, is. The place is full of history and it is easy to get swept up in the adopted nostalgia of it all. Afterall, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt drank here! The decorations on the wall are older than your parents. You get the idea.

So it was that after a few mugs of their Stock Ale, I started to ruminate about the pubs of yore that, like McSorley’s, had their house beers and that’s what you drank. No exotic casks. No tap takeovers. No frills. Just beer. It helped that I had recently discovered the variety that exists within the bounds of a Porter and had been reading up on the history of the style. So I decided to give it a go — to design a light, refreshing, yet roasty and fortifying ale that would serve as one of our own “house beers” — something to have on tap year round, a crowd-pleaser.  Brewed in honor of our moving into a new home, the recipe for our Newhouse Porter is all British malt, including a healthy dose of Brown Malt (common in more historical recipes) and a pinch of Black Patent (I’ve read somewhere that one uses Black Patent for Porters, Roasted Barley for Stouts). I mashed at 152F and fermented around 67F.

7# Maris Otter
1.5# Brown Malt
1# Crystal 60
4oz Black Patent

1.5oz EKG (60)
0.5oz EKG (15)
0.5oz EKG (5)

S-04

Cardamom Brown Ale

After you have been homebrewing for a while, you start experiencing flavors differently. You might be eating a muffin and think to yourself, “What is that spice? I think I could use that!” After my first spiced ale experiment, I thought it might be fun to see what one could do with these different flavors. I had a hunch that Cardamom could lend an interesting complement to a malty brown ale and decided to give it a try.  As with any spiced ale, the key is restraint. A heavy hand on the spice rack is what gives these beers a bad rap.  Done well, and you offer just a hint in the background; Done poorly, and you will ruin that spice forever after. My hope with this beer was to achieve the balance that one encounters in spicing Saisons: If you can single out or identify the spice, you have added too much.

We just bottled this up last nite, and I’ve got to say it tasted pretty good. Tasting notes to follow in due time.

Fall Update: Sours

Ah, beer, beer, beer… I spend most of my day thinking about recipes, listening to the BN, planning the next brewday; but not nearly enough time writing about it.  I do apologize, dear readers.  It is not for lack of brewing, but indeed because of brewing! So I would like to do a few catch-all posts to hit the high points of what we have been up to in the garage.  The first will look to our sour beers.

ECY Oud Bruin

By now, my love of Belgian ales should be readily apparent.  And so when I had the opportunity to acquire some East Coast Yeast, you had better believe I jumped at the opportunity. [An aside: If you ever find yourself with the opportunity, I suggest you do the same!  Fill up your Internet-shopping-cart and run for the paypal line.  The mistake I made was hemming-and-hawwing over which strains would fit into my brew schedule; meanwhile, yeasts were selling out and being subtracted from my cart.  Don’t overthink it! Select and pay, and figure it out later — these yeasts don’t come around often enough. And word on the street is, they will be a bit further delayed after the heat of the summer and all this Sandy/Nor’easter business.] These yeasts come highly recommended and I was quite excited to try my hand at a sour ale. After consulting the wise interwebs, I dove in and have been gently coaxing my bugs along for several months now. The thing about sour ales is you had better have patience — we are talking months and years, where we normally talk about days and weeks.  I pulled a hydrometer sample yesterday and I think we are in the home stretch on this one.  The FG is down to about 1.019 and it tastes wonderfully complex: A lot of Lactobacillus up front — assertive, but not overpowering or vinegar-y —  followed by a soft, dark fruity malt finish.  I got a bit of an oak character too, which is a nice surprise since there has so far been no oak introduced to this beer. What was it Lisa Simpson said about Jazz — You have to listen to the notes that she is not playing, or something to that effect.

Initially, I thought that I would have to wait quite a while for this beer to finish up. However, after listening to Jamil’s episode on the style, it seems that perhaps that is not necessary?  My takeaway was that it is done whenever it tastes like it is done. Long story short, this may be the best beer I’ve made yet. We will give it another couple months and then bottle and cork it.

Sueur de Cheval: All-Brett Belgian Rye

The second sour ale that I decided to take on was an original recipe, using only Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (WLP650) for fermentation, which I am calling Sueur de Cheval — a wink-and-nudge to Michael Jackson’s all too oft-quoted descriptor of Brett character as “horse blanket”. [Another aside: Do you see many cicerones around stables? riding out on the ranch? What does a horse blanket smell like, pray tell? Furthermore, how does it taste? Can we move on from this meaningless phrase?]  I was inspired to take on this project after reading a wonderful article on Brett in a recent issue of Zymurgy. I decided on Brett B., as it seems to be the most middle-of-the-road.

Here’s the recipe:

8 lbs  Belgian Pilsner
2.5 lbs  Rye
8 oz  Carapils
1 oz  Crystal (5.2%AA) (60)
0.5 oz Crystal (15)
0.5 oz Crystal (5)
WLP650

I mashed around 152, which is probably a bit high.  However, according to the article, the Brett will eat through just about anything you give it and produce an exceedingly dry beer. So I figured, why not mash a little higher and balance this out a bit. If I had to do it over again, I would also add a bit of acidulated malt, which helps to drop the pH of the mash and provide an ideal environment for the yeast. I was more restrained with the hops than I normally might be, since I am seeking to showcase the Brett character. This was my first time using Crystal hops, which I chose due to their being described as “mild and spicy” — hopefully a good complement to the rye.  As for fermentation, I pitched at ambient temperature (around 74F) and let it free rise.  It has been sitting in the high 70s for about six weeks now.  I pulled a hydrometer sample the other day and found that (although it is far from finished) it already had a mild funk to it and was quite pleasant. I took a look a week or so later and found a beautiful pellicle had formed.

Very excited to see how this one turns out!

Brett Pellicle

The Solera Method

Doing sour beers can be dangerous territory for a number of reasons.  For one thing, you have to be extra careful in your sanitation.  Most folks recommend purchasing a new set of plastic (your glass carboys will clean up just fine), and that is what I did. The second reason is that it ties up your fermenters for months at a time.  Every now and again, the big online stores will have a sale on carboys — I suggest stocking up ahead of time.  But lastly, and most importantly, it is seriously addictive.  I totally get why folks who start brewing wild ales stick with it: It unleashes a certain creativity that demands patience, improvisation, and hopeless optimism.

And then there is the art of blending.  I just don’t think I have it in me to wait several years to drink a beer (yet).  However, I would relish the opportunity to try the Solera method.  In a sense, this is sort of a lazy-man’s way to try blending: First, you fill a barrel with your beer and inoculate it with bugs. After it has soured up and you are satisfied with how it is tasting, you rack off a portion of that beer and then fill the barrel back up with fresh beer.  Then you let that sour up, and repeat ad infinitum. I imagine after a while you develop a feel for what beer will pair well with what is in the barrel and can plan accordingly.  There are a few advantages to this method: One being that you never have to worry about your barrel drying out or going bad.  You also will always have a new, (hopefully) delicious sour ale at your finger tips.  And if you are one of those homebrewers who (like me) is trying to hone in your technique and striving for consistency, it is a refreshing opportunity for inconsistency: You are continually meeting a beer you’ve never met before. And how cool is that?

Notes on the Augustus Saison

Augustus Saison

I was on one of those classic LHBS trips…

It is not too often that I have the opportunity to shop in-person at my favorite shops (Austin Homebrew Supply, Defalco’s, etc.), so when I do, I try to take advantage of it and see what is new, different, anything that sparks an idea.  On this summer day, I happened to be wandering the aisles of AHS’s newish storefront and arrived in front of the hops cooler. Staring me right in the face were packs of Hopunion’s Citra hops.  I had been hearing a lot about this new breed — a lot of good things.  As the name implies, Citra hops impart a nice citrusy, fruity flavor and aroma, and are additionally a great high-alpha bittering hop as well.  So I picked some up, and they sat in my refrigerator…

I was busy brewing a lot of specialty beers, like the gluten free “CeliAle” and the Oud Bruin, which gave me all kinds of hell.  So it was a while before I roused myself to brainstorm a recipe idea for the Citra.  It being July in Texas, I was using a lot of Belgian yeasts and, in particular, Wyeast 3711, which was recommended to me by a brewing buddy, and which I have really come to like — it is fast, dependable, and great for a Saison (I have heard of it going below 1.000 — now that’s a dry finish!).  It seemed plausible that the citrusy character of the hops could complement a Saison, which frequently includes additions of lemon zest, etc. As I wanted to really see what this hop can do, I used it for all stages of the boil.  I didn’t want this to be a “Belgian IPA” so much as an aggressively hopped Saison, so I kept the bittering charge to 0.5 oz and used very small additions for flavor and aroma: 0.25 oz every five minutes from 25min til flameout.  All in all, it is estimated to be somewhere around 42 IBUs, so nothing crazy.

The mashbill was pretty straight forward with mostly extra pale LME, some wheat malt LME, and a late addition of 1 lbs Orange Blossom honey that I threw in just because I had it laying around.  I also added 0.25 oz each of cracked coriander and ginger root at 10 minutes as well.  Lastly, I dry-hopped with 1 oz of Citra for 1 week.

OG: 1.062
FG: 1.005
ABV: 7.5%

Appearance:  It has a lovely, hazy golden color to it; a foamy white head, with great retention.

Smell: A beautiful hop aroma; maybe out of character for the style, but really lovely. When I tasted the hydrometer samples of this beer during fermentation, the mix of yeast and hops produced an aroma oddly reminiscent of cat urine. As one could imagine, this was pretty off-putting; thankfully, this seems to have “worked itself out” either through the addition of dry hops or the yeast simply cleaning itself up — definitely something I will be conscious of in the future. Just one more example of the “Never give up on your brew” adage — the finished product can surprise you, if you give it time.

Taste:  The small additions of hops worked really well for this beer, as it has a very soft hop character that is really interesting;  I was afraid that the strong Belgian yeast character would compete with the hops, and I think that that is the case to an extent — the next time I brew this I will ferment at the low end of the recommended temperatures in order to subdue the yeast character and provide a bit cleaner finish; still, a really beautiful and complex palate; I don’t get much from the coriander or ginger — I wonder if I would notice their absence in future brews, or if they are simply in perfect balance…probably the former.

Notes: I think this was a successful experiment!  One of the most frustrating things about Citra hops is how popular (and therefore difficult to procure) they are.  My idea for the Augustus Saison, which will be our “house” version of the style (whenever I settle upon the right recipe) is an aggressively, but not overly, hopped version that is refreshing and finishes dry.  I like the idea of playing around with different hops to see how I can achieve this and what unique character each brings to the beer.

We will be brewing this beer again this weekend.  This time, however, it will be all grain, with no spices and 2 lbs of honey to really dry it out.  I just ordered a bunch of different hops from Nikobrew, including 8 oz of Citra.  Perhaps I will try recreating this same recipe, or maybe trying different combinations.  Now that I know what Citra can do, I am interested in seeing how well it plays with others!

Labels

I think every homebrewer dreams about seeing the beer that he or she works so hard to perfect on the shelves of the local bottle shop, or brewed on a 10bbl system — I know I do.   And I would wager most of us take the craft of making beer every bit as seriously as the pros.  Many are even chipping away at business plans in their heads, as evidenced by the number of new breweries and breweries-in-planning that are popping up all over this country.  A small step towards reifying this daydream is to brand your beer: Most folks have a name for their brewery (ours is the Softland Aleworks) as well as for their original recipes.

And so, it is with not a little pride that I present our first offering:

Label for Augustus Saison

The label for our Augustus Saison — tasting notes to follow!

Orange Blossom CeliAle

Orange Blossom CeliAle A while back, I decided to try my hand at brewing a gluten-free beer.  Having never had a sorghum-based beer, it was a bit of a shot-in-the-dark. Nonetheless, I drew up a pretty simple recipe, in the hopes of making something light and refreshing.  Here are some tasting notes, by way of follow-up:

OG: 1.055
FG:  1.007
ABV: 6.3%

Appearance: A very clear beer, with a brilliant white head on it.  As I understand it, head retention for sorghum beers is pretty much nil —  I found that to be my experience as well.

Smell: Very light on the nose, with no hop aroma. If anything, a little bit of the coriander.

Taste: This beer could easily be called “The Lemondrop.”  I used way too much coriander for the recipe, which dominates the pallet.  I do get a fair amount of the sorghum (what I perceive as a sort of mineral-y flavor) as the coriander subsides. Having never had a commercial example of the style prior to brewing, I was not prepared for this flavor, which I think is something that grows on you — It is not a bad flavor per se, but simply a flavor that one does not encounter in most beer.  The dominance of the spices helps to mask the sorghum a bit, which is I suppose an unintended benefit.  Lastly, the late addition of honey did not add much in the way of flavor; however, it did serve to dry out the beer, giving it a crisp, refreshing mouthfeel.

Notes: Having had a number of these over the course of several weeks, I will say that I have come around to the sorghum flavor.  I had the opportunity to try Dogfish Head’s G-F offering, Tweason’ale, and found (much to my surprise) that I quite enjoyed it. And while I would not go out of my way to brew or drink gluten-free beers, I think all-in-all this beer was a success.  In the next round, I would definitely ease off the spices, maybe use a yeast with a bit more character, and play around with hop combinations. As a variation on the recipe, I would consider adding cranberries, which I think would add a nice, complementing tartness.

August Update

Things have been pretty busy in our brewing world:  

We brewed an Oud Bruin a number of months ago, which is in secondary and souring nicely.  I had some issues with the ECY yeast getting stuck around the 1.040’s, but this was totally my fault, as I let the yeast sit in the fridge for far too long before using it.  I decided to pitch a starter of Wyeast Abbey II that I had lying around, in hopes of finishing out the rest of fermentation. After a long, slow primary, it has finally dropped down to where it needs to be.  Now to let the bugs do their work for another year or so, and maybe add a bit of oak for the last month, then bottle it up.  Sour beers are a lot of commitment, but (I imagine) when they finally turn out, the work produces a truly special beer.  And if they don’t, you can always give them another year or two!

ECY23

We also did a Barleywine earlier in the summer, which sat on oak for about a month, has since been bottled, and is conditioning.  Unfortunately, we had two bottle bombs a week ago and so I rushed to get the rest of the batch into the fridge to prevent any more.  I am not sure what caused this to happen — inconsistent priming sugar distribution? an infection in those bottles?  I opened another bottle after chilling it for a few days, and it tasted fine amazing.  It may be the best beer I have made so far.  The oak is just where I want it, and I am anticipating those dark fruit notes from the malt developing as it ages.  I am planning this to be an annual brew, and will hang on to a number of bottles of each “vintage” to compare in coming years (assuming they don’t blow up first!).

All Grain Gear

We have a batch of Northern Brewer’s Dead Ringer IPA that we ordered during their IPA day sale, which we are getting ready to dry hop.  The real news, however, is that we have officially made the jump to AG!  After slowly accumulating the extra gear, we brewed our first batch last night — a Special Bitter that we did Brew-in-a-Bag style.  After some initial assembly frustrations, we had a great summer evening brew session, hitting our numbers, and getting about 73% efficiency — not bad!  I did make the rookie mistake of walking away during the mash and letting the temp fall to around 145F (from 152F), but I am not overly concerned.  It will take a few batches to dial in this new system, but it was a great first brew!

The recipe we brewed was based on Jamil Zainasheff’s from Brewing Classic Styles, with some deviation based on available ingredients and personal taste:

8 lbs Maris Otter
5 oz Crystal 120L
3 oz Crystal 90L
4 oz Special Roast

1 oz EKG (60)
0.5 oz Fuggles (60)
0.5 oz EKG (20)
0.5 oz EKG (1)

WLP023 – Burton Ale

Coming up, we will be brewing a Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale clone, doing some tasting notes on the Gluten-Free brew we did a while back, and other assorted shenanigans.  Stay tuned!

Belgian Table Beer


It should come as no surprise to hear that I adore Belgian ales.  I love the depth of flavor, the spicy clove, the estery yeast character, the diversity among the styles, and (last, but not least) the fact that these yeast strains excel at high temperatures.  So far we’ve brewed ten beers since first getting our beginner’s kit in early 2012. Four of those have been Belgians.

The inspiration for this, my first stab at an original recipe, was two-fold. Upon reading Phil Markowski’s Farmhouse Ales, I was taken with the idea of a beer that had every bit as much character as some of the classic saisons, but with about half (or less) the ABV — a more traditional take on the classic style. I was envisioning something that you could serve with just about any meal — a table beer — that would be exceedingly quaffable.  The second inspiration came in the form of Jester King’s Le Petit Prince, which provided me with a concrete example.  I knew that the challenge would be to create a beer with enough of a flavor profile that it wouldn’t be boring or taste watered down, but that would remain crisp, refreshing, and not too boozy.  Le Petit Prince describes this to a tee.

This recipe was left intentionally simple and indeed borrows a bit from the Jester King recipe: 6# Extra Pale LME; 1# Flaked Wheat; 8oz. Caramunich; 1.5oz EKG (60); 1oz Styrian Goldings (60); .25oz EKG (15); .25oz EKG (5); Wyeast 3711.

OG: 1.042
FG:  1.004
ABV: 4.9%

Appearance: A lovely hazy orange color, with a nice head on it.

Smell: The aroma hop addition was not enough to do anything — I just had a little extra hops sitting around and figured, “Why not?” In hindsight I should have just done a .5oz flavor addition.  Nonetheless, on the nose, I get a lot of Belgian esters — just what you would expect!

Taste: The simplicity of this recipe was intended to really showcase the yeast — I wanted to see what the 3711 could do (besides attenuate like crazy).  The bitterness is just where I want it; as to flavor, however, there is really a minimal profile, the yeast is definitely the dominant player.  I am tempted in future incarnations to add some spices or more/different hops for flavor; however, my real intention with this beer was to make a “small,” refreshing Belgian — I think things could very quickly spiral out of control, leaving me with a big saison on my hands. But, then again, there are worse problems.

Notes: I was initially a bit disappointed with this recipe, not because anything was “off” (it would be hard to screw this one up), but just because I was nonplussed by it. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good. It was just a petit beer. However, I think that has more to do with my recent tendencies towards big, bold styles.  I have been drinking this beer for about 6 weeks now, and I have to admit, it has grown on me tremendously. Perhaps it has come into its own; or, then again, perhaps my pallet has just come around.

Lastly, a note regarding brewing with flaked wheat: Something that I did not know at the time, but I have since learned is that flaked wheat must be mashed with base malt in order for the enzymatic conversion to take place. So my use of the ingredient in this case was null. However, this knowledge (useful though it is) is somewhat moot, as (I am very excited to say) we are making the jump to all grain brewing (via Brew-in-a-Bag) this month!

Imperial Black Rye IPA

Imperial Black Rye IPA

Once upon a time, I was visiting a friend in Montreal, QC, Canada — a great town for beer, as it turns out!  Soon after my plane touched down, the city got doused with approximately 100cm of beautiful, fluffy snow.  It was incredible — The whole city shut down, and we cozied up to watch the Habs play in a wonderful little pub. Later that evening, my friend introduced me to a number of bars and brewpubs throughout Montreal and many beers were drunk.  One, however, sticks out in my mind above the rest.

At an upscale brewpub, I found what I seem to remember being called an “India Cream Ale”, though in hindsight it may have been a “Creamy India Pale Ale”. (For one thing, it was nothing like a Cream Ale). Marked with a bouquet of “C” hop aroma and bitterness, it was a full-bodied beer with a strong malt backbone and a wonderful creamy texture. It was one of the most interesting beers I had had in a long time.  Now several years later, I have no idea what the bar was named, nor indeed what the beer was actually called. However, what I do have is the impression the beer left on me and my hazy recollection of it.  In trying to clone it, I decided to use an AHS recipe for the base, but used WLP007 for better flocculation and added mouthfeel/body.  Similarly, I added some Malto Dextrin as well.

OG: 1.082
FG:  1.023
ABV: 7.7%

Appearance: A very dark (really, almost black) body; with a thick, creamy head that produces beautiful lacing on the glass.

Smell: An ounce of Falconer’s Flight for the aroma addition and two ounces of Falconer’s Flight, Chinook, and Columbus in secondary all lead to this beer having an a big bold West Coast IPA nose.

Taste: The aroma is really a preview of things to come: This beer is damn hoppy. I’m not terribly into IIPAs/DIPAs because more often than not, they’re just out of balance hopbombs. However, this one is actually in balance, and boasts a distinct rye character and a fair amount of roastiness, despite the high IBUs. The mouthfeel is just what I was looking for — I fell in love with WLP007 with this beer and have already used it again in our Barleywine.

Notes: This was the first beer I have made that I was really proud of.  As such, there’s not much of it left! The hop profile is great — I really loved the Falconer’s Flight and would definitely use it again. It’s a great “C” hop blend.  The only drawback was that, since I dry-hopped with pellets (first time doing this), there is a bit of hop sediment in the bottles.  It’s not quite the beer I had in Montreal (that one was not a rye ale, for one thing), but it is a great IPA!

Gluten-Free Brewing

In the May/June 2012 issue of Zymurgy, there is a wonderful article on gluten-free brewing that includes useful information on the health conditions surrounding gluten intolerance as well as recipe formulation. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately brainstormed a recipe, which I jotted down on the back of an envelope.

After a few tweaks, I settled upon:

5.0 lbs Sorghum syrup
2.0 lbs Orange Blossom Honey (late addition)
2.0 oz  Hersbrucker (60 min)
1.0 oz Hersbrucker (20 min)
0.5 oz Cracked Coriander (10 min)
Safale US-05

A lot of these ingredients will be new to me; therefore, I wanted my first stab at G-F brewing to be a simple recipe for a pretty small beer.  I started with a moderate amount of Sorghum (which almost always makes up the bulk of fermentables in G-F beers), backed up by the honey, which I am hoping will dry out the beer and impart a subtle orange blossom character. As is recommended by Charlie P, I kept the honey to around 30% of the total sugars.  I wanted to stick to noble hops and chose Hersbrucker as a low-alpha, balanced hop. Between the 20min addition and the coriander, however, I may run the risk of barreling over the subtle honey notes.  As it turns out, all dry yeast is gluten-free (Who knew?). I went with US-05 as a neutral, crisp strain, which I am hoping will aid in this beer being a refreshing ‘lawnmower’ brew.  However, I may opt for T-58 in the next attempt for a more Belgian character.

With any luck, this beer will be a good xmas present for my sister, who hasn’t had a beer in years. We’ll see how it turns out in a few weeks!

Dry-Hopped Brown Porter

It has taken me a relatively long time to appreciate the malty side of craft beer.  Don’t get me wrong — I love a good stout as much as the next fellow. But stouts (especially the big ones) often have quite a dose of hops to provide a good balance. Same goes for something like a Baltic Porter.  But a soft, delicate, malt-forward ale that tends toward the sweet side? Never did much for me. I suppose, like a lot of American Craft Beer drinkers, I was too busy burning my palate in the hops-race to bother with these classic, mostly English styles.  And so, in an effort to be well-rounded in my style appreciation, I’ve set out to fix this, starting with the Brown Porter.

According to the BJCP, the Brown Porter is the smallest and most sessionable of the family. It should have a mild roastiness, very little hop presence,  and a medium body. The brown porter interested me as a classic style with a lot of room for subtlety; and really, I wanted something that would be refreshing in the Spring heat.  I was brewing this beer for a cookout we had planned for the end of April and knew that I didn’t want a big beer that would lay me out before I even got the grill lit.

The recipe was once again from AHB; but this time, I went with the Session Series kit: Chocolate, Black Patent, Special Roast, and Crystal 90L malts; Malto-Dextrin; and 6lbs of LME for the fermentables. The hop additions were very minimal: 0.75oz Chinnok for bittering and 0.25oz Chinnok for flavoring. We also did a little bit of experimentation, with our first attempt at dry hopping — not really to style, but it actually panned out well! We used Fuggles to be somewhat “in character” with the beer, which at first added a (not-overbearing) grassy hop nose, but, at the time of this tasting, has since mellowed out into a really balanced and complementary aroma. The yeast was WLP002 — a standard for beers of this ilk.  However, perhaps due to reading too many message board posts about it, I was really paranoid about the yeast floccing out on me. Sure enough, despite (I thought) pretty careful temp control in the swamp cooler and several attempts to stir them up, I could only get the beer down to 1.017, which is a relatively high FG. I have since bought a few packs of Nottingham yeast to keep as a reserve in case this happens again in the future.

This recipe called for a late addition of LME. I believe that these late sugars not mixing well with the top-off water led to my inability to get an accurate reading for my OG. This posed no ill effects for the beer, it was just annoying.

OG: 1.041 – 1.050
FG:  1.017
ABV: Approx. 4% ABV

Appearance: Dark brown body, with a lush head.  You can see that the Brown Porter is the stepping stone between a Mild and some of the more robust darker porters/stouts. Wonderful head retention and lacing along the glass.

Smell: A nice earthy Fuggle scent; I only used 1 oz of whole leaf hops in secondary, which was definitely enough — the aroma is by no means overbearing, but it is present.

Taste: Delicate roasty notes, a bit sweet; the perfect balance of Chinook hops.

Notes: This was our first time brewing with Malto-Dextrin, which added a nice silkiness to the body of the beer without really weighing it down. I am pretty pleased with how this one turned out — It’s sessionable without being boring! I plan to start formulating my own recipes for the style to have on hand for a house beer. This series from AHB is designed to be ready ASAP; and while this beer was definitely drinkable a few weeks after brewing, it has really benefited from an extra month or so of aging.