Galaxy White IPA

Anchorage Brewing Company's Galaxy White IPA

This 750ml bottle was given to me as a gift recently and it was some very interesting stuff.  I haven’t had many White IPAs so I can’t say that I’m an expert in this rather interesting style.  From what I am led to believe, the White IPA is somewhat like a cross between a Belgian Witbier and a good old India Pale Ale.  Sounds just about perfect to me as the weather is starting to get hot and humid.  A nice wheat crispness is always a solid contribution to summertime brews.  Then I saw the kicker on the front of the bottle… “Bottled with Brett”.  This got me very interested.  Bottle conditioned using wild yeast, this, I thought, was going to be different.  The bottle also mentioned that it had wine yeast added and that it was aged in oak wine tanks.  At this point I honestly didn’t know what I was in for.  This beer was bottled in August 2012, so it has been bottle conditioning for almost a whole year.  I had a feeling that this was going to have a lot of Brettanomyces characteristics and maybe not quite the hop bite that it would’ve had at an earlier date.

I popped this baby open and started to pour.  I poured as slowly as I could, and yet I still got a full pint glass of head.  This beer was extremely fizzy and that’s not a bad thing for a summer thirst quencher.  I took a whiff and I was surprised at what I smelled.  I can’t say I’ve had much of an introduction to Brett beers up to this point but it was unmistakable.  An extremely funky, horse, barnyard, smell was overpowering the other aromas and I was already a bit scared to take a taste.  As I gave it a little more of a whiff I could tell that there were some fruity notes under that heavy blanket of Brett aroma but it was hard for me to get past it.  The taste was also extremely funky, much like the aroma but with a distinct wine note to it on the end.  There’s definitely some fruity stuff going on as well, but once again the wild yeast is definitely front and center and it is hard to separate it from the other layers.

This beer is complex, and not very approachable.  The other person that was tasting this with didn’t like it at all.  I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t too sure I liked it much myself since I was unaccustomed to the funky aroma/taste that this beer had in spades, but as I drank it, it started to grow on me.  I don’t think this would be a beer I’d drink all the time, but I would certainly love to taste a young batch and an older batch of this at the same time.  I think not only would it be fun to see how much the overall flavor changed in that time, but also to see if it would be easier to pick out the other notes in the younger beer in order to have a better sense of those flavors underneath the Brettanomyces flavor in the older one.

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From Macrobrew to Craft Brew

English: Bottle of Dogfish Head 90 minute Impe...

A road map to get from American Macro brews to beers like the one pictured. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know more than a couple people who drink nothing but Bud Light, and when they are offered a chance to drink a nice, interesting craft brew they decline.  Everyone has their favorites, be it beer, food, liquor, etc.  and they have as much a right to their opinion as anyone else.  Beers like Bud, Coors, and Miller are carefully crafted so that no matter where you go or what time of year it is, your beer will always taste the same.  That is a very tough thing to do and as much as some people make fun of those “big three” beers, they are extremely popular and the quality control is simply amazing.

I don’t drink the “big three” regularly, but sometimes, if I’m out with friends, I’ll begrudgingly share a pitcher of it (which gives me an idea for another off-topic beer post for the future).  Some people aren’t against trying new beer styles, but may just feel overwhelmed and might not know where to begin.  Others might find some styles of beer so different from the “big three” that they aren’t quite sure whether or not it is to their liking.  I think it might be helpful to maybe make a list of how to get from one end of the spectrum (macrobrew) to the other (experimental craft brew) without leaving someone to fend for themselves along a random path.  I’ll try to give a brief example of each grouping I make and give an example or two.  If you were to follow the list from top to bottom, you’d be making small steps along the path. Continue reading

Bavarian Pretzels + Witbier

Tasty!

Tasty!

What goes better with beer than pretzels?  I suppose that is a question with different answers for different people, but I think beer and pretzels together make a great combination.  Around here, “soft pretzels” are simple to find: Sporting events, street vendors, even the grocer’s freezer have pretzels easily available.  the thing that most of these have in common is that they are “Just OK”.  Not a lot of taste, not a lot of texture, but yet they are still somewhat enjoyable.  I decided to scour the internet to find a simple pretzel recipe that I could cut down to a smaller size and test.  I stumbled upon this recipe and thought I’d give it a shot. Continue reading

Brooklyn Wort Contest

As much as I worried about my Strawberry Wheat beer and how it turned out, it seems some people liked it.  I used it as my entry to the Brooklyn Wort homebrew contest and it was in the top 30 entries.  I made it to the final round of the contest which will take place on September 8th.

This is the first contest I’ve entered and I’m pretty excited about getting this far.  I must now figure out what beer I will be brewing for the finals…  I have to give it some thought and come up with something that can vie for the top prize.  Updates of the process will be ongoing as the contest finals grow nearer.

Beer Updates

Today I’d like to take the time to give some updates on my recent beers:

Strawberry Wheat

I don’t think that I’ve had a real bad batch yet, but I was honestly worried about the Strawberry Wheat beer when I was bottling.  I’m not quite sure if it was because it was strong for a wheat beer (especially a fruit flavored one) or if it just had a smell that I didn’t think belonged.  One thing it had going for it early on was that it was an easy drinking beer that had a decent amount of alcohol in it.

Now that it has been about a month since I bottled this batch, the flavors are evening out nicely and the strawberry flavor, which started out as just a hint at the very back end, has a nice, full strawberry taste.  It isn’t as powerful as the Abita strawberry beer, but I wasn’t going for anything like that.  The carbonation is higher than usual, but I like that in my wheat beers.  I’d say this beer is a keeper.  There is definitely a confusing note in the aroma that takes away from my first impression when I bring it up for the first sip, but I’m not sure what it is.  Luckily, if I let the beer stand in the pint glass for a couple minutes before drinking, the aroma bets much better.  I’m probably entering this beer into the preliminary round of the Brooklyn Wort Homebrew Competition.  This will be the first time I have entered a competition and i think this brew is my most unique.

 

Spruce Brown Ale

This beer has been bottled, and conditioned for a couple weeks now.  I took an early taste after about a week’s conditioning and got some early thoughts.  This beer is much darker than I was expecting…  I’m not sure why I was expecting something lighter with the C120 and Dark LME I used, but this is approaching black in the pint glass.  The head foams a light brown, but obviously there isn’t that much of it right now since it hasn’t had time to fully condition.  The aroma is strong, raisiny, and burnt caramel.  There isn’t really any spruce notes to be seen unless I’m not certain what I should be looking for.  The taste right now is similar, sweet, plum or raisin, some burnt caramel, and not too much roasty flavor, which I’m just fine with.  There’s not a lot of hop flavor, just some balancing.  I’m rather sure this will turn out to be a solid american brown ale, but I’m not sure the spruce flavor will ever come out.  Even if there is no spruce flavor in this beer, the spruce still serves a purpose.  Spruce is high in Vitamin C and that helps to keep the beer stable over a longer period of time.  The jury’s still out on this one but the early feeling is that this one is going to be a solid brown ale.  Speaking of brown ales, two that I’d recommend getting your hands on would be Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale and Avery Brewing Co.’s Ellie’s Brown Ale.  Smuttynose’s is a bit more sweet, very complex, and at 6.7% ABV it is strong.  Ellie’s Brown is more roasty and has tastes of vanilla and nut that Old Brown Dog doesn’t have.  Either way, you can’t really go wrong with either.

 

I have a (hopefully) improved ESB in a secondary right now and I hope that the hot weather around here didn’t do anything to harm this batch.  I’m also getting ready to brew a Belgian Wit this weekend.  Belgian yeast strains can tolerate higher temperatures so this one was chosen more out of necessity than choice.  Updates on both of these to follow soon.

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.

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.

IMAG0120

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.

IMAG0122

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