Hoppy versus Malty

I think it is rather fair to say that the US craft beer scene has been, for the most part, obsessed with hops for a very long time.  IPAs rule the roost and become more hop forward every year it seems.  My friend sent me an article, “Against Hoppy Beer“, and it made me reflect on the types of beers that I have made so far and the types of beers I like to drink while I’m out at a bar.  While the East Coast isn’t the beer capital of the U.S., I’m lucky to live close to many bars which serve primarily craft beer, and there is a bottle and growler store within walking distance where sometimes you can find some rare brews.  Most of their selections are usually Pale Ales, IPAs or other hop forward beers.  I can see how this can be intimidating to some beer drinkers, and that’s why the craft beer bar near me stocks Budweiser bottles along with its 24 kegs and two casks of fresh craft beer.

I didn’t make a beer with over 50 IBUs until my 5th batch.  In the grand scheme of things I had other beers which I was more interested in making first before going to the craft brewer’s mainstay.  Golden Ale, Hefeweizen, ESB, and Oatmeal Stout all took precedent over the good ol’ IPA.  I don’t think this was because I liked all of those styles more than IPA, it is just that I wanted to make beer that I couldn’t as easily find.  Let’s face it, when you’re starting out brewing you’re probably not going to be world class right off the bat.  It is going to be tough brewing a beer as good as Lagunitas IPA, or Goose Island Pale Ale, or one of the countless great Pale Ales available.

Some people would say, “The hops will hide imperfections in the taste of the beer so it would be a good beer to start off with.”  I can’t deny that, but I would rather make a clean, mild profile beer first in order to make sure all of my techniques are sound and that I’m not carrying over any bad sanitation habits from batch to batch.

My non-beer drinking friends all love the golden ale and the hefeweizen I made.  The people with a bit more beer savvy tended to like the ESB the most (Nobody has really tasted the IPA).  It frustrates me that my first batch is enjoyed more than my later batches but I think that probably is for the same reason I waited on brewing the IPA:  There simply are fewer craft beer choices in styles like golden ale (I’m not sure what style category I’d even put that one in) and ESB, so they are newer and different to the people tasting them.  I brewed the IPA well along my journey as a novice homebrewer because I can easily get 12 different outstanding IPAs by just walking a few blocks.  I didn’t brew IPA first because when I go to a bar with a regular beer selection the beer that is most palatable is usually an IPA.  It is already my go to beer so why not switch it up so that I can enjoy a beer that is different when I have that choice?

I’d say the article is missing the point.  Craft beer is made for beer fans.  IPA might not be a style that translates well to people who have never tried craft beer before.  If a person who knew nothing about wine went into a wine store and picked a bottle at random I think they would have a decent chance of picking something that they didn’t enjoy.  Why should beer be any different?  Maybe it would be a decent idea to put together a list of beers to progress through from the american big three through to the more niche beers.  Sounds like a  project I’ll have to try to take on.

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Spruce Beer

Ever since I came across the spruce beer recipe in The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian I’ve wanted to try to make a batch.  Every time I go to the home brew shop, I notice the little bottles of spruce essence that they have for sale.  I admit that I was tempted to just by the essence and use that, but I decided that it was probably a better idea to just get the real thing and go from there.

Spring here in the Northeast has been cold and, living in the middle of a huge city, it would be hard to run across spruce in general, let alone the spruce tips that were what I was really after.  Luckily for me, I walk through Central Park quite a bit and there are two Norway Spruce trees that I walk past frequently.  I’ve been waiting for the new growth to show, and last week the spruce tips looked ready to harvest on one of the trees.  I didn’t want to be greedy so I made sure to only lightly pick around and not to take too much from one area.  I would guess that I got about two ounces of super-fresh spruce tips to add to my next brew!

I was trying to stay pretty close to the recipe in the Joy of Home Brewing but the recipe was for a 5 gallon batch and was extract only.  I decided to tweak it a bit and make a mini mash so that I could get the gravity I wanted and bring it up to a 2.75 gallon batch with only one can of extract.  My favorite beer lately has been Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog, so I tried to put a bit of that character into this recipe as well although this one is going to have a decent amount more IBU’s than that.  If you haven’t tries Old Brown Dog and you’re a fan of American Brown Ales, I would highly recommend finding some.  As a side note, I added some leftover UK bittering hops to the first hop addition to bring up the IBU’s.  I probably wouldn’t do this again since I’m trying to make and American Brown Ale but I will see how it turns out.

  • 3.3 Lbs of Briess Traditional Dark Liquid Malt Extract (1.035 specific gravity per pound per gallon)
  • 1 Lb US Two-Row
  • .25 Lb Crystal 120L
  • .25 Lb Munich 10L
  • .25oz Challenger 7% AA & .5oz Willamette 4.5% AA @ 60 minutes
  • 2oz Spruce Tips and 1/2 Whirlfloc tablet @ 15 minutes
  • .25oz Willamette @ 7 minutes
  • .25oz Willamette @ 1 minute
  • US-05 dry yeast

I mini mashed the grains in half a gallon of water @152 F for 60 minutes.  I added the full amount of LME at the beginning of the boil since I was doing a full volume boil.  It turned out darker than I expected, but I’m excited for this one.  The spruce however wasn’t very fragrant and I’m worried that maybe the flavor and aroma will be lost in the final product.  Next time I will either have to find more fragrant spruce, or add a bunch more.  Cleaning out the bottom of the boil pot after racking the wort to the fermenter was pretty nasty.  It looked like someone ripped up a christmas tree and ground the pieces into the mud.  SG was 1.055.

The smell coming out of the fermenter is great and I can’t wait to taste this one.  Two and a half days later and the primary fermentation is done.  Tomorrow I’ll rack it to a secondary and let it sit for another 10-15 days.

Strawberry Wheat Beer Batch part 2

Most of the strawberry solids were removed after racking a third time

Most of the strawberry solids were removed after racking a third time

After having the strawberries in the secondary for over a week, I thought it was time to get ready to bottle up this batch and get started thinking about what I was interested in brewing next.  Racking to a tertiary fermenter helped me leave most of the strawberry sludge behind.  The color of the fruit changed dramatically and it was a rather nasty job getting the bottle completely clean again.

One day later, it was time for bottling.  I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough bottles and was scrambling to make sure that I could find a home for as much of this beer as possible.  Final gravity reading came in at about 1.013.  It is tough for me to get a good handle on the final %ABV because of the added fruit sugars that were fermented in the secondary fermentation.  The starting gravity, not taking into account the fruit, was 1.056.  I’d guess that the ABV of the beer is between 5.7 and 6%.  The aroma was definitely strong, dry strawberry mixed in with the more common hefeweizen aromas.  I’m not sure whether this will be a favorite of mine yet.  The couple sips I tried tasted decent with a more subtle strawberry flavor to it.  I find the taste much more enticing than the aroma and I hope that with time in the bottle that problem will subside.

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I used my brew pot as a bottling bucket

After adding priming sugar and transferring the beer into the brew pot I tried to grab any remaining pieces of fruit floating on the top with a strainer.  After that it was a pretty non-eventful bottling… Just the way I like it.

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Final haul was 21 12oz and 1 22oz of strawberry wheat beer.  4 days in primary, 9 days in secondary, 1 day in tertiary.  These should be ready to drink in under 2 weeks.

Next up will be a spruce beer with fresh spruce tips that I picked yesterday.  I’m excited to brew something that I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted.

Strawberry Wheat Beer Batch, part 1

Recently I upgraded my brew kettle and fermenting equipment to go from a one gallon set-up to something bigger.  I’m still new to the whole homebrewing scene but I’ve done my best to try and learn as much as possible.  The last wheat beer I brewed was a one gallon extract hefeweizen batch and it turned out wonderfully.  I’m hoping that my first 2.5 gallon batch will come out at least as well.

Since I was trying out new equipment, I wasn’t sure about how much wort I would lose in the boil and in the trub.  I planned on erring on the side of caution to make sure I got a decent about of wort.  My simple recipe is as follows:

Strawberry Wheat

  • 3.75 lb Two Row
  • 3 lb Pale Wheat Malt
  • .75 oz 4.5% AA Tettnanger @ 60min
  • WB-06 Dry Weizen Yeast
  • 1lb of fresh strawberries per gallon of wort in secondary

I planned on making about 3.25 gallons of wort and seeing how much I lost before fermentation.  I ended up wasting well over half a gallon of usable wort mostly because of the cold break not settling.  I’ll be more careful next time to make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future.

I think I captured about 2.5 gallons of wort and the SG was 1.055.  Fermentation started quickly and by day 4, the gravity was down to 1.012.  Fermentation temperature was around 71 degrees F.  After taking the gravity reading, I racked my beer to a secondary fermenter and got ready to add the strawberries.

I read quite a bit about adding fruits to beers and I was a bit apprehensive about the process.  No two places I researched agreed with the best way of doing it.  Some suggested adding the fruit to the hot wort as you are cooling it, some suggested boiling it, others to add fresh fruit to the secondary.  All seemed to have pros and cons.  Adding the fruit to hot wort or boiling wort is reported to cause the fruit flavors to come out cooked and can increase the amount of pectins.  Adding the fruit fresh to the secondary could lead to bacteria or mold destroying the batch since it is tough to sanitize the fresh fruit thoroughly.  As the beer in the secondary was already at a relatively high ABV level, I think that it should be resistant to any outside infections.

Fruit Preparation: I thoroughly washed and cored all the strawberries making sure to remove all the greens.  I then quartered them and added them to a sanitized food processor and pulsed them on low until they were well chopped.  Into the fermenter they went and now it is once again time to wait.  Quickly the yeast started attacking all the new sugars that were added and the fermentation has become quite a bit more robust.  I plan on leaving it in secondary around 10 days.  It is probably important to keep an eye on the fruit floating on the top and to make sure that the fruit is submerged in the beer so that nothing can grow on the top.  I’ll be sure to update as it is warranted.Image