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.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

JDP3: The Goldilocks batch?

Grinding rye by hand is as much fun as you think it is.
My third batch of the JD Project is under way and the numbers look good so far.
The original gravity came in at 1.094, which is quite high, but no where near as high as the 1.135 the first batch started with. If the attenuation is good, I should end up with an A.B.V. of around 8 or 9 percent, perfect for a scotch ale.
For this batch, I returned the brown sugar and increased the amount of smoked malt. In the last batch, the smoked malt flavor never came through and the lack of brown sugar likely contributed to the lower A.B.V.  (That said, JDP2 was a good beer, it just wasn't a scotch ale. Once I got past that, I realized it was a really good rye ale. With the lower amount of malt and no brown sugar, the rye was the predominant flavor. That wasn't what I was going for, so it took me a while to appreciate the beer I did have. Now that I'm down to a few bottles, I'm actually a little bummed. I really like it.)

I also picked up a couple hop bags for this batch. Talk about making a difference. Transferring the wort from the pot to the fermentation bucket took no time at all because I didn't have to keep cleaning hop goop off the filter. Those little nylon hop bags should mean I'll have little to no trub in the beer. Man, that'll be a nice change.
Should this batch work out the way I hope, I plan to submit it to The Bruery's Batch 300 homebrew contest. The winner gets to make a commercial batch of their beer on The Bruery's system and enter the Great American Beer Festival's Pro-Am competition.  Now, I'm sure I have no chance to win, but what the hell, it never hurts to try.
Even if I don't win, even if the beer sucks, I have 10 liters of very good whiskey. Tell you what, though, that beer won't suck. Not once it's had time in my barrel of aged Early Times. I sampled some a couple weeks ago along side some regular Early Times. The difference was dramatic. The whiskey from the barrel was a rich caramel brown and was full of vanilla and brown sugar flavors. I like Early Times, but the stuff straight from the bottle paled in comparison to the 10 liters I'd aged for five months. It was nearly two different spirits entirely. If I can get the flavor of that whiskey to come through in the American scotch ale, I might just have a decent beer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

FW1/JDP2: Cafe Con Leche and the Scottish Scotch Ale

It took 10 minutes to pour this beer.
So all that hand wringing I was doing over the sour flavors in the stout proved unnecessary. FW1 tastes good. By no means is it a perfect espresso milk stout, but it is more than drinkable.
The biggest problem with the beer is it's over-carbonated. I did add a bit more dry malt for bottle conditioning than I normally do, but I did so because think many of my beers have been a bit under-carbonated. Well with the stout, it takes five minutes to pour and I've already lost one to gushing and another to detonation (the bottle cap didn't pop off, the upper half of the bottle did). That said, once it's in the glass and settles, it's tart and a bit bitter from the espresso, and the creaminess of the body comes through ... once the carbonation subsides.
Since it's a espresso milk stout, I've named it Cafe Con Leche. Because I got the wort from Mike Roy at Franklin's, this batch is a one and done, but it has motivated me to tackle another stout in the next few months. I'll probably wait until I wrap up my scotch ale experiments.

JDP2 on the left and JDP1 on the right.
Speaking of JDP2, well, it's OK. It is drinkable, but the 6.4 A.B.V. and light body make it more of a Scottish ale than the intended scotch ale. And because I dialed the malt back too far and cut the brown sugar all together, the rye is too pronounced. So back to the drawing board. I think I should have the recipe pretty well dialed in by the next batch.
That said, JDP2 benefited as much from the addition of bourbon as JDP1. As you can see in the picture, JDP1 (on the right) is much darker than JDP2. It's also flat, while JDP2 has a nice amount of carbonation. JDP1 is overly sweet and overly boozy, while JDP2 is a bit thin and the rye gives it too much of a bite. Yet ... YET ... the bourbon cuts through both giving the beers a nice balance without overwhelming either. Isn't bourbon great?

I rise the tasting glasses in a small amount of bourbon to simulate what the beer will taste like after aging in the bourbon barrel.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

SR5: Delicious Digression³

"It tastes so fresh."
That was the best thing my wife could have possibly said to me. It tastes fresh.
It does, by the way. It really does. It's a wet hop ale. It's a single hop, wet hop ale. It's a dry hopped, single hopped, wet hop ale. It's Centennial hops from beginning to end and it is good.
I wanted to give SR5 another week to bottle condition, but I think it's ready. Tuesday is the next DC Homebrewers meeting, so I cracked open a couple to see if the beer is ready to drink. Man, is it. I really couldn't be happier with how it came out. It has a good bitterness that's well balanced by the crystal malt (20). The grassy flavor of the fresh Centennial hops comes right through, and the five ounces of dried Centennial hops make the beer stinky good.
I was worried that the wet hop flavor would be muted because of the number of days it took to get the hops from the field to me. But I hand it to Rebel Brewer, they were still fresh (it would've been nice if they remembered my SuperMoss so the beer would be more clear). It didn't help that Derek from myLHBS crapped on the idea of mail order fresh hops after I'd placed my order, but I guess he can suck it.
Nevertheless, this should be the last time I order wet hops from Rebel Brewer. With any luck, my own hops will be producing next year. If so, I can either look forward to a wet hop IPA with a combination of the Centennial, Willamette and Cascade hops I planted, or enough hops from each vine to do three single hops batches. Whatever the case, if the beers turn out as well as Digression³ did, then I'll be happy.
Digression³, by the way, is the name of the beer. Dry hopping a wet hop beer seemed like a digression from the concept (dry, wet, get it?). It's also a digression from the line of IPAs I've been working on. And I tend to digress a lot in my writing and conversations. The cubed refers to the three ways Centennial hops were used: bittering, flavor and aroma.
On a minor note, I got the carbonation right. The last couple batches, JDP1 and SR4, the beers were either under carbonated or not carbonated at all. I'd come up with all sorts of reasons why -- too much alcohol, not enough yeast, etc. -- but I started getting worried that I was screwing up something more fundamental, which would be harder to fix. So when I heard the wonderful tsst sound when I popped the cap on Digression³, I was pretty damn happy.
I also like the color. As you can see from the photo, it finished with a soft orange, brown color. That's more or less what I've been going for with the other SR beers. The difference between this beer and the other beers, in terms of malt, is the use of pale malt verses amber malt. Digression³ has no amber malt, while the other SR beers are almost all amber. I like the flavor of the amber malt, so I'll stick with it, but I'll swap out some for pale malt when I get around to making SR6.
For now, I have plenty of beer to drink.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

JDP2/FW1: I have a lot of beer

That's my fermentation room/basement beer closet. At present, it features five cases of beer: two cases of SR5, two cases of FW1 and one case of JDP2. It's fair to say that I'll be good for beer when all this homebrew is ready to drink come November.
On Friday, I bottled the FW1 cafe con leche stout and the JDP2 American scotch ale (which turned out to be more of a scottish ale due to the 6.4% A.B.V.). Now they'll need a few weeks in the bottle before they're ready. I'm hoping for a lot from the bottle conditioning.

I took this photo with my iPhone because my digital camera was on the fritz. Later, I went online to see if I could fix it. Most of the advice was to slap the lens. Sure enough, one good whack later and the camera was back in business.
The stout still had a sour taste, but I asked around about it and that might not mean anything. Evidently, many stouts, including Guinness, have a sour flavor (in fact, I picked up a four-pack of Guinness' new Foreign Extra Stout and sure enough there was a sour component). Still, I want the flavor tamed a bit. The additional dry malt I added for bottle fermentation and a few more weeks of aging may help.
The other issue I had with the stout was poor attenuation. After nearly two weeks of fermentation, the stout went from an original gravity of 1.072 to a final gravity of 1.042. That's only 40% apparent attenuation. I was expecting around 70%. I don't mind that the A.B.V. is 4%, but I am disappointed in how poorly the yeast performed. I do wonder whether I should have let the stout ferment even longer, and what effect the lactose had, but all that is moot now that the beer is in the bottle.
On the bright side, I did get a distinct coffee/espresso flavor from the beer. So I'm hopeful that the beer will be drinkable next month.

In terms of flavor, JDP2 came out better. It's certainly not nearly as malty as JDP1, but I think I went to far the other direction. The beer was almost too dry, and I missed the brown sugar. In fact, you can see from the light color of the beer that it's not quite right. A scotch ale should be a dark amber. This is much more of a Scottish ale in color and alcohol content.
The reduced malt did allow the flavor of the rye to come through, so that's working well, but I'm didn't get much of the smoked malt. That may change after the beer finishes bottle conditioning. For the next batch, I think I add the brown sugar back in and maybe another pound or so of pale malt. I'm getting close, but I'm not quite there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SR5/JDP2/FW1: Three beers and one long day

Saturday was a long day. It was a good day. A lot of beer was made and bottled on Saturday, but it was a long day.
Initially, I planned to bottle SR5 on Saturday. Just a quiet few hours sipping beer and bottling my wet hop IPA. No muss, no fuss.

Then I found out my buddy Andy got a homebrew kit, so I decided to go ahead with the next version of the JD Project and show him how to brew a batch of beer. I needed to do this anyway if I'm going to have the recipe worked out by the time the bourbon barrel is ready. Not a big deal though. Because I'm still tinkering with the American Scotch Ale recipe, I only make 2.5 gallon half batches.
A small batch of beer and then some bottling; eh, it'll be busy, but easy.

Then I got an email from my buddy Mike Roy. Turns out he's having trouble firing his kettle at the brewpub and is giving away wort before he has to dump it out. Well shit, I'm not going to turn down free wort. It's the most expensive part of the brewing process. Besides, it's for a stout, a style I enjoy, but haven't made yet. So last Thursday, Savannah and I headed over to Franklin's with my carboy. The catch was I needed to get it reboiled and fermenting as soon as possible. That meant adding it to Saturday's to-do list.
So what was to be an easy bottling day turned into a double brew day and bottling. Good thing I had an extra pair of hands. Andy was also good enough to shoot all the photos for this post. His camera is exponentially better then mine.

Let's start with JDP2. I cut 2.5 pounds of extract from the recipe, as well as the brown sugar. I kept the secret ingredient (rye), the crystal malt and added smoked malt. The subtraction of the extract made a huge difference in the O.G. JDP1 started out with a monster O.G. of 1.130, while JDP2 came in at a more manageable 1.066. Frankly, I think that might be a bit too low, so the brown sugar might return in the next batch. I'm also very curious about the smoked malt. I was concerned that it would dominate the flavor, but when I tasted the wort, I could barely detect it. As the beer ferments and the sugars are processed, the smoke flavor might come through a bit better. Otherwise, I'll increase the amount next time.
Speaking of JDP1, I entered it into a homebrew contest a few weeks ago. The contest was part of the inaugural D.C. State Fair. The whole thing felt a bit thrown together (I had to leave the competition to run and get the judges some cups to use), and I knew JDP1 was far from being perfect. Still, it was an opportunity to have a few unbiased opinions. The good news was, the judges picked up that it was a scotch ale. The bad news, they thought it was too boozy and sweet, both of which I knew. Next year, I'll be better prepared for the contest. Hopefully, the organizers will be, too.

In addition to JDP2, Andy and I worked on the wort Mike gave me (FW1: Free Wort 1). Because it was free, I screwed around a little with it. Rather than finish making a stout, which I would have done if I were starting from scratch, I decided to do an espresso milk stout, a cafe con leche stout, if you will. I also decided to punch up the alcohol percentage a bit. The wort was at 1.050 when Mike gave it to me. By the time I was done, the O.G. was up to 1.072. This was a result of adding an extra half pound of pale dry extract and reducing about a gallon of the wort by half to concentrate the flavors. I also added a quart of espresso and half a pound of lactose. All of this was on top of Mike's original grain bill of maris otter, crystal 120, roasted barley, chocolate malt, black patent and carafa III.
Generally, I feel pretty good about all of this. However, the wort had a slightly sour flavor when I was done with it. Now, I don't know if this was a result of the espresso or the lactose, neither of which I've worked with before, or reducing the wort as much as I did. As long as it's not an infection and gone by the time I bottle, I'll be happy. Still, I'm worried that the two days the wort had to sit before I could boil it again might have damaged it. We'll see.
Finally, there was the bottling of SR5, the dry hopped, wet hop, single hop IPA. That beer smelled fantastic. The color was a beautiful light orange and should be great by the time I crack into it on Halloween. I am starting to rethink the use of whole hops for dry hopping. It's a pain in the ass to scoop out the hops before bottling and I'm always concerned that I'm adding extra particulate to the beer. For my next IPA, SR6, I think I'll try using pellets and a hop bag.

Now it's back to waiting. I'll bottle JDP2 and FW1 next weekend and open them up in early November, a week or so after SR5. Hopefully, juggling so many projects in a single day didn't result in me screwing up all three of them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

SR5: Single Hop, Wet Hop

Well, several months after planting hop rhizomes in my backyard, I've just finished my first batch of wet hop IPA using a full pound of fresh Centennial hops.
Now if only I can get my own hop plants to produce some cones I'll be in business.
I bought the fresh hops online from Rebel Brewer. They had a nice selection and decent prices. However, they left my can of Super Moss out of my order, but they promised to fix the problem on Monday. Despite that, it was nice to come home to find all of my brewing ingredients waiting for me on the porch.

Ideally, I would've waited until this morning to brew, but with fresh hops, time is everything. They deteriorate quickly, so you have to use them as soon as possible. So despite having moved my buddy Tim in the morning and then spending four hours in a bar watching South Florida give a game away to Florida, I had to come home and brew beer. Not the worst thing, it just made for a long day.

Practically speaking, brewing with fresh hops isn't any different than brewing with pellets or dried hops. The only thing is, you can't dry hop beer using fresh hops. Because the fresh hops are straight from the field they're covered in bacteria. A few minutes in boiling wort and your bacteria problems go away, but that means fresh hops should only be used for flavor (If you grow your own hops and have a whack of them, you could use them for bittering, too. But if you're paying $15 a pound, make the most of the fresh hops and use them for flavor.).
To accentuate the Centennial hops, which have many of the same citrus flavors Cascade hops have, I used them throughout the beer. I used two ounces of Centennial pellets for bittering, a pound of fresh hops for flavor and I have five ounces of dried Centennial hops that I'll dry hop with next week.
For malt, I used eight pounds of pale and one pound of light crystal. Again, this is to help accentuate the flavor of the hops. That said, the sweet crystal malt gave the wort a nice caramel flavor and a beautiful orange color.

Once I got the wort down to 69 degrees, I pitched my London Ale III Yeast from Wyeast. It's a good yeast for hoppy beers and it has high flocculation, which should help clarify the beer (important since the Super Moss didn't show up). My original gravity came out at 1.070.
Looking at the calendar, this batch of beer should be ready to drink by Oct. 31. Happy Halloween, indeed.
As for my own hop plants, the Cascade continues to thrive, but the Willamette and Centennial vines are coming on, and none of the hops have produced cones yet. Clearly, this year is a wash, but that's typical for first-year hop plants.
And on a completely unrelated note, check out my shrimp and grits, and foie gras recipes on

Monday, August 23, 2010

JDP1: Jeremy Clarkson and the Five Gallon Carboy

The first Scotch ale test batch is in the books. Happily, it's not only drinkable (if boozy), but it tastes and looks like a Scotch ale (more or less). But given the fact that I way over shot my target alcohol range of 7.5-8.5 percent and landed at 13 percent, there is no future for this batch.
That doesn't mean it's going to waste. As with every batch of beer, I learn a little more. With this batch, I know that 7.5 pounds of malt and a half pound of honey and brown sugar is too much for a 2.5 gallon batch. Good to know. I also know now that I need to be more careful in selecting my yeast. Seeing as the beer will settle in the 7 to 10 percent A.B.V. range, I need a yeast that can deal with that much alcohol and that many sugars. And when I do my next wort, I now know not to cover the pot.
(By the way, shouldn't Charlie Papazian have pointed that out in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing? It's pretty fucking important and it took listening to hours of Brew Strong shows before I heard a passing reference to boiling the wort uncovered. It consentrates the wort, which is great, but it prevents you from infecting the beer with the condensation that can collect on the pot lid and drip back in the wort. I think not infecting the beer is a good thing to address in a homebrewing guide. After learning this tidbit of info, I had to spend a couple hours researching how to compensate for the lose of liquid during the uncovered boil. John Palmer covers the whole subject on his Website, How to Brew.)

Now that JDP1 is complete and decent, I've given it a name: Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson is the host of the British car show, Top Gear, and whose philosophy can be boiled down to "more." More horsepower, more torque, more speed, more, more. So I thought it would be fitting to name my high-alcohol malt bomb after him. I've also entered Jeremy Clarkson in the inaugural D.C. State Fair's Homebrew contest. I don't expect to win, but I am looking for feedback. Like I said, I think it tastes like a Scotch ale (more or less), but I want some unbiased feedback.
Speaking of names, I've renamed this blog. Gastronomy is now Five Gallon Carboy. It's to reflect the transition of the blog from cooking to homebrewing. (A carboy is the glass vessel that looks like a water-cooler jug that homebrewers ferment their beer in.)
Finally a hop update. The Cascade hops (right) continue to thrive, nearly reaching the end of the nine-foot line. However, the Willamette hops (center) have come on strong in the last couple weeks, overtaking the Centennial hops (left). Now, the latter two hops have a long way to go before they catch up with the Cascade hops, but it's good to see they're still growing.

This being the first year of growth, I won't get any yield to speak of, but I will be wet hopping a beer in a couple weeks. Some folks from D.C. Homebrewers sent out word that Rebel Brewer was taking orders for fresh hops. To get a feel for making a wet hop beer (meaning that I use fresh hops instead of dry hops or pellets) I ordered a pound of Centennial to make a Centennial IPA. In addition to the fresh hops, which will be used for flavor, I picked up some Centennial pellets for bittering and dried Centennial hops for dry hopping.
It should be interesting. Hopefully, it will be good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

JDP1: Yeah, it's a big beer

Just bottled the case of JDP1 and as expected, it's a very big beer. The final gravity came out at 1.035, which means I got about 10 points of attenuation resulting in a 13% A.B.V. beer -- nearly three times the alcohol content of the average beer.
Despite all that alcohol (which you could smell and taste), it didn't taste that bad. Even in its raw state, the flavor was much better than I expected. I dumped a whole bunch of malt, honey and brown sugar in the wort, which resulted in the 13% alcohol content, but the beer wasn't particularly sweet and certainly not cloying. The malt flavor was there, but so was a strong bitter note and a bite, which where were due to the hops and the secret ingredient.
The flavor and final gravity also benefitted from the Scottish Ale yeast I used. Clearly, it was a good call to use twice the amount of yeast I needed for a 2.5 gallon batch, because the yeast thinned out the body of the beer fairly well, giving it a bit of a dry characteristic (well, as dry a characteristic as a 13% malt bomb can have). The color was also good, a real nice dark, dark amber.

Getting ready to bottle the beer, I was struck by the amount of trub that settled in the bottom of the carboy. I haven't produced that much gunk in the 5 gallon batches I've made, including the 7% IPA I recently finished. It just shows you how much malt and yeast went into the 2.5 gallon batch of beer.
So now it goes into the closet to bottle ferment for the next seven weeks (or so). I'll probably pop open a bottle toward the end of August to see how it tastes. Based on some recommendations I've gotten from other homebrewers, I may let a few of the bottles age for up to a year or more just to see what happens. If the beer is as good as I think it may be in a month, it will be absolutely fantastic in a year.
Regardless of how good it was, though, the alcohol level was way too high. I'll name this batch when it's ready and try again in a couple weeks. I need to get the recipe worked out by the end of the year, so I was happy to land somewhere in the ballpark of a Scotch ale. It's not perfect, but it ain't bad.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

SR4: At least it's hoppier

So I need to dial back on the amber malt.
One of the main things I wanted to do with SR4 was lighten the color. As you can see, though, it looks exactly like SR3 (SR3 is on the left, SR4 is on the right). In fact, when I asked my wife to pick between them based on color, she thought SR3 was the lighter one.
Well, shit.
I reduced the toast on the crystal malt to try and lighten the color some for SR4, but obviously that wasn't enough. For the next batch, SR5, I'll swap a couple pounds of amber malt for a couple pounds of plain, or light, malt. I'll also go back to the darker toast on the crystal malt. Now that I know it doesn't really effect the color of the beer (at least not much), I'll go with the darker toast because I prefer the flavor.
The dry hopping worked better this time and I like the flavor of the beer a bit better. For this batch, I dry hopped three ounces of whole Cascade hops for two weeks. The result is obvious. Close your eyes and stick your nose in the glass and you can smell the difference between SR3 and SR4. However, it could be better.
Listening to an old Brew Strong show the other day, I learned that I've been dry hopping too early. Rather than adding the hops at the start of primary fermentation, I should be adding them toward the end of primary fermentation. Apparently, I can also be even more aggressive with my hopping. Three ounces for a five gallon batch is about the minimum I should be using. So for SR5, I'll be dry hopping with at least five ounces of whole hops after about 10 days.
So SR4 isn't a bad batch, it's just not as polished as I wanted it to be. Hopefully with SR5, I'll be able to work out the color and dry hop kinks, slap a name on the beer and move on to the next recipe.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

JDP1: It's a malt monster

I looked again. After all, it was 5:20 in the morning. There it was, though, 1.130 at 64 degrees. I'd made a malt monster.
To clarify, my original gravity of SR3 was 1.070, which eventually resulted in 6.7 percent alcohol by volume. So an O.G. of 1.130 puts me in double digit A.B.V. territory, when I was shooting for around 8 percent, or an O.G. of 1.075 to 1.085.

This is my first crack at making a Scotch ale, so I knew I wouldn't get everything exactly right. However, I didn't expect to produce a barleywine. The problem is, I added way too much malt, and the more malt you have the higher the gravity. So for JDP 2, I'll probably cut about two pounds of malt and see where the I end up. Hopefully at a more reasonable gravity.
As for this batch, because I'm still in the testing phase, I only made two and a half gallons, but used a full package of yeast. Given how much malt and sugars are in that carboy, those yeast have plenty to eat. And with some luck, all that yeast will help the beer attenuate down to something a bit drier and drinkable. We'll see.
Man, can you imagine the alcohol bomb this beer would be if I aged a 10 or 11 percent beer in my bourbon barrel? The guys at Brewdog might recruit me.
So that's might first obvious problem. There were some bright spots, though. The wort tasted pretty good. Understandably malty, of course, but not cloyingly sweet, and the bitterness of the hops and bite of the secret ingredient came though (a small miracle, really).

Also, the color is spot on. The dark caramel amber is exactly what I wanted. It's a result of the very dark toast on the crystal malt and probably the honey. Yeah, and the use of honey and light brown sugar seemed to go well. I expected those flavors to be too sweet in the wort, but they didn't dominate the flavor at all. And because they're fully fermentable sugars, the yeast will make short and compete work of them.

As for the yeast, I used a Scottish Ale yeast from Wyeast that came in this crazy pouch. There was a small yeast packet suspended in a solution within the pouch that I had to pop the day before. A few hours before pitching, I pulled the yeast out of the fridge, shook it and the pouch swelled until it looked like a brand new Capri Sun. Pretty cool. Bob at the homebrew store said the yeast were hearty and would attenuate well in the beer (yes, attenuation is the word of the day). I hope he's right. There's a lot of sugars to process.

Bob and the homebrew store are in Frederick. I had to run by the Flying Dog brewery on Friday to pick up some T-shirts, so I decided to hit the Flying Barrel and save myself a trip to Columbia or Falls Church (lot of flying shit in Frederick, no?). It's a nice little shop a couple blocks off Market Street, the main drag through the historic district. And when I say little shop, I mean little shop. I was standing across the street and it still took me a minute to spot the place. That said, it's probably a little bigger than myLocal-Home-Brew-Shop in Falls Church, but it just disappears in the warehouse building it's located in. Nevertheless, Bob had everything I needed, so no complaints.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

JDP: Bourbon in the barrel

Start the clock.
Ten liters of Early Times Kentucky bourbon are in the barrel. That whiskey won't see the light of day for the next seven months, which is a long time to wait for a drink.
Although I'm aging the Early Times in order to make a bourbon-barrel aged American Scotch ale, I'm very curious to see how the whiskey will turn out. Early Times is good as is, so seven additional months of aging should (hopefully) do good things.

It is interesting what you learn when you have your own whiskey barrel. For one, you can't fully appreciate how much of bourbon's aroma comes from the wood it's aged in until you're sniffing an empty barrel and smelling whisky. When I was prepping the barrel by filling it with hot water to swell the wood and check for leaks, the kitchen was filled with the scent of bourbon. Of course, it was filled with the scent of wet white oak, but the scent of white oak is clearly the scent of American whisky.

Also, a 10 liter barrel doesn't look that big until you set it next to the six 1.75 liter bottles you need to fill it. There's a lot of bourbon in a 1.75 liter bottle, so there's an awful lot of bourbon in a barrel that consumes five and a half of those bottles.
I don't know if it was serendipity or JD doing some work from above, but while I was out buying the bourbon, I came across a few bottles of AleSmith Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. AleSmith is a San Diego craft brewery that I've been itching to try for some time. Boston is the only place they distribute to on the East Coast, so I've been trying to talk my friend Xiaoyi into bringing me a bottle back from her trip to San Francisco. Needless to say, I was stunned to find a few bottles at my favorite D.C. liquor store. Add to that the fact that one of the bottles they had was a wee heavy -- the style of beer I'm making for the JD Project -- and you have some fantastically odd coincidences going on.
The AleSmith Wee Heavy, by the way, didn't disappoint. It's a 10 percent malt bomb, but smooth to the point of being creamy. It's a very well made beer and a good target to shoot for with my own recipe.
Next weekend I'm heading up to Frederick, Md., for some business at the Flying Dog Brewery. Afterward, I'll be picking up the ingredients for my first batch of Scotch ale and brewing during the Independence Day weekend. That means my first batch will be ready to drink in August, an odd month for malty Scotch ales. Somehow, though, I think I'll be able to choke a few down.

Monday, June 14, 2010

SR4: Bottles of bitter

SR4, my tweaked version of SR3, is in the bottle. I think I'm in good shape, but I'm not certain.
After bottling and taking the final gravity measurement for SR3, I tasted the fermented wort (I'm sure there's a name for beer in this state, and it might just be beer.), and it tasted surprisingly good. That's not to say it tasted good the same way a finished beer tastes, but for a concoction that was still four weeks for being ready, it was kind of sweet and slightly bitter. Two dimensional, but it gave me enough to get me excited. Sure enough, the finished product was good.
Of course, I decided to mess with the recipe. Hoping to increase the hops flavors and aroma, I added more Simcoe and dry hopped with a lot more Cascade, but I didn't change the amount of bittering hops. And aside from going with a lighter toast on the crystal malt, I didn't change the malt bill. So when I tasted the fermented wort after taking the F.G. on SR4 (1.018 = 7.1 A.B.V.), I was surprised by how bitter it was. Not undrinkably bitter, just more bitter than SR3's fermented wort. I'm sure it's just a result of the additional Simcoe and that the beer will be fine. It actually reminded me of flavor I got from SR2, the first IPA I made, which is a good sign (the beer was pretty good). And considering the additional malt extract I added for bottle fermentation, the beer should round out nicely.
The lighter crystal malt I used this time did give me the color I was looking for. SR3 was a bit too amber, but SR4 looks like it's going to be a nice burnt orange.

I can't say that dry hopping with three times as much Cascade hops made my kitchen three times as hop stinky (still a good name) during bottling, but if I get a nice big hop aroma in the finished beer, it'll be worth it. If not, I'll dial it back to an ounce per batch.
Because of all those hops, I racked (transferred) the beer from the fermentor to the carboy a day before bottling so I could remove all the hops and let everything settle. I think that resulted in losing some of the beer. Although I always start with a five gallon batch, I seem to end up with various amounts. With SR3, I had several ounces left over after bottling 48 beers. With SR1, Sr2 and SR4, I didn't quite get two cases (47 beers with SR4). Odd, but I'll sacrifice some beer to avoid getting too much hops residue and dead yeast in my beer.

And finally, a hop update. My Cascade hops are kicking ass, having climbed up half the guide wire, while my Willamette are doing OK, and the lone Centennial hop plant in the middle is taking its sweet ass time. I'm not expecting much out of any of them this year, so the slow growth rates for the Centennial and Willamette hops isn't a big deal. It is curious, though. They were all planted in the same rich soil, and all get the same amount of light and water. But the Cascade is clearly the alpha hop. (Get it? Yeah, I'm a dork.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The JD Project

I had an idea.
A couple weeks ago, I came across Copper Fox Distillery's Website. In addition to making and selling Wasmund's whiskey, the Sperryville, Va., distillery produces whiskey barrels for enthusists who want to age their own bourbon at home. I wasn't all that interested in aging my own bourbon, but the bourbon barrel gave me an idea.
JD Hembree, my step-father, passed away last year. After fighting in the Pacific and Korea as a Marine Corps pilot, JD came home, raised a family and went into the building business. Well, that's not quite right. JD was an entrepreneur who spent most of his years in the building and land development business. He and my mother met, both divorcees, and at an age when most people begin looking at retirement, JD helped my mother raise me. Maj. JD Hembree, USMC (Ret.), was a tough man, a complicated man, but a good man.
To know JD was to know the man loved Early Times bourbon. Born and raised in North Alabama, his service in the military and his various business ventures took him around the world. Yet, his tastes never strayed from that simple Kentucy whiskey he grew up drinking. When he passed away last year, his son Stephen sent a note to the folks at the Brown-Forman Distillery to let them know their sales would be down from then on out.
So when I discovered that Copper Fox sold newly charred white oak barrels in sizes ranging from 2 liters to 194 liters, I decided to produce a tribute beer: a bourbon-barrel-aged American Scotch Ale.
I'm calling it the JD Project.
Fittingly, the 10 liter barrel I got for the project was my first Father's Day gift from Trish and Savannah. I plan to fill it with Early Times and let it age for seven months. During that time, I'll work on crafting an American Scotch Ale, a nod to the Hembree clan's roots.
When the beer is ready and the bourbon aged, I'll replace the whiskey with ale for a month or so (still figuring that out). With any luck, I'll have a finished product by next March.
We can never repay our parents for what they do for us, but we can take time to remember them when they're gone.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

SR4: Dialing it in (hopefully)

The new batch is started and hopefully it will be a lot like the old batch.
SR3, my unnamed original IPA, turned out really well. But there were a few things that I wanted to tweak: the hop flavor, the aroma and color. It was nearly there, but just not quite.

That said, I took SR3 to my first DC Homebrewers meeting last week and it went over well. I've been interested in joining the group for a while, but because I decided to start homebrewing as soon as the baby came along, I haven't had any extra time for it. It worked out, though, because I was able to bring my own recipe to the first meeting and compare it to what the other homebrewers produced. It stood up.
There were a variety of styles at the meeting, from double IPAs, to kolsch beers, to ESBs and Scottish ales (really, not a stinker in the bunch), but I was surprised to find that I was the only person to bring an IPA, easily the most popular style in the craft beer community. I was also surprised to run into Mike Roy, the brewer from Franklin's, and Tammy Tuck, a beer writer for the City Paper, both of whom were at my house for a beer tasting three days earlier. Small world.
If all goes well, SR4 will be a little better than its predecessor. Admittedly, I could've decided SR3 was good enough -- it does have a real nice hop flavor, a good aroma, the proper amount of bitterness and the alcohol content I was going for -- but I picked up some advice on Beer School: in order to make a beer right, you have to make it over and over again.
What a lot of homebrewers do is make a beer, decide it's good or bad and then move on to something else. On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with that. It is all for fun, after all. On the other hand, if you want to create a special beer, or at least get a beer just right, you have to work at it. And that means tinkering with the recipe over the course of a few batches. I think I might have this IPA dialed in with this batch, but I won't know for sure for another six weeks.

So for this recipe, I added another ounce of Simcoe hops at the end of the boil, used a crystal malt with a lighter toast and dumped in another two ounces of whole Cascade hops for dry hopping. I'll also leave the whole hops in for the full two week fermentation, rather than pull them out after a week. I thought dry hopping with an ounce of whole hops was a lot last time, but it was a damn hop salad in that bucket tonight. This should be one hop stinky beer.
You know, that's not a bad name.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

SR3: I'm going to need more hops

SR3 is done. On the one hand, it's good, very drinkable. On the other hand, it's not where I want it to be.
First and foremost, it's not hoppy enough, especially on the nose, but also in terms of the flavor. The big hop aroma I got when I transferred the beer from the fermentor to the carboy after a week of dry hopping is gone, or at least greatly diminished. So for SR4, I'll be dry hopping with at least twice as many whole hops (two ounces) for twice as long (two weeks).
I was conservative with this batch because a) it was my own recipe and I didn't know what I was doing, and 2) I wanted to make sure I could drink the beer. Part of that meant I didn't want to keep the whole hops in the beer for longer than a week and risk having them rot, screwing up the beer. As it turns out, the hops were fine when I sparged the beer and could have gone another week or more.
I also think I'll add more flavor/aroma hops. I split up my simcoe hops to help with the bitterness. The bitterness seems about right, but I want more hop flavor and aroma. I need to step up the simcoe next time and I may add another hop varietal to further punch up the flavor.

As you can see, I hit the color I was going after (SR3 in the Big Boss pint, SR2 in the Dogfish Head pint). I liked the darker color of SR2 (a slight variation of Charlie Papazian's Palilalia IPA recipe) so I used amber malt and toasted crystal malt for SR3, too. I may eventually change this, but until I have the flavor dialed in I'll keep the malt as is. The flavor is good and I got the alcohol percentage I wanted (6.7% A.B.V.), so changing it is a matter of aesthetics.
So for a first batch of original homebrew, I would give myself a C+. It's a good beer, a drinkable beer, but there is still much work to be done.


My hop rhizomes finally sprouted! I was almost certain that I'd either killed them or planted them upside down. I didn't (well, I might have planted them upside down, but nature finds a way) and they're looking good. All five hops broke ground and should be big enough to grab the guide rope in a few weeks. I don't know how much yield I'll get this year, but I'll be happy with whatever I can harvest and wet hop this fall.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SR3: Dry hopping rocks!

My daughter slept though the night for the first time last night. Unfortunately, the night ended at 5:30 this morning.
So I was up bright and early to start bottling SR3. As I mentioned before, this is the first batch I dry hopped. It was completely worth the trouble. Even with the coffee pot going, my kitchen was enveloped in hop aroma. And if the aroma is any indication of the quality of this batch, I'm on to something.

For a raw beer, the flavor was pretty good, too. The ounce of Warrior hops and half ounce of Simcoe seems to have added enough bitterness to balance out the 10 pounds of malt. Beer in this state always tastes flat and weird, but this is the first batch I've sampled and kind of liked. I wouldn't order this in a bar, but it wasn't terrible by any means. That also means I didn't infect the beer when I transferred it from the fermentor to the carboy. As long as my bottles were sterile, I should be good.
Speaking of the malt, it occurred to me this morning that I might not have an IPA at all. Rather, I think I made a hoppy ale. You can see in the photos, the beer came out a nice dark orange, but it did so with an amber malt base that included toasted crystal malt. Technically, an IPA should include pale malt. I may be splitting hairs here, but that's what I do.

I also got the A.B.V. I was shooting for. According to my favorite new iPhone app, BrewMath, my projected alcohol content is 6.7 percent (F.G.: 1.020). I tell ya, that's the best $3 I've spent in a long time. I hate doing math, especially when I don't completely trust the outcome. And as influential and successful a brewer as Charlie Papazian is, his A.B.V. equation never seemed to work out quite right, even to the guy at the homebrew supply store. Well, it doesn't matter now, I have technology on my side. So screw you math, I didn't need you in college and I don't need you now!

As I did with my last batch, I'm giving SR3 four weeks to ferment in the bottle. Regardless of how it tastes, dry hopping will be a regular feature of my brewing process.
I was planning on giving a status update on my hops by now. Unfortunately, they haven't surfaced yet. Folks on the Homebrewing Facebook page say that it's not unusual for rhizomes to take a few weeks to come up. I hope that's the case, otherwise it'll confirm my suspicion that I planted all five rhizomes upside down.