Jun 212011

Alarm clockAfter several very busy weekends, I find myself a couple of kegs short of my July 4th weekend party goal. The party was supposed to feature four styles of beer, which I knew was an ambitious plan. I should be happy I have two styles ready to go – the American IPA I brewed in late May, and a batch of Kölsch brewed a couple of weekends ago which is ready to be kegged.

Most brewers would hang up their mash paddle and enjoy the party, happy to be able to serve 10 gallons of good brew instead of the usual backyard BBQ crappy macroswill. Especially considering that there is still a plethora of party details to take care of in the next week and a half, including a fairly involved food menu. However, I am not like most brewers – I am completely insane. I’m considering trying to go from grain to glass in one week.

Many a brewer has tried to rush a beer along to try and meet some competition or party deadline. Most of the time, the results are disastrous. The dance of yeast and malt is a fickle one, and trying to force the beer to bend to your schedule can lead to a host of issues. Hot fusel alcohol notes from high-temp turbo fermentations, CO2 bite from rushing a forced carbonation (natural carbonation isn’t even an option on this schedule!), and overall green-tasting beer are just a few of the perils that await an impatient brewer.

I do, however, think it can be done. Let’s talk about some assumptions.

Assumption 1: You aren’t doing this with any kind of complex beer. Forget anything with an OG above 1.040 or so. Forget your dry-hopping, your nine-malt grain bills, your oak chips, your bourbon infusions, all of that. We have to go fast here, and any kind of complexity is going to need time to mellow and allow flavors to meld.

Chris Hansen

"Put down that Hefe and have a seat over here"

Assumption 2: Forget any kind of aging/conditioning process. If we had time to lager this beer, we wouldn’t be in this situation. So we need ales that are best enjoyed young. I mean really young. I mean, if these beers were people, you’d have Chris Hansen getting all To Catch a Predator on your ass. A few styles instantly come to mind – witbiers, hefeweizens, English milds, American wheats – all best served at the peak of freshness.

Assumption 3: We need a fast and furious fermentation, but without sacrificing the beer quality by going too hot. Hefeweizen yeast can ferment at higher temps, but I still try and keep things on the cool side to keep the banana esters from becoming too overpowering. Saison is another style that can be fermented on the warm side, but I think it might have too complex a flavor profile to meet our first assumption. So, if we can’t ferment hot, how else can we speed up the process?

Assumption 3a: We are going to need a lot of yeast. This means either using a yeast cake or making a very large starter. You want the yeast to hit the ground running and not waste a single precious moment.

Assumption 3b: We want to use wheat, which is known for extremely active and fast fermentations. Wheat beers offer another advantage as well – they are usually meant to be served with yeast in suspension, meaning we don’t have to worry about filtering or wasting precious time trying to get the beer to drop clear.

OK – so now that we have some ground rules, it’s time to figure out exactly what to brew. This beer will be served next to an IPA and a Kölsch, so I want its flavor profile to be somewhere in the middle. I’m going to use the yeast cake from the Kölsch, so a true hefe is out. That leaves me with a witbier, with its coriander and citrus tang, or an American wheat, which I would probably add some sort of fruit extract to. I plan on fermentation being done by day three or four, leaving me some time to get the beer kegged and carbed in time for the party.

I’ll be making my final decision over the next couple of days, and plan to brew this puppy in a late-night session after work on Friday. I’ll keep you posted.

May 272011

Sometimes you just nail it.

Last weekend’s IPA brewday was one of my best ones yet. All of the water volume data I recorded last year finally paid off big time – my original gravity came in at 1.072 vs an expected 1.071 – my most accurate brew to date! It wasn’t perfect – my mash efficiency came in 5% low (75% vs the expected 80%), and I was still about a half gallon of wort short at the end (5.5 gallons into the fermentor instead of 6) – but the errors were small and effectively cancelled themselves out. Sometimes the brewing gods smile upon you and two wrongs do make a right!

Fresh hops

All of the data I took last year was very helpful in estimating my grain absorption and evaporation rates and tun, kettle and cooling losses. My new water meter made measuring water a snap, and I decided to round all measurements to the quarter gallon. This took a lot of the micro-management out of the water side of things, and I’m very pleased with the results. This was my goal all along – the meticulous collection of data leading to the ability to relax and enjoy the results.

The IPA has been gurgling happily in my fermentation fridge at around 65°F – my basement is actually cooler than that, so I’m using this brewing space heater with a dual stage controller. It’s actually a flat pad you can stick to the wall of the fridge – perfect for maintaining ale temps in a cool basement or during the winter.

Today was the first gravity reading and taste test. The gravity is currently at 1.020 vs an expected final of 1.017, so it has a few more days before I crash cool it. The taste – all I can say is WOW! This is one nice IPA, even when it’s warm and flat! It has a really fragrant hop nose and you think it’s going to clobber you, but with its high starting gravity it comes out very well-balanced. Not too thick of a mouthfeel, a nice, strong malt backbone, and sharp, citrusy hop flavor cutting through it all. Even my wife loved it, and she is not a hophead at all.

You can find the recipe here. Also, I’m looking for a name for this beer – any ideas? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.

Mar 202009

Holy Hops!

Holy Hops!

So, probably the most unique and interesting beer event during my hiatus from the blog occured a couple of weekends ago. Girlfriend and I were lucky enough to be invited for dinner at the home of some friends of ours. One of said friends (we shall call him J-Dawg for privacy’s sake) is a phenomenal cook and a fellow homebrewer.

Dinner was excellent, and we also got the chance to sample an IPA J-Dawg had crafted. I thought it was excellent, reminiscent of a fresh/wet hops IPA like Sierra Nevada’s wondeful Harvest series. J-Dawg does not fear the hops (he was co-brewer on our “Pale Ryeder” RyePA last year), and I was reminded of a story he had told me last time we were hanging out.

It would seem J-Dawg, some time ago, had brewed up a beer with a friend. To make a long story short, the grain for this particular brew was not milled. At all. Like, not even cracked a little bit. Now, you experienced homebrewers are probably groaning as you know where this is going, but for those who might not realize the significance of this fact, let me explain.

Beer gets its flavor from malt and hops. The sweet malt and the bitter hops ideally balance one another out, creating the harmonious flavor experience we call beer. When one of these flavors is not in proportion to the other, you get an unbalanced beer. When one of these flavors is completely absent, well…

J-Dawg does not like to talk about this beer, and he wears an obviously pained expression when the story comes up. However, for whatever reason, he has held on to a cache of said beer, which I now wanted to try. Luck was my lady that night as a bottle was produced!

I drank some, and I must say, it was indeed the hoppiest beer to ever cross these lips. However, it wasn’t THAT bad. I swear, somewhere on the West Coast lives a hophead who would brew this on purpose! It might not be the most drinkable session beer out there, but I could definitely see some cooking applications for it.

So, in honor of J-Dawg’s Hoptastic Bastard Ale, I’ll throw out that old standby of brewing discussion topics: What was your worst brew, and what did you wind up doing with it?

Jun 032008

A stormy night and $4.35/gallon gas prices could not keep me from traveling deep into Red Sox territory, almost to the Connecticut/Massachusetts border – yes, I was able to get out to Granby, CT on Saturday to visit The Cambridge House brewpub.
Ozzie Williams and the Marion Street Blues Band
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