Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cider Deodorizer

It's now been about a week since my latest "brew two" session, during which I made 5 gallons of "Graff" (a cider/beer hybrid) and 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine" Pilsner. By now the Graff has finished most of its primary fermentation, but is still very slightly active, so I intend on leaving it in the primary as long as it takes, as well as continue to re-wet its towel wrap each day to keep it cool. The pilsner, being a lager and fermenting at colder temperatures in my fridge, is just chugging along at its usual pace, totally normal and happy.

So tonight I went into the linen closet, which is also my brew closet for all room temperature fermentations, grabbed a fresh towel, and headed for the shower. After I finished showering, I snatched up the towel and began to rub down my head and face when suddenly I noticed.... the scent of fresh apples? Yes! I put the towel back over my face and unabashedly drew in a deep breath. Wow - better than Febreeze! Apparently the CO2 escaping from the very active Graff fermentation had been trapped inside the linen closet and managed to absorb into my clean towels. Amazing!

The whole experience was quite a surprise, and now I'm wondering if I should place a carboy full of active cider in my other closets, you know, maybe even one next to the dirty clothes hamper and yet another next to the cat's litter box? I mean, who needs air freshener anymore when you have fermented apple juice gases, right?

In any case, it was definitely another interesting brewing discovery that just made me realize how many fascinating things can occur in the house of a homebrewer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brew Two!

I consider myself to be pretty lucky, being that I live only about a half hour's drive from a great homebrewing supply store. Many brewers may never see the inside of an actual brewing store, since so few exist and it may not be worth the drive when you can simply have your ingredients or equipment shipped right to your house. But if you are blessed, like me, and happen to live near a store, then you know how fun it is to just walk around in there and check out all the cool toys!

At my local store, it usually takes a couple of minutes for the owner to prepare and package my ingredients, during which time I am free to wander around like some kid in a candy store, ogling all the supplies, dreaming and scheming of future brewing projects. About a year ago while waiting for my grains to be crushed, I came across these really cool 1-gallon glass containers and I purchased two of them, along with the corresponding rubber stoppers. They have proven to be a great asset to my brewing arsenal, and I have used them to make yeast starters, brew mead, and most importantly, make small batches of beer.

At first I would only brew "experimental" batches with new, strange ingredients, thinking that if the beer came out nasty, at least it would only be 1 gallon wasted, instead of dumping a full batch. Around that same time was when I got my kegorator, so the 1 gallon brewing system was great for producing beers for competition that could be bottle-conditioned instead of worrying about the messy transfer from the keg (I don't have a "beer-gun" or other designer keg-to-bottle tool). I even built a small, 2 gallon mash tun, which worked great for these tiny batches of beer. The only problem with my miniature brewing system was the time involved to brew.

Even the most efficient, energetic all-grain brewer needs at least 4 hours on brew-day, and depending on what methods are used, up to 5 or even 6 hours! Why would you spend all that time to make 9 bottles of beer?!! So that's when I came up with the "Brew Two" concept. Since my 1-gallon system was completely separate from my 5-gallon, why not make two beers every time I brewed, one full batch for kegging, and one small batch for bottling? Any time that I had available for brewing I would barely expend the tiniest bit of extra energy, but get way more out of it. So now I have much more room for experimentation, and now I have more of a variety of beers around in case I grow tired of whatever happens to be on-tap at that moment (my kegorator only has one tap).

So the other day I had another "Brew Two" session, during which I made 5 gallons of "Graff," a sort of hybrid mix of beer and cider, and 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine" Pilsner. My local homebrewing club is having a Pilsner competition in October, so I figured the Liquid Sunshine would be ready just in time to compete. I know I said I was going to make Jonny's "Backyard" Bourbon-Oaked Ale my next brew, but when I saw fresh-squeezed apple juice on sale at the grocery store, my recession-scarred mind said, "hey, lets go for a more economical recipe this time." Since I already had some yeast in my fridge, I managed to get the ingredients for both batches for about 25 bucks.

I got the Graff recipe and instructions here, and changed it very slightly to this:

2 lbs pale malted barley
1 lb crystal 60
4 gallons Mott's Fresh-Squeezed Apple Juice
1/2 oz Spalter hops (30 minutes)
1 packet Safale US-05 yeast
5 teaspoons Fermax Yeast Nutrient

And here's my recipe for 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine":

2 lbs pilsner malt
4 ozs cara-pils
2 ozs vienna
0.2 oz Spalter hops (60 minutes)
0.2 oz Spalter hops (30 minutes)
0.1 oz Spalter hops (15 minutes)
1/2 packet Saflager S-23

My little 2-gallon mash tun filled to the brim at mash-out:

Bag of spent grains:

Left pot is pilsner boiling (I used a 100 minute boil to avoid excessive dimethyl sulfide production), right pot is Graff wort portion just about to start boiling:

Sweating over my two brew-pots, but enjoying the very first taste of the Belgian Dubbel! (came out awesome!):

After about 6 hours at room temperature, the pilsner makes it way into the bottom shelf of the fridge, active and happy:

I put the Graff into the "brew closet," wrapped in a moist towel to keep it cool. One other quick note: after using 1/2 a packet of Saflager for the pilsner, I dumped the rest into the Graff! I'm hoping the towel evaporation technique will keep my fermentation temperature in the upper 60's, allowing the lager yeast strain to add a touch of fruity character. We'll see what happens, right now both beers are fermenting aggressively and I will, as always, report back on their progress.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First taste of Home-malted Amber Ale

The other night I finally cracked the first bottle of "Home-malted" Amber Ale, and judging from its complexion, I should probably call it "Dark Ale." Mmmm, very pleasing to the eyes and the pallet, but a bit darker than I anticipated. Very nice head, malty aroma, and complex taste. There is a bit of honey flavor (I added honey to all my home-malted creations after each try produced unusually low efficiencies), then some bitter, chocolaty notes, and finally the hop flavor, which is actually coming through more than expected. This one is a good mix, the kind of beer that you have to puzzle over, repeatedly smelling and tasting to try and come up with a way to describe its flavor. Overall I'm very happy since it's much different than the other two lighter beers I made with the homemade malt. Perhaps even my favorite one.

Here's a couple pictures of the Dark Ale in the glass:

As I've said before, malting my own barley at home was very interesting, and I feel that I learned a lot, but I'm definitely going to hold off on doing it again for a little while. It turned out to be quite a bit of work and I was never able to get very good efficiency from the grain. I want to try again in the winter when I can dry the grains in the sun without worrying about the Florida summer rains. Until then, I'll enjoy the last of my Amber "Ice" Lager, and now my Dark Ale, and plan for the next brew session, a recipe of my own creation: Jonny's Backyard Bourbon-Oaked Ale. Prepare for an attack on the senses! This one is a big beer with lots of different flavors vying for attention. I hope to try and brew sometime this week - I'll see you then!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Homebrew Challenge

The other day, after re-reading my last post, I started thinking - wouldn't it be cool to test people and see if they could tell the difference between homebrew and commercial beer? And also see which they prefer to drink? So I invented the "Homebrew Challenge," a blind taste test between my homemade creations and commercial samples of the same style!

Last night I invited over the first victims: my good friend Jerome and his cousin Randy who is visiting for the week and has never tried homemade beer before. I pitted my Toasted Lager against Yuengling's Traditional Lager, a reasonably well respected commercial offering in the same category: American Amber Lager. According to the US Open Beer Championship website "American-style amber lagers are amber, reddish brown, or copper colored. They are medium bodied. There is a noticeable degree of caramel-type malt character in flavor and often in aroma. This is a broad category in which the hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma may be accentuated or may only be present at relatively low levels, yet noticeable. Fruity esters, diacetyl, and chill haze should be absent."

Neither contestant had tasted my lager yet, and they didn't know what commercial beer it would be paired with. I told them to give away 5 total points (split between the two beers) for each of the 5 following categories: aroma, appearance (color, clarity, and head retention), flavor (malt/hop balance, carbonation, and aftertaste), body, and drinkability/overall impression. The end results? An all-around win for homebrew! My Toasted Lager scored very well in all categories, especially flavor and body. The clarity of the Yuengling surpassed my homebrew, but my head retention and the story it left behind on the glass won me that category.

Jerome, having tasted some of my beers before, was able to identify the homebrew after the first sip, saying "it's less refined, but not in a bad way." He then pointed at the Yuengling and said "The way this comes across is almost watery." I took a video of the tasting, but unfortunately it was a bit dark and didn't come out that well - I will post more video content after the next "Challenge," but here is a stillframe of Jerome holding up the two brews:

Cheers, buddy! Thanks to Jerome and Randy for taking part in the "Homebrew Challenge." I invite anyone else who's interested to stop by and taste the difference!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Session Beer" - the Toasted Lager review

Waiting to taste your splendid, frothy, miraculous malt creation has to be the most difficult thing about homebrewing. Especially when each batch utilizes some new-fangled technique, recipe, or method, which in my case happens quite often. Such is the story with my Homemalted Organic Toasted "Ice" Lager (is the name long enough for you?). Here I sit, having just got home from a barbeque with my friends (during which many blah-tasting commercial beers were imbibed by all those present) just staring at the kegorator, thinking - why not just have one glass? And so I went ahead and poured the first sampling - aaaah, what a wise decision.

Even though this beer has been force carbed in the keg less than 48 hours, I must say that it has great body and is very delicious. This is the first ice beer that I have ever brewed (by accident), and I must say that I can notice an immediate difference in the head formation and retention. Absolutely amazing! After pouring the first glass, I can see that the head is very thick and robust, almost like meringue, and it lasts and lasts. Even when I took the last sip, there was still almost a finger's width of thick foam floating on the surface. So I can't help but wonder - should I freeze all my beers from now on?

I was even tempted to try and balance a quarter on top of this amazing head, but by the time I found one, I had already finished most of the glass. The flavor of this beer is very light and malty with hoppy undertones, actually more hoppy than I expected. A bit more body than the last "homemalted" creation, but very smooth and easy to drink. With its clean aftertaste and low alcohol content (about 3.5%), I would definitely consider this a "session beer."

The term "session beer" is used by homebrewers and beer drinkers to describe a beer that is easy to drink and can be heavily consumed in one sitting without becoming inebriated. Wikipedia defines "session drinking" as "drinking in large quantities over a single period of time, or session, without the intention of getting heavily intoxicated. Unlike binge drinking, the focus is on the social aspects of the occasion." Homebrewers like to say that their session beer is "quaffable," or easy to drink.

But where did these terms originate? I've always wondered about their conception, so lately I have been digging around a bit, and I found this awesome article, which states:

A British expat and buddy of ours in California once suggested that a "session" referred to one of the two allowable drinking periods in England that were imposed on shell production workers during World War I. Typically the licensed sessions were 11am-3pm and 7pm-11pm, and apparently continued up until the Liquor Licensing Act [of] 1988 was introduced. Workers would find a beer that they could adequately quaff within these restrictive 4-hour "sessions" that were laid down by the government without getting legless and return to work or not get arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Now he could be full of shite, but we've found some smatterings of info to back this up and it sounds like a fine origin of the term to us.

Sessionable beers of the time might have been a cask-conditioned offering, Mild or Bitter, at 3 to 4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but no higher. Poured into a UK pint glass (20ozs vs. the US 16oz pint), patrons might have had upwards of 8 pints during a session and still remain coherent, ergo the "session beer." Sounds like a lot of beer, but it actually works out to be about 1 beer per hour if you take into consideration the rising ABV of today's beers.

Very interesting stuff, right? However, unlike England circa WWI, there are no regulations regarding drinking "sessions" at my house. So come on by anytime and let me introduce you to a better beer - fresh homebrew!