Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sierra Nevada Porter

Now that the weather's changed, Matt and I are into brewing some darker beers. Next up on the brew schedule is a porter. I'm pretty stoked for this, as Anchor Porter was my favorite beer in college (well, besides High Life). As prep for brewing, we thought we should sample another porter, so Matt picked up a sixer of Sierra Nevada Porter.

Aroma: There is very little smell to this beer. I mainly get a clean, malty nose. Matt thought he could smell some spiciness.

Appearance: Dark and cloudy, but slightly opaque at the bottom of the pour. Topped off with a thick creamy head.

Flavor: Chocolaty roastiness, a clean finish with a slight hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, but not too thick and heavy. (As a porter should be.)

Overall, this is a nice example of a classic porter. I still prefer Anchor as it's heavier - I like chewing my dark beers. As ususal, we're going for a hoppier version for our brew, and plan on dry-hopping with Chinook and tossing in some grains of paradise for spice. Should be perfect around March when we're totally sick of winter.

Belgian Prankster Label in Zymurgy

On a whim, I sent one of our labels into Zymurgy magazine, and it got printed in the November/December issue! Many thanks to Gabe Patti for doing the original watercolor, which we scanned into the label.

In case you're wondering what the hell this is all about, this beer is named after a character in The Order Of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy, which is one whacked out book. After reading it, Meg and I both decided we needed a beer called The Belgian Prankster. We then met James while he was doing a reading at The Hop Leaf, and turns out he's not only a beer fan, but loved the idea of a beer brewed for one of his characters. After laboring over the recipe for awhile, we came up with an interesting ale that pays homage to our Latino Chicago neighborhood by incorporating 1.5lbs of Pilloncillo sugar. We used Mosher's Belgian Pale Ale recipe as a starting point, but by the time we were done with it, the numbers tossed it more into the Belgian Specialty Ale category. I think we're still figuring a few things out, but after 2 batches we thing we're onto something good. It's one of those beers we miss after not having it for awhile.

I will say it was interesting to take a character from a book (and an evil one at that), and figure out what sort of beer he might be. It put a whole new perspective on the beer-as-art thing by putting us into a new mindset when working on a beer. It was a ton of fun, why not try brewing a beer for one of your favorite fiction characters?

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Crop O' Hops

We were at our LHBS (Perfect Brewing) over the weekend, and since we've been brewing quite a bit lately, we were discussing buying grains and hops in bulk. Billy advised us to hold off a bit, as the hop harvest is about to happen - so in the coming months we'll have both fresher and cheaper hops!

Then today, I see this great New York Times pictorial on the hop harvest - so beautiful. Enjoy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fresh Cherry Crisp (with spent grain topping)

There's almost nothing better than fresh cherries in the summer. Matt and I got used to having plenty of sour baking cherries around since our old apartment in Logan Square had seven huge trees in the yard. Even though we planted a cherry tree at our new house, it has yet to produce more than a handful of cherries. Luckily, we live a close drive from a number of cherry orchards in Michigan.

So in July we made a road to trip to central Michigan to pick cherries. Our original idea was to make a cherry stout. However, after a trip to Bells, we decided against brewing the beer. (For me the only fruit beers worth drinking are the New Glarus Cherry and Raspberry ales and Dogfish Head Aprihop on tap.) Since we had made the trip though, we still decided to pick cherries.

The orchard we went to had so many ripe trees that there was an 11 lb. minimum for picking. Now, if you're brewing, that's not too many. But for baking...well, let's just say that I have a freezer full of cherries. (See photo. Yes, they had a pitting machine! It's truly an amazing thing.) Time for baking!

I've made this crisp many times over the years, but I think this alteration for the grains was my best yet. As with any spent grain recipe, use only DRY grains. (Here is my method for drying spent grains.)

Fresh Cherry Crisp (w/ spent grain topping)
4 c. pitted sour cherries*
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 T. flour

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. spent grains
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. butter-flavored shortening

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In large bowl, combine cherries, sugar, and 4 T. flour. Pour into 9x13 baking pan.

In medium bowl, combine crisp ingredients and cut in butter and shortening. (Use a pastry blender.) Blend until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over cherries.

Bake for 45-50 min, or until golden.

*No need to drain the cherries. The juice is delicious. If you have a lot, just add more flour to thicken the mixture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using a Paint Strainer Bag in the Boil

On a tip from another website, for our last brew session I used a 5 gallon paint strainer bag in the boil. I am always annoyed with post-boil straining - it seems to just take too long as the strainer gets clogged and has to clear. So this time, I kept all my hops in a cheap 5 gallon paint strainer bag, which you can find at about any hardware store (I got mine at Menards). It was clipped to the kettle using 3 small spring-clips:

To my surprise, the clips didn't really get too hot, so there's really no need to take off any rubberized handle material before using them, like I did. This worked really well, and made cleanup a snap too. I even transferred my wort into the kettle through the bag, so it caught any grains that got through during the sparge. Next time I'll probably just dump the hops, rinse, and reuse the bag (a pack of 3 was around $3). After the boil, all I had to deal with was break material. Before transferring to the fermenter, I let this stuff settle to the bottom of the kettle by leaving it alone for 15 minutes (have a drink, clean up, etc.). When it's below the ball-valve, most of it gets left behind in the transfer. Whenever I get my pre/post boil volumes ironed out, I hope to leave it all behind.

For transferring, I attach a really short hose to the barb, and let the wort slowly fall a good couple feet into the fermenter, which helps aerate it. When that initial foam dies down, I pitch and then aerate it again with a power drill mixer. Maybe someday I'll go completely crazy and get an oxygen tank, but for now this, plus a good yeast starter, plus yeast nutrient (in the boil), seems to work very well.

Cheers and good brewin'!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Save This Store: Drinks Over Dearborn

When it comes to purchasing alcohol, we're pretty much Sam's Wine & Spirits loyalists - huge selection, great prices, knowledgeable staff. Oh yeah, they also have a cheese bar. Although, I may have a new "go-to" liquor store: Drinks Over Dearborn.

DoD is located on the second floor of a building located at the southwest corner of Erie and Dearborn. You would easily walk right past without ever noticing. The second thing it has going against it is that you have to buzz to be let in. If you're like me, that would be the deal killer. (I always feel added pressure to purchase something if I have to be buzzed in.) Don't let this deter you, as you'll be missing out on a gem of a store!

Selection is small but impressive, and reasonably priced. The owner, Kyle McHugh, tries all of his wines before ordering, so you know he approves. (We had a great discussion about disgustingly oaky/buttery California Chardonnays.) All beers are all craft brews and sold by the bottle. I love this, as I'm often curious to try something but don't want to commit to a 4 or 6 pack. On my last visit I purchased a bottle of Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron, something I certainly don't need more than one of.

This economy, and the aforementioned location and buzzing issues, haven't been too kind to DoD. So please, take a field trip, buy some quality alcoholic beverages, and tell your friends.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jamil on Fermentation

I admit, after reading Brewing Classic Styles and listening to his radio show, I'm going through a Jamil stage. This may be like playing drums and going through a Neil Peart stage - but either way, it's a good thing because the guy knows his stuff (he's the most winning homebrewer ever - while awards aren't everything, he's figured a lot stuff out along the way and is nice enough to share it).

Perhaps the most interesting thing he discusses is the importance of fermentation. He states that 95% of brewing is fermenting - from pitching enough healthy yeast, to temperature and time - you can mess up about anything else, but a solid fermentation (well, and sanitation) will save you. I know I've screwed up at least a couple beers by not paying enough attention to such things (mostly temperature).

The Brewing Network did a fantastic interview with Jamil back in 2005. You won't find it in their archives, but I somehow found the link to the mp3. I've listened to it once, and will probably listen to it again, check it out!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Cask: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA

Smoke Daddy, a small Chicago BBQ/Bar joint, had a special tapping last Tuesday. They had scored a "pin" cask (5.4 gallons) of Heavy Handed IPA. Cask beer is also called "Real Ale" - because before the days of being able to force-carbonate beer with CO2, beer was naturally carbonated in the cask by adding some sugar to the still active yeast, and allowing the beer to undergo a secondary fermentation inside the cask. CO2 is released during fermentation, which was mostly trapped in the cask - thus carbonating the beer inside (this is a very simplified version of what really happens, it's similar to bottle-conditioned beer). Cask beer has a much different mouthfeel to it - it's creamier, and the flavors are more rounded, and tend to blend together. It's "soft" - for lack of a better word, and served warmer than typical beers. I find strong, hoppy beers to be especially good on cask because the flavors transform in very interesting ways.

Anyways, being cask beer fiends, Meg and I were sure to be there - here's a picture of the cute little pin-cask:

We landed a table, and promptly ordered 2 glasses.

Notice the creamy white foam on top - it's lovely and a sure sign of cask ale. The first taste - yummers. Smelled great too. The beer went well with our dinner (Smoke Daddy has awesome pulled pork sandwiches, and great sides like mac n' cheese, pork 'n beans, even the slaw is great. Our friends had a good looking veggie burger.) A Two Brothers rep was there, and provided us with samples of the bottled version or this beer (which is force-carbonated) - it was very interesting to compare the beers side-by-side, you can really see how the cask rounds the edges and blends the flavors.

I ordered a second beer, and sort of wished I didn't. Many IPAs use Caramel (or Crystal) malt. This is a a sweet malt that adds to the body and head-retention of the beer, as well as color and sweetness. IPAs use it to balance out the hop-blast. I don't like it much, and when I use it in my own brews, I like to barely notice it. On my second glass, all the sweetness seemed to start building up in my mouth, so I didn't taste much else. IPAs need to be all about the hops, and this beer left me wanting more hops and less sweetness.*

*As a general disclosure, I tend to prefer Two Brothers' darker beers, like their Northwind Imperial Stout (available November through February) and Red Eye porter (coming in February).

If you're interested in learning more about cask beers, here are some great resources:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lessons Learned: Recipes, Mash Efficiency & Fermentation Temperature

Last summer we brewed an Alpha King clone recipe out of Brew Your Own magazine. We had yet to brew an insanely hoppy beer, and this looked like just the ticket. To add to our excitement, the guys over at Half Acre gave us a bunch of their ale yeast to use (like almost a half gallon of it).

The brew day went well, we pitched a little over half of the Half Acre yeast, and that same night we were off to a very strong fermentation. The following day it was going bananas. We had it in the coolest room in the house, but the temperature was still around 68-70F in there. The second day, I checked the sticky-strip thermometer on the side of the fermenter, and noted that it was a good 5 degrees higher than the room's ambient temperature. WOW! I said. Look at that.

A couple weeks later, we racked to the secondary and dry hopped. A quick taste during the gravity reading was very nice. Excitement building!

After bottling and conditioning, it was time to sample the first bottle. Hmmmm... it's quite a bit darker and thicker than we expected, but dang - lots of hop goodness! Yet it's bordering on imperial. We're still quite pleased. But as time went by that hop flavor started to diminish, and other flavors started to come to the forefront - namely an alcohol burn. What the hell is going on here???

Since I brewed this I picked up a copy of BeerAlchemy - and plugged in my brewday numbers. Holy crap - this is an 8% beer! And wow, we got an 80% mash efficiency! Hmmmm... mash efficiency. Having only a handful of all grain batches under our belt at the time, this was something I wasn't used to. I wonder what Brew Your Own is assuming for mash efficiency? After checking it out, I note it's a paltry 65%. No wonder this beer is so strong! I should have scaled the grain bill down a bit, but we had no idea at the time. So that was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was fermenting at too high a temperature, which explains the solvent, rubbing alcohol type flavor - or "heat" of the beer. I had this issue in a previous batch, but didn't put 2 and 2 together because it was sort of an experimental batch anyways - so now I know. Fermentation temperature is key, and ales do better in the low 60's vs. the low 70's. I guess I knew this before, but now that I know what this mistake tastes like, I hopefully won't let it happen again.

For our next brew (a stout), I surrounded the fermenter with plastic bottles full of frozen water that I would swap out a few times a day as they thawed (I have a home office, so that's easy enough). I wrapped a big towel over all that to sort of make a fermenting-tipi. I kept the temperature right around 68, which was perfect for the stout, which I'm pleased to say turned out very well - phew! I'll have to see if I can get our second fridge to hold at 60F or higher (since we actually use the freezer, we can't hook-up one of those temp-control gadgets).

Now that winter is approaching, I'm looking forward to brewing some ales and more easily maintaining the proper temperature. I'll probably stick to belgians and lagers next summer.

So anyways, I hope these lessons can help someone out ;)