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.