Saturday, July 23, 2011

SR7: Still tinkering; hops are growing

That was a long stretch between batches of beer. After a four month hiatus, I've brewed another batch of Lil' Savannah. I've continued to tinker with the recipe, this time easing up on the sweetness by using a lighter crystal malt (40 instead of 60) and using less of it (1/2 lb. instead of a whole pound).
One of the comments I got from the judges was about how malty the beer was, even on the nose. Considering all the hops I used, that really surprised me. But the guy was right. Although I like a malty IPA, the amount I used in my last batch was too much.
I also changed the hops some. The homebrew store (myLHBS) was out of Warrior, which I use for bittering, so I went with Galena instead. The alpha acid level is about the same (13% instead of 15%), so it shouldn't effect the beer too much. I also finished reading Brewing Classic Styles recently and decided to take Jamil Zainasheff's advice and use two viles of yeast instead of one. Man, what a difference that made. Within 24 hours, the beer was bubbling and fermenting vigorously. It was also a good idea because of the O.G. I ended up at. Although I used roughly the same amount of malt in this batch as I did in the last batch, the gravity was a lot higher (1.092 vs. 1.080). So the extra yeast should help the beer attenuate and avoid coming out too sweet.
For Father's Day, the missus bought me a wort chiller, which cut the amount of time it usually took me to cool my wort from 6 hours to about an hour. Once I'm used to the wort chiller and have cooler ground water temperatures, my cooling time should be even shorter.

Depending on how this batch turns out, I'm entering it into the Meridian Pint/D.C. State Fair homebrew competition. If I make the top 25, I can pour the beer at Meridian Pint, which is my primary goal. Well, my primary goal is to show off my kick ass Lil' Savannah labels. I just need to make sure the beer is good enough to do that.


I've picked my first couple batches of hops. After two years and a lot of fussing, I've harvested ... 3/4 of a pound. Not quite enough to make one batch of wet hop beer, but close. The Centennial and Columbus hops did well, and are looking like they're going to give me another batch, but the Cascade hops are taking their sweet-ass time. In just the past week or so, I've started to see some Cascade hops finally start to blossom. So between the second batch of Columbus and Centennial hops, and the first growth of the Cascade hops, I should have more than enough for a batch of wet hop IPA.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Labels: Everything is better in threes

Look at those labels.
Last year, when I began working on the JD Project, I had the idea to develop a label for the beer. I knew that I was going to eventually tell my mother and JD's kids about the project, and having a label on the beer would connect with them more than all the little things I did with the JDP recipe.
And then the Sam Adams competition came along. The top eight entries would move on to the final judging at an event where the public could taste the beer, too. Although beer submitted for judging wouldn't be labeled, the beer for the public tasting could be. Since I was entering Lil' Savannah's Big I.P.A., why not take the opportunity to show off my daughter and my beer? They're nearly the same, right?
So I made a label for that beer, too. Well, I didn't. My buddy Matt did. And what a job he did. (The company, My Own Labels, which printed the labels, also did a bang up job.)
The third label, for ZEE German, was a last minute idea for my German IPA. It was less personal, but Matt did just as good a job on that one as the others.

The labels for JD and Lil' Savannah's are based on photos (ZEE German was an image pulled off the Internet). The picture of JD on the label was probably taken during World War II (as opposed to Korea), while he was serving on the carrier Shangri La. It's a great photo, because although it was taken during war time, he has such a casual air about him. That photo really sums him up.

A few weeks ago, I entered JD into a local homebrew competition sponsored by Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), which followed the national BJCP rules and guidelines. I knew I wouldn't win, but I was looking for some objective feedback on the beer. Although JD didn't place, it did pretty well. The judges liked the beer and their negative comments were mostly what I expected (thin body, minimum head). But the Scotch ale was more or less to style, the whiskey came though (quite a lot, evidently, which did surprise me) and they liked the addition of the rye. So with the second batch of JD bottled and aging, I think I've already addressed some of their comments.

Matt actually took the photo I used for Lil' Savannah's Big I.P.A. He shot the picture during Savannah's first birthday party back in December. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for the label. And, of course, it's a "big" IPA because it's a 8.1% double IPA with a truckload of hops, which is acknowledged on the neck label (hop is also lil' Savannah's favorite word because it means bunny). Again, Matt did a nice job.

I also entered Lil' Savannah into the BURP competition. It didn't do as well as JD, but better than I expected. Going in, I knew its biggest problem was the over carbonation. The judges had nice things to say, most importantly that it was too style, but I was surprised when they noted the first scent they got was malt. I certainly use a lot of malt in the beer, but there are A LOT of hops. I can smell the beer from six feet away. I'm assuming that the beer's thick head smothered the hop aroma, but who knows. I've tweaked the recipe a little, but I think it's pretty close to right.
As I said, I also entered it into the Sam Adams competition. Despite Matt's efforts, the beer didn't make it past the first round. I'm still waiting on the judges' notes, so I don't know what they thought or why it didn't advance. However, a local bar, Meridian Pint, hosts a homebrew competition every few months in which the public are the sole voters. And unlike traditional competitions, these beers can include labels. So the beer and baby will have their public debut one way or another.

Finally, there's ZEE German. It's either a German IPA or a very hoppy Koelsch-style beer. I made it for the DC Homebrewers' June IPA meeting, so I guess it's a German IPA. In addition to using a good amount of hops in the German style beer, I dry hopped it. Turns out, that was a complete waste of time. German varieties of hops have very little aromatics. So I've tweaked the recipe to cut back on the hops in the beer and cut out the dry hops all together. According to Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles, Koelsch-style beers need only an ounce or two of hops for bittering, flavor and aroma. I used six ounces.

I also experimented with cold crashing on this beer. The beer is still a bit cloudy, but the cold crash helped remove almost all of the trub. So now I'm considering cold crashing every beer I make. Trub is my biggest frustration with my homebrew, so if I can eliminate that, I'll be a very happy guy.

Hop Update!

My hops are going crazy. I've been feeding them weekly, watering them regularly, and they're growing very well. So now I just need to see some hops.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SR6/JDP5/ZG1: Beer is bottled, beer is fermenting, beer is enrolled

JDP5 in the front, ZEE German in the back.
I need to update more before the title becomes all project acronyms.
SR6, the double IPA I made for the Sam Adams competition is officially entered in the Sam Adams competition. I still have a month before I turn in my entries, which will give the beer about a month and a half in the bottle. That's more than enough time for the beer to carbonate and the flavors to come together. When I tasted it during bottling, it's was pretty damn bitter. Admittedly, there is a mess of hops in the beer (by design), but the bitterness should recede and even out with the malt.
The final gravity on the beer put it clearly in the double IPA category: 1.020, which worked out to 8.1% A.B.V. So all I know is that SR6 is a big, bitter DIPA that smells great. In another couple weeks I'll be able to sample the finished beer and find out if it tastes good, too.

As JDP4 continues to age in the bottle, I made another batch, JDP5. I liked the recipe for JDP4, so I stuck fairly close to it. However, I tweaked a few things, like using dark brown sugar instead of light, using dark malt extract instead of amber, and doing a decoction on the wort. Although all the proportions were the same, the tinkering made a difference. The original gravity of JDP4 was 1.090. For JDP5 it ticked up to 1.10. Now it's a matter of seeing how hungry the yeast are.
The yeast were another experiment. Because the JDP batches are all half size, I only used half a vile of yeast for JD4 and saved the rest of JDP5. Thankfully, the yeast were still alive after a month in the refrigerator when I pitched them for this latest batch. Homebrewers do this all the time (they even harvest yeast from finished batches and save the yeast), but because this was the first batch that I used saved yeast and I didn't relish the idea of dumping 2.5 gallons of wort down the drain, I was a bit nervous. But in a matter of days, the yeast were eating and farting away, so all is well.
This weekend, JDP5 goes in the whiskey barrel for three or four weeks and should be ready to drink by May.
The same day I brewed JDP5, I brewed up the inaugural batch of ZEE German. I made it for the DC Homebrewers' June IPA meeting so I could've waited a couple more weeks. But the missus was kind enough to give me the day to do a double batch, so I went ahead with it. ZEE German is either a hoppy imperial Koelsch or a German IPA (O.G.: 1.064). Take your pick. I made it like an IPA, but used all German hops (all of them I think) and German Koelsch yeast. The traditional Koelsch style beer uses very little hops, so the potpourri of Perle, Saphir, Tettnang, Hallertau and Spalt it a little over the top for the style. In fact, the only popular German hop I didn't use was Saaz, which is the typical hop used in Koelsch beers. However, it's not a particularly aromatic or bitter hop. And since Saphir is my primary flavoring hop, Saaz got left out.
I dry hopped the beer on Sunday, and the thing smells just like a rich lager. That shouldn't be much of a surprise given the Koelsch yeast, but it still is. Although all Koelsch beers are ales, they smell and taste like lagers. So this beer should taste quite a bit like a lager ... a hoppy, hoppy lager. To further accentuate the lager-like characteristics, I'm going to try and cold crash it next weekend. By bringing the temperature down to 40 degrees or so, a lot of the yeast and other particulate should fall out of the beer and make it nice and clear for bottling.

A passel of sprouting Cascade hops.
Finally, I have a hop update. Much to my surprise, all my hops have sprouted. After last year's anemic showing, I expected the rhizomes to die off during the winter. But a little plant food, fresh soil and a few handfulls of mulch, and the hops are going gangbusters. Hopefully that means they'll produce hop cones this year and allow me to make a couple batches of my wet hop IPA.

Monday, March 7, 2011

SR6/JDP4: Playing to the Kingfish; The Final Stretch

I met Jim Koch a few years ago during the first Savor event. Unfortunately, it was toward the end of the event and I'd had too much to drink and too little to eat. Still, I was able to work out a genuine compliment for the founder of Sam Adams beer: I told him he was the kingfish of craft beer. He was the guy all the other brewers were aspiring to be. He chuckled at the comment and refilled my glass.
Good guy, that Jim Koch.
I told this story to one of his marketing reps the other night.  The guy, Mike, showed up at the DC Homebrewers meeting to announce a new homebrew competition Boston Beer Company is sponsoring. Because it's the first year of the competition, the rules are a bit loose. Basically, participants can enter any style of beer they want. The top three win a prize, including a bottle of Utopias, tickets to Savor and tickets to the Great American Beer Festival.
Sounds good to me.
So I'm taking this opportunity to return to the SR series and crank out a hop heavy double IPA for the competition. Because the competition will be limited to the members of the homebrewers club, I'm fairly confident that there will be 22 Belgian-style beers and a smattering of other styles, so I'm hoping my DIPA will stand out.
For this batch, I've pushed up the original gravity up a bit (1.080 vs. 1.070 from SR4) and added more hops and a larger variety of hops. For the first four SR batches (the fifth batch was the wet hop IPA), I was going with a mix of Warrior and Simcoe hops for bittering, flavor and aroma, and Cascade for dry hoping. This time, I've added Citra for flavor and aroma, and I'm including Amarillo and Sorachi with the Cascade for dry hopping. This should produce a very honey, orange blossom floral beer.
Hopefully, it'll also produce some schwag from the Kingfish.

I also got a chance to finally bottle JDP4. After three weeks in the Early Times barrel, the Scotch ale finally took on enough of the whiskey character. It was delicious. Even through the beer still needs to age at least another month, it's already rich with slight caramel flavors and a very slight rye bite (finally!). It's taken several months and several batches, but the beer is coming together at long last.
The barrel aging also added a nice bit of color to the beer, bringing it to a warm hazelnut brown hue.
So it looks like the first batch of the JD Project is in the final stretch.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

JDP4: And away we go

The bourbon is out and the beer is in.
After two weeks in the fermentor, I decided the rye Scotch ale was close enough to what I was looking for to move ahead to the barrel phase of the JD Project. Although the beer was still very young, it didn't have the overwhelming rye bite that my earlier batches had. Pitching only half the amount of yeast also helped the beer retain some of the body, while still reaching a respectable 8.1 percent A.B.V. (F.G.: 1.030) The alcohol percentage will climb higher, of course, after the beer spends a couple weeks in the bourbon barrel and then a month conditioning in the bottles, but it shouldn't taste too boozy (well, except for the booze it's aging in).
I had wanted to get this project done last month so I could submit it into The Bruery's homebrew competition, but the extra time ended up working out for the best. I may have missed the competition (which I wasn't going to win), but I happened to get some good advice about barrel aging beer and maintaining the bourbon barrel at a brewing class I took yesterday.

One of the homebrew clubs in Maryland, C.R.A.B.S., holds an all-grain class at Maryland Homebrew every couple of months. I signed up to see how much work is actually involved in all-grain brewing verses extract, which is what I've been doing so far. Turns out, it's not too hard. At least it doesn't look too hard. You need some extra equipment and it takes a few more hours to brew a batch of beer, but it all looked very manageable. With any luck, I'll be all-grain brewing by the end of the year. Not only will I have more control over the brewing process and my ingredients, but my cost per batch should also drop by $20-$25.
The guy who ran the class had some experience with barrel-aging beer and told me what I needed to do to keep my barrel in good shape between batches of beer. He also advised me to make sure the barrel was still wet with bourbon when I added the beer. People, that's good advice.

What may be the best added benefit of this project is all the aged Early Times I now have. However, it's not as much as I started with. The 10 liter barrel held six large (1.75 liter) bottles of Kentucky bourbon. After seven months and two weeks, the barrel gave back roughly four and a half of those bottles. I knew I'd loose some volume to evaporation (the angel's share) and absorption into the wood (and the occasional quality-control check), but nearly three liters is a lot of loss. Ah well, I guess I'll have to make due with the eight liters I have left.
So who needs a Manhattan?

Monday, January 31, 2011

JDP4: No contest, fourth time is a charm (right?)

You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you bow out of the game.
JDP3 didn't pan out how I wanted, so I didn't bother entering it into The Bruery's homebrew competition. Not that I would've won. I hear that they were getting entries from around the world (including doc from the BN), so whatever homebrew wins, it will surely be an excellent beer. The JD Project may produce an excellent beer one day, but not yet, and certainly not JDP3.
Like JDP2, there's just too much rye. Although there is plenty of malt, that rye bite is too prominent. The missus described it as medicinal. At times it was, though that seems to be fading with age. Still, it's not a scotch ale, so on to JDP4.

For this batch, I've stepped up the crystal malt and dialed back on the rye. This should be a big, malty ale, with a slight bite of rye. Of course, the last beer should've been big and malty with a slight rye bite, but what are you going to do? Considering that the original gravity was 1.090 at 74 degrees, it's certainly starting off on the right path.
In lieu of cooling the wort in the laundry tub, as I typically do, the missus suggested setting it out in the snow. Everything about this idea seemed bad. The world is full of bacteria and most of it lives outdoors. But the fermentation bucket was closed and I had an airlock and alcohol seal on it. So as much as the idea worried me, I couldn't think of why I shouldn't do it. So I did. Here's hoping the beer survives.

I'm beginning to feel the pressure to finish this project. The Early Times has been in the barrel seven months, so I don't want to push it too far and damage the whiskey (which tastes fantastic). I think for this batch, I'll let it hang out in the fermentor for about a month. If it tastes right at the end of the month, I'll go ahead and transfer it into the barrel and then into bottles for conditioning. I was hoping to produce and approve a test batch of the scotch ale before going ahead with the barrel aging, but I need to get that bourbon out of the barrel.
These are weird problems to have. I know. But they're the problems facing me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

JDP3: So far, so good

I think this might just be the batch.
I bottled JDP3 this afternoon and judging by the final gravity (1.020), A.B.V. (10%), and taste, this might just be the recipe that I'll remake and stick in the bourbon barrel. The color is good, if a little lighter than I expected, and the wort tasted malty with the bite of rye clearly coming through. And there's just enough flavor from the smoked malt to let you know it's there. Once this gets a few days in the barrel, I think it'll be phenomenal.

However, now I'm working against the clock. I'll get a chance to taste the nearly finished beer on Dec. 21, the day before I fly to Florida for Christmas and New Years. I get back on Jan. 6. Realistically, I can get the next batch going on Jan. 7, and get it in the barrel by Jan. 12. The beer will then be in the barrel up to a week, which means it'll have about two weeks to bottle condition it before I ship a couple samples off to The Bruery. That's a tight time frame. Hopefully, Jan. 31 is the deadline to submit the beer, but the judges won't sample them for another week or so.
Even if I don't win -- and odds are that I won't -- I'll be happy to wrap up this project. I was hoping to have the American scotch ale recipe worked out by the time the barrel was ready and it looks like I meet that deadline. Because these batches are small, I'll probably do a second one before I stick something else in the barrel (stout?).
And a final hop update for the year: no hops. From the beginning, this year was a write off. I've heard and read that you should never expect much yield the first year you plant the hops. Well, sure enough, I didn't get a single damn hop cone this year. Not one. So, I'll take down the vines and look forward to a more robust season next spring (of course, one hop cone would constitute a more robust season). Fittingly, as my first year of hop farming comes to a close, I'm just about to finish off Digression³, my first wet hop IPA. The hop growth may have sucked, but at least the wet hop beer didn't.