Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Brews

   Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Drinking Buddies Matt, Ryan and Trevor (yours truly) pooled their collective brewing talent to create a beer the likes of which...are probably fairly common for homebrewers.  The recipe is of my own concoction, a smorgasbord of recipes and brew notes from my personal favorite brew book How to Brew and the book Radical Brewing.  Both are pretty great reads; beer writers don't take themselves too seriously.

   The target style was somewhere between an Irish Stout and an Oatmeal Stout.  My typical brews are seriously big beers with OG of 1.080 and higher.  This time i decided to tone down the alcohol, hops and crystal malts in favor of a dry, roasty complexion.  I also wanted to experiment with some of the more common added flavorings.  This is no Voodoo Doughnut, don't worry.

  I haven't decided what to call this one yet.  I keep forgetting which brews are which though, so i may take the time to print out some labels for this beer.  Suggestions for names are welcome, though i'll probably wait until i try the first bottle.  This was a 5 gallon boil (starting) with an added 1 gallon in the carboy.  After the hour boil and straining out the hop pellets, it's still 5 gallons in fermentation.

Thanksgiving Stout (partial extract)

Steeped for 30 minutes at 155F

1/2 pound oats  (5%)
1/2 pound roasted barley  (4%)
1/4 pound chocolate malt  (1.5%)

In the boil

3 pounds pilsen light DME  (44%)

First hop addition

1 oz UK Golding (60 minutes total boil), 5.2% AA

Second hop addition

1 oz Fuggles (30 minutes total boil), 4.0% AA

At knockout

3 pounds golden amber DME  (44%)


Edinburgh Ale Yeast (recommended for malty and medium-high abv beers).  I prefer a liquid yeast as i've had much more consistent yeast activity this way.  Blow-off hoses and gummy airlocks should be rare!

In the primary fermenter

16 oz cold-brewed coffee (Costa Rican light roast)

In the secondary fermenter (next week)

2 oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1 vanilla bean, split

   A few things about this brew deserve notice.  For example, UK Golding hops are mellow enough to be used as finishing hops, but i've decided to use them as bittering hops.  In total, this beer has a calculated IBU around 32 (take that with a grain of salt, as Matt pointed out in a previous post) which is far below my usual range of 50-70.  I have a bad tendency to overhop, which is fine for IPAs and big, malty stouts, but not so much for the nut brown i made last year.
   I've spiced and/or oaked beer in the past, but this was my first foray into using coffee, chocolate and vanilla.  My brew-books suggested that 4-6 ounces of coffee was enough to season a 5 gallon batch, but the Sam Adams Black & Brew claims 1.5 pounds per barrel, which with some really fuzzy math figures out to about 5% coffee.  My 16 ounces of coffee runs at about 2.5%, so that seems fairly reasonable for a mild coffee character.

No explosions forthcoming!
   There seem to be quite a few schools of though on using chocolate and vanilla, so i used the one i thought sounded most reasonable, and i'll let you know how it works.  Using chocolate in bar form was discouraged because of the all the fats that get released into the wort (you have to put bar chocolate into the hot wort to melt it).  Also it sounds like most of the flavor is lost with this process.  I'm not trying to make hot chocolate anyway, so just a touch of powdered cocoa seemed best.  I wasn't originally going to rack this batch to a secondary fermenter, but the conventional wisdom is that the cocoa needs the extra time to mellow.  Finally, i'm adding a vanilla bean to accentuate the roasty flavors of the cocoa, malts and coffee.  I'm adding the bean directly to the secondary -- there should be enough alcohol at this point to pull the flavor from the bean without drenching it in vodka first.  Somehow making extract first doesn't seem authentic enough for me.
   That's it for this brew for now!  If anyone happens to know where i can get a retired bourbon cask, though, let me know.  I'd love to use that for a future brew.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beer isn't foamy enough?

Here's some interesting food science for you. NPR posted an article on my facebook news feed titled Raise A Toast To Building Better Beer Bubbles Through Chemistry. (It's actually a post on NPR's food blog The Salt.) Scientists in Spain have identified a gene in yeast that is involved in foam retention, and are interested in harnessing this discovery to generate a longer-lasting head. I'm on board with yeast research, but I'm deeply skeptical that what we need or even want is foamier beer. The reporting was actually done by Science Friday (a great program). And the actual journal article reporting the research and findings is in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Abstract Image
Left: the CFG1 nucleotide sequence (in case you want to clone it yourself?)
Middle: there it is, 3500bp long.
Right: what happens if the yeast lack this
 gene (left) compared to normal (right)
Lucia Blasco, et al. "Cloning and Characterization of the Beer Foaming Gene CFG1 from Saccharomyces pastorianus" J. Agric. Food Chem.201260 (43), pp 10796–10807
I mention all this because like any visit to Wikipedia, one click led to another and before I knew it, I had been once again swept up in the beeriverse, a vast expanse of beer knowledge that is apparently expanding by the day, much like an exploding supernova fermentation tank. The science seems sound enough. Unlike the NPR blog, the authors mentioned that this newly discovered gene is only one of several properties that account for foam. However, the introduction starts by announcing that "Foam quality is an important organoleptic property of beer that directly correlates to consumer appeal." I don't know what organoleptic means, but it seems like a haughty claim. But their claim is not unsupported: it cites a book titled Beer: A Quality Perspective, whose first chapter is called "Achieving a suitable head." This reference seems sketchy, but I didn't actually read any of it (it has earned only one of five stars on Google, although only two show up and one is an advertisement. So although the science may be good, my argument is with the premise: that we should aspire to foamier beer. I have always thought a good beer head was one that was thin and did not get in the way. It is visually pleasing, but I'm not sure about the claims I've heard that it helps the beer's aroma. To be fair, there are several ways this research could be applied, and not all of them are sinister. The more innocuous option would be to selectively use this strain of yeast, pastorianus, instead of the other main brewing yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. An extension of that would be to selectively propagate the pastorianus that gives the most foam, much the way dogs are selected for their temperament. Then there's the GMO (genetically modified organism) option, which would mean taking this gene from lager yeast and inserting it into ale yeast. I am not against this sort of genetic modification in general, but it is often for purposes I disagree with (pesticide-resistant crops). I'm not against this genetic modification being done, but I don't want it done to my beer simply because I'm happy with my current level of foaminess. At least I think I am. I'll be looking at the top of my pint glass with a more critical eye from now on. And for all my resistance to this idea, if somebody decides to use this knowledge to make an ale with a better head, I will try it.

So let's hear it: What's your take on this? How big is your head? Would you like it bigger?
Side question: Would you have liked to see more sexual references in this particular post?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homebrew Update: The Saison Part II and Pumpkin Ale

Whew! Already deep into the fall and the season has blown by like a leaf. And like a leaf, it will soon be dried up and awaiting it's slow decay. Man, this blog entry got spooky real quick.

The second batch of Saison turned out to be lighter in color and awfully fruity, with an apple crisp note that was very overwhelming at first. Since the fall weather doesn't really require the kind of thirst quenching this beer is good for, I was able to resist too much tasting and let it age for a few more weeks. The resulting beer had a less pronounced apple character and, while sweeter, had a dry finish that still hit pretty close to the marks I had been aiming for. I'm going to shelve this beer for now, but I want to double down and see if I can get it even closer on the next batch. I think a slightly lower temperature in the mash might get me about where I need to be, but there's only one way to be sure. I'm saving bottles from each batch for a grand analysis later on in the year.

In the meantime, I have been trying to plan ahead and add a seasonal brew attempt to my homebrew cycle. Pumpkin beers are all the rage, so it seemed fitting to take a stab at making one to my and Wife's tastes. It is important to note that flavors most identified with pumpkin beers is often not the pumpkin. The pumpkin itself adds a "squashy, earthy" texture. It can also take a backseat to, say, the mouth feel of a heavy porter or stout as well. Personally, I enjoy the pumpkin with a bit of what makes a pumpkin pie so good: Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and other common pie spices. You can add just pumpkin or just spices, but they compliment each other so well it would be a real shame to miss out on either. As a result, I was determined to use fresh pumpkin with a compliment of spices in an ale that would feature this combo.

The ale itself was simple and unobtrusive. The base was a standard U.S. malt with Munich Malt and Crystal 40L malt for a little color and some background flavor. If you're not into grain, that will make a nice lighter ale without any heavy toffee, caramel, sweet, or deep coffee notes that darker roasted malts might add. Into this mix I added 6.5 lbs of pie pumpkins and a reserved selection of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace. There were a multitude of other spices I could have added, but the last thing I wanted was a few billion spices trying to vie for the attention of my taste buds. Simple is hard to do.

Really, the brew was the easiest part. The hard part was cutting, gutting, and roasting the pumpkin. Oh, that's right, I roasted the pumpkin. I highly recommend having a capable assistant to take care of the pumpkin. It takes around an hour and the gutting takes as long as it wants to. The fermentation was fantastic, as it made the whole closet smell like a pumpkin pie.

Full disclosure: it's been long enough between blog posts that I've managed to ferment, bottle and pour this one. It's spicy and thick at first, then is deliciously light by the time it heads down your throat. It's a big hit with the crowd. While I'd like to see if what this would be like as a porter, I think having as an ale keeps kit from being weighed down (that's a fancy way of saying you'll want to drink more of it). Happy Fall!