May 262009

Speckled vs Reckless

Speckled vs. Reckless

The Memorial Day testing is complete, and I am happy to report that my Old Reckless Hen (ORH) has edged out Old Speckled Hen (OSH) in a completely biased and partial competition! Here’s the tale of the tape.

Appearance: The beers look nearly identical – a rich copper color with a thick head that sticks around awhile but vanishes with no lacing. If anything, ORH was a touch darker, which makes sense since it was a partial boil extract brew. Winner: Tie

Aroma: Upon pouring, OSH greeted me with a skunky odor – perhaps due to the long distance the beer traveled and the clear bottle (why?!?) it came in. The skunkiness dissipated a bit and gave way to an aroma that reminded me of iced tea. ORH had a much more appealing aroma – no skunkiness, and a slightly sweet, fruity note hanging very discreetly in the background. For some reason, it reminded me of those orange candy circus peanuts that taste like bananas. That’s a horrible description, since you will conjure up all kinds of negative connotations, but I assure you, it was a pleasant and very subtle scent that enticed you to take a sip. Winner: Reckless

Mouthfeel: Both beers drink very nicely. Moderate carbonation with a soft feel on the tongue. They both finish clean on the palate, with no syrupy residue and a pleasant bitterness on the tail end. However, the bitterness in the OSH was a bit more refined and less harsh than ORH. Points go to Speckled here, but I’d like to point out that Reckless is only three weeks old and that harsh bite will mellow nicely. Do I hear rematch? Winner: Speckled

Flavor: OK, so here’s what really matters. Both beers are tasty, with nice malty backgrounds. However, with OSH I pick up an almost lemony flavor – a brightness that’s not quite unpleasant, but seems a touch out of place. Combined with the iced tea aroma, I feel like I’m drinking a spiked Lipton’s at times. This effect was accentuated as the carbonation faded and the beer flattened out. The ORH has a chewier, more complex taste – next to the malt, there are some delicate notes of…what, exactly? Almost fruity, but it disappears too quickly to pin it down. I like both of these beers, but I’m going to give the points to Reckless, simply due to the slightly fuller & more complex taste. Winner: Reckless

Overall: Well, there you have it – Reckless wins by a nose. However, we have to consider the fact that one beer is fresh and on draft while the other has been shipped halfway around the world in a clear bottle. Maltose’s kit came very close to the original, and some of those evasive fruity notes might be due to the two yeast packs that got pitched on brewday. I’ll take the victory, although I think Old Speckled Hen would taste much better in an English pub and Old Reckless Hen needs to mature and mellow out a bit more. If anything, the reckless brew experiment should prove to new homebrewers everywhere – relax! You WILL make beer, and chances are it will be pretty good!

May 042009

Well, thanks to our gracious hosts J-Dawg & Mike , my brewing drought is over and the first batch of 2009 is bubbling away! The group brew was a great time – eleven people turned out, four batches of beer were brought into the world, and numerous microbrews and homemade Buffalo wings were devoured by all.

A rainy day did not slow us down as J-Dawg & Mike’s spacious garage gave us the shelter we needed to get on with the festivities. I was brewing an Old Specklen Hen clone I picked up from Maltose Express. I got a bit of a late start because I was busy drinking beer and chatting, but once we got underway it was smooth sailing. It was a pleasure to take a break from the complexity of an all grain brew – I didn’t measure, didn’t take any gravity readings, just followed the directions in the kit (ha!) and concentrated on having a good time.

My Big Brew setup

My Big Brew setup

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May 032009

Big Brew 2009 poster

Big Brew 2009 poster

Yesterday was the AHA’s Big Brew 2009 – National Homebrewing Day. I’m actually a day late here, but that’s because I’ve been invited to a group brew at J-Dawg’s house (of Hoptastic Bastard Ale fame). I’ve never attended a group brew before, and I’m looking forward to it.

I wasn’t originally planning on brewing today at J-Dawg’s – I figured it would be too large a production to get all of my gear out there, and I would most likely make a few mistakes along the way due to being distracted by the food, beer, and company at the event. I was going to just show up and hang out, but I realized I’m really, really jonesing to brew, and sitting there watching everyone else brew would likely drive me mad. So, I decided on a compromise – reckless brewing.

I usually like to control every last variable in my brewing – as I’ve gotten better at the craft, isolating and experimenting with the little things has given me greater control over the final product. I usually obsessively plan each brewday, down to precisely how much water will be lost to evaporation or absorbed by my grain. Hitting my predicted numbers is a sort of game – I have never had a brewday where I hit everything spot on, but I’ve come close, and the better I get to know my system, the closer I get.

So, you can see how this would not lend itself to an enjoyable Big Brew experience. I’m going there to have fun – to celebrate the craft with other brewers, and to have a good time doing it. In a sense, the brewing is actually secondary – we’re not there to make perfect beer, we’re there to remind ourselves how much fun brewing really is. To this end, I’m using an Old Speckled Hen extract kit I bought from Maltose Express around Christmas and never had a chance to brew. Doing an extract brew (partial boil, even!) will bring me back to my brewing roots and cut down on the time, effort, and amount of equipment I need to bring. I’ll be able to have fun and remember our motto: “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew!”

Ingredients might be a bit old? Who cares. I probably won’t exactly hit my predicted gravity, or have my steeping water at exactly 155°F? No worries. I have a feeling the beer is going to take care of itself, and everything will be just fine.

I’ll be Tweeting (Twitting? Whatever the kids are calling it these days) on location at the group brew, and will post some pics and hopefully a funny story or two when I return.

Jan 052009

Welcome to 2009! It’s been almost a full month since I posted last, and in that time, I’ve been struggling with the Winter weather here in the Northeast. My last post on winter brewing had a few of you chime in, and it seems like many of you do head indoors and fire up the stove for some extract and partial boil brews. Man, I was really hoping for some off-the-wall Rube Goldberg-esque methods to defeat the cold and brew in complete comfort – go figure, most of you just go inside your houses. Once again, I am overthinking…

With this in mind, I headed out to the brew store last week and picked up my first brew kit in a long time. There was something relazing about not having to worry about measuring grain and hops – everything is all bagged and ready to go. The kit is a clone of Old Speckled Hen, which I chose for its fairly quick grain to glass timeframe. I am brewing this as a belated Christmas gift, and I’d like it to be ready before Spring arrives!

So, brewing is planned for Saturday – weather be damned! I have to scrounge up my old boil kettle and give it a good washing – I think it has been relegated to the basement and stuffed with old towels or something.

I think this will be cathartic – I had a very disappointing brew year in 2008, and now it’s a new year and I’m returning to my roots. Sometimes you have to break things down and get back to the essence to remember why you like to do them. I’m hoping this will be the spark that gets 2009 off to a great start!

Do you guys have anything brewing for the New Year? Drop a line and let me know. Also, if you do have any crazy and creative Winter brew tips, shoot them over – there’s still plenty of cold weather left to put them to the test!