Christmas Presence Bottled

Ever since I got my temperature controller for my fridge, I’ve had bottled CornucopIPA in there, and fermenting Christmas Presence, as well as the old mead and cider that may or may not end up viable.

Each day, I’ve been checking on the CornucopIPA bottles to see if they’re ready yet. By and large, they are ready, but I still only take one at a time, since I like to let them condition for two full weeks at a warm temperature before fridging them all. I have been noticing that Christmas Presence continues to bubble through the airlock.

Activity had stopped, I thought, before I put the beer in the warm temperature controlled fridge. It is set to 70, while the basement it sits in varies between 60 and 65 these days. I guess the stable temp re-invigorated the yeast in the fermenter. This US-05 is good stuff!
So bottling time anyway – I am sick of waiting for it, besides, it must be done by now. When I popped off the lid, sure enough, there were many little clusters of bubbles on the surface of the beer – signs of activity that I would tell a newbie to wait to be gone before bottling. But not me – I am boldly defying intelligence and bottling anyway.

I took a gravity reading, first, to be on the safe side, and it reads 1.013! In case you missed it, my OG was 1.080. This makes my beer 8.8% ABV! Wow! Plus the FG is so low, it MUST be done dropping – how much more fermentable sugar could be in there? So I bottled it. I think it will be fine. I will monitor the plastic bottle, and fridge it when it is time, and probably drink it all before the yeast gets a chance to wake back up and get back to work. So I am not worried.

Nervous due to past bad experiences getting beers 8.5% ABV and up to condition properly, I used the technique that I used last time with CornucopIPA, where I took a generous portion of the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter into my bottling bucket. Since CornucopIPA was drinkably carbonated in about two days, I think there might be something to this strategy. Time will tell if it worked as well for Presence.

So as I bottle, I always taste the hydrometer sample. This is great! It is a little harsh on the alcohol, which should mellow a bit with time, cold, and carbonation, but even if it doesn’t it is a winter warmer for sure! The flavor and aroma are burnt, almost smoky. As I labeled the bottles, all I could smell was something like milk chocolate. I am super excited to have this one ready to go.


CornucopIPA Tasting

Just over two weeks ago, I brewed an ale of all the leftovers in my brewing ingredients storage. It was some LME, some DME, a few random specialty grains, and plenty of Magnum and Cascade hops. It ended up as an IPA, and I called it CornucopIPA, like Cornucopia IPA, since it was like harvesting my ingredients store.

I tasted it when I dry hopped it, and I was nervous. It seemed overly dry, and reminded me of my Maple Syrup Wine, which ended at gravity 1.000, and I might use to strip some paint off my mouldings. But I crossed my fingers and hoped it would mature a bit. A few days later, when I bottled it, I tasted it again. It was still pretty unsatisfying.

I bottled it on Wednesday. Now less than three days later (I actually put this one in the fridge this morning) it is nearly ready to drink. My barometer plastic bottle is getting very firm in my temperature controlled 70 degree fridge. When cold, the beer is barely carbed, but could be done if needed. I will let most of them condition for the full two weeks for the full effect.

The great news is that something about it has improved 100%! I don't know if it is the cold temperature. Or maybe it is the bit of fizz that's in there. Or maybe the dry hop Cascades had a chance to act in the bottle. But whatever it is, this is a really good IPA. Not to pat myself on the back, but it is reminding me of the Sierra Nevada Celebration 2007 Ale. Now I didn't really intend to make a Cascade grapefruit hop bomb (although if you looked at my recipe you might wonder why I wouldn't think that) but that's what it came out to be, and that's what American IPAs are these days.

So in the end I have made a quintessential American IPA that I'll be proud to share with everyone. I'll probably be so proud that it will be gone in a week, but it feels good to make a great beer, after so many challenges in some of my latest batches.


How to Save a Bad Homebrew

I must admit - every now and then I make a beer that doesn't exactly come out as planned. A prime example of this is my attempt at a Duvel clone, which I called, with high hopes, Dorée Forte (that's French for Strong Gold). I got astounding mash efficiency, so the alcohol was way high. But the recipe called for dosing with corn sugar in secondary, so I did it. That was a mistake. I bottled a sample at transfer to secondary, and it was AWESOME! But the yeast just couldn't handle the extra corn sugar I dosed it with, and couldn't consume it all. I ended up 0.3% ABV short, which doesn't sound like much, but that's a lot of sugar! So it was sweet as a lollipop and flat as water. Even adding yeast to every bottle didn't save this one. If anything, it made it taste more infected.

Well earlier in the year, I made a second attempt at a recipe that was wildly successful in terms of crowd appeal. It was called Stonington Memorial Summer Ale, and it was an American Wheat Ale, with a nice tangy taste, light color, and highly carbonated. My second attempt had some sort of weird thing, where it ended up tasting like Blue Moon - with that Belgian taste. Maybe I transferred it on the same day I did the Doree Forte, and got a bunch of the Belgian yeast in there - who knows? But this SMSA2 came out dry and fizzy.

Finally, with about two SMSA left and 5 Doree Forte, I realized: dry and fizzy + sweet and flat = perfect! Turns out to be totally true. With SMSA2 at 4.4%, and Doree Forte at 11.3%, that makes a half-and-half blend of the two 7.85% - pretty strong. And with SMSA being absurdly fizzy (many bottles foam over) and Doree Forte being flat, they make an averagely carbonated beverage. Finally, the Belgian flavor in the SMSA is perfect for Doree Forte, which is where it belonged in the first place.

I feel inspired to blend other beers. For example, my IPA and Holiday Ales are both likely to have a low finishing gravity, and as such, a somewhat thin body. I could brew up a high-bodied ale to blend with them to perhaps round them out. Blending is like the perfect way to compensate for deficiencies in one brew by making the inverse of that deficiency in another brew.

Ever blended homebrews? I'd love to hear about it.

Top Beers For The Past Twelve Weeks

I get emails periodically from "Brew Blog", which is this thing put out by Miller, and which I've made fun of in the past. But it seems with today's entry, that they're starting to get it a little bit. OK, well they're still trying to downplay the importance and significance of craft beer in the marketplace, with their focus on fragmentation in that segment of the industry. But they are noticing the great performance of that segment at the same time.

The thing that I wanted to comment on is their top ten list at the end of the article. These are the "top ten craft beers by velocity for the twelve weeks ending November tenth", which I take to mean that they have either sold the most or grown the most. But the thing is I don't really know what most of them are. In fact, I did some cursory research on the "Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale" and I guess they mean Punk'n Ale from Four +, but it's hard to say. Hmmm...now I wonder how many in this list are of the "macro in craft's clothing" category, a la Blue Moon...

I have heard of New Glarus, and I know they're resepcted. Great Lakes Christmas Ale looks like it checks out. Capital Garten Brau is a little suspect - maybe it is from Capital Brewery in Middleton, WI? I can find info on a Tuckerman Headwall Alt... and it doesn't look that amazing... Anderson Valley makes a Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema (Cream Ale), which I guess is what they mean... Abita is well known. I guess they mean Squatters Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout - maybe they just didn't want to include the word Bastard in their blog? Wow, Great Lakes again - they must be growing their distribution network! Maybe I can get them here in CT!! And Acme I can get here, and I like a lot of their stuff (but I never had the Pale Ale, and it doesn't sound tempting).

So most of the list checks out, but some of the entries are hard to identify, and some are not really that highly regarded in the beer review community of BeerAdvocate (which is normally a pretty good barometer for quality).


CornucopIPA Dry Hopped

I was torn - I planned to dry hop CornucopIPA, but then when the time came (that's today) I got scared to mess with the beer, for fear of infecting it. In the end, I decided I could handle sanitizing the bag, weight, and thief to get the job done. Plus it would allow me to measure the finishing gravity of the beer and taste a sample. My infant son fell asleep and I was ready to get to work.

My original gravity was 1.065. I used US-05 dry yeast, and was BeerSmith predicted a terminal gravity of 1.016. I was expecting maybe even 1.018 or so. To my astonishment, my finishing gravity is 1.014! That makes it 6.7% ABV - cool! But on the other hand, it is really not full bodied enough for me.

The good news is that I have the cause known. I noticed that my brewing thermometer was reading 70 degrees when sitting in my hydrometer sampling jar. The jar is empty, and it has a stick-on LCD thermometer, which is always on target. The LCD said 65 degrees. Thinking back, my boiling wort registered 220 degrees on the thermometer. At the time, I figured it was just a low pressure day or something, and I'm so close to sea level, or maybe wort boils hotter. But now it makes sense. I adjusted the nut on the thermometer down five degrees. Now boiling water today on my stove was 213 degrees (close enough). An ice bath was a nice 32 degrees.

So turns out I have been mashing five degrees cooler than I thought. That means CornucopIPA was mashed in at 147 degrees. No wonder it finished so low in the gravity department. That also means my Presence Holiday Ale mashed at 146 degrees. That one's probably going to end up pretty dry, too. Hey that also explains the overattenuation of Oatquake - it mashed at 145!

I wonder if I could steep some grains and add them at bottling time to add some body... I'll go ask on Northern Brewer's forum.


Winter Ales

For the longest time, I was not much of a follower of seasonal releases. I was more the one who was disappointed when the season was up and the beer I had grown to love was gone. Magic Hat's Roxy Rolles was just that for me last year.

I think I am starting to get it now. For example, last night I had a Victory Pilsner, and it just seemed sort of out of place on a cold Connecticut night. It was still good, but I was wondering why I passed over a darker brew.

I just the other day picked up a sixer of Ipswich Winter Ale and one of Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale. OK maybe the DFH isn't exactly "seasonal" but hey it is dark and hearty. I posted complete tasting notes over at BeerAdvocate, but here's the rundown:

Ipswich is solid. It has a nice dark malt and fruit aroma, with a hint of chocolate and caramel. The flavor is right in line, with a nice dose of hops and even evident alcohol. It was a very enjoyable drink. The only thing that I would really change is the alcohol presence. It is only around 6.4%, but drank more like a 7%'er. But lucky for them I like the alcohol taste. To me it is sort of like the caffeine in coffee - without it, the drink is just lacking substance.

Dogfish Head is a thing of beauty. I nearly shed a tear as I took the last sip from the glass. It also has a nice dark malt and fruit aroma, but the chocolate and caramel are more pronounced. The flavor was in line, with extra help from hops and alcohol, but it was more intense, yet smooth and balanced. The only thing I wasn't impressed with was the head. I understand a brown ale should be lightly carbonated, but I still like to see some head, and have it last while I drink it.

Both are highly recommended, and both are cheaper (at least here at my local A&P liquor store) than Sam Adams. Maybe next I'll have to bite the bullet and try the Sam Adams Winter Ale (or is it a lager?) this year.


Pilgrims and Beer

Joe Six Pack, a contributor to Philly.com has written a well informed article on Pilgrims and Beer. In it, he has the famous clip of a journal entry basically saying "we have to land, we're out of beer" (the real quote appears twice in the original post, so why repeat it here?) The problem with that quote, which Joe points out is that the entry was from a month after they made landfall, so it is just generally taken out of context. And of course they were concerned with more essential items like food and shelter and not dying. I would just balance this with the fact (or at least the reported fact - I wasn't there) that they thought beer to be healthful food, so running out of beer would be akin to us running out of water. Nothing to ignore.

But Joe goes on to say that since the barley crop that year was unremarkable, they wouldn't have been drinking beer on Thanksgiving, but rather would have been drinking wine from wild grapes. While I won't deny that they could have had wild grape wine there, I will say that they probably also had their beer there. Since barley was hard to come by in the colonies, they made beer from other fermentables (such as pumpkin, molasses, and things - which Joe notes in the end of his article). To them, that was beer. Might sound questionable to us, but their beer was often made from things besides malted barley - they were English, not German. I think that to them beer was anything sort of brown and lower alcohol, or at least anything clearly not wine.

Furthermore, I would think that for a special occasion like Thanksgiving (assuming that all the folklore around the actual Thanksgiving holiday is correct), they would have had special beer for it. They were still part of the British Empire, and could import beer from England. They may have saved some of their fine British beer just for such an occasion. They must have had a beer geek or two with an extensive beer cellar just waiting to help out in just such a time of need. Perhaps they employed the currently still practiced activity of brewing special harvest beers. A whole field of barley - surely we can spare a few hundred pounds for a few barrels of real beer.

One final thought - to those who say "yuck" to the pumpkin, or molasses, or whatever in their beer: the pilgrims also had plenty of corn, which is commonly used today as a fermentable sugar in some of the most esteemed beers of the world. And who among us hasn't had a seasonal pumpking ale?

So when Thanksgiving comes next week, please drink beer. But only if you like beer. Drink wine if you want. Or even water. But since none of us were there, none of us can really tell what they would have all been drinking on that first Thanksgiving. So just drink what you like, not what you think you should like.


Widmer and Redhook Unite...yawn

Unless you don't read any other beer news outlets, you already know that Widmer and Redhook are teaming up to become the third largest craft brewer, and break into the top ten overall, with about 600,000 bbl annual production. All I have to say is "yawn".

The only Widmer I've had is the hefeweizen, which was fine, but not really spectacularly memorable. Based on their ads, I thought they were less micro and more macro, sort of like a Blue Moon, or even whatever Micheolb calls their beers in different styles. And while Widmer is owned by Anheuser-Busch, they apparently maintain some craft cred overall.

Back in the day, like mid-90's, Red Hook was cool. They were one of a few, and I got a lot out of them in those days. To me, they sort of remained in my past, and perhaps I now take them for granted. To me they are just unexciting and verging on mild. I group them with Harpoon, Sam Adams, Otter Creek, etc. I would drink them if offered them, but for the most part, I am not likely to buy them. Although at least Otter Creek has their big beer series, which is commendable.

In fact, today at the local liquor store (not any sort of special beer store, but above average), I was going to buy a Sam Adams Winter Ale just to try it again. I found Sam Adams to be $8.29 for any style. Then I noticed Dogfish Head was $7.99. I just could not resist my first six pack of Indian Brown Ale at 7.2% ABV for less than a plain ol' Sam Adams Winter. What ever happened to economy of scale? Shouldn't Sam Adams' beer, which is made probably at tenfold the volumes of DFH, be at least the same price? And I always felt DFH had a reputation as being overpriced.

So what are we to do when two "boring" micros merge? Nothing. This is really about the same as Miller and Coors joining forces. It just seems somehow pointless. Consolidation helps them run their businesses at a better profit margin perhaps, and could widen their customer bases. But it is a fact in this country today that people like new beers that taste exceptional. Until Widmer-Redhook do something new and interesting in the product department, it won't make a difference.


Brewery Lineup

So naturally as a beer blogger, I am dreaming of the day (coming 2010) when I control my own brewery. I have figured out the beer styles I intend to keep on constant supply, and I thought I could take an opinion poll of sorts.

These are the beers I will have available all the time (in no particular order):
  1. IPA
  2. Belgian Dubbel
  3. Belgian Tripel
  4. Oatmeal Stout
  5. American Wheat

I think that this really gives something for everyone. Wheat for Bud Miller Coors fans. Pus Oatmeal Stout is very accessible, thanks to Guinness. IPA is always the beer geek's favorite. That is, unless the beer geek likes the Belgians, then Dubbels and Tripels are sure to conquer.

Any feedback on the beer list is welcome! Including what other or additional beers should I plan on. And also including great marketable brand names for the above styles.

Raising Alcohol Taxes

I just read on BBC that they want to increase taxes on alcohol. This always sounds like a good idea at first, but when analyzed, turns out to be highly misguided. At first, you think "sure, why not increase taxes to make more money on alcohol. Then they might not raise my income or property taxes." I just want to highlight a few of the flaws that I see in a strategy like this.

First, the government is out one side of their mouths saying "alcohol is bad, don't do it" but then at the same time they have a stake in alcohol sales, since they get tax money from it. We have the same question here in the US about gambling, smoking, and other legal vices. To me it undermines the credibility of the anyone that says something is bad and then profits from it.

Second, it is based on a false notion. I highly disagree that the low cost of some alcohols are what lead to drinking and in turn alcohol-related deaths. The BBC article says, "The Alliance says increasing the price of alcohol by 10% could cut all alcohol-related deaths by between 10% and 30%." But without any evidence sited that I noticed. Probably because it is a statement of opinion. The BBC article also frames this as a child-related issue, which is really just a way for the story to evoke more of a response from the neo-prohibitionists. So I'll rebut with my own opinion: "Kids drink to get drunk, and because they believe it will make them cool. Even adults have the same motivations to a certain extent. Price is one factor, but an increase of ten percent is not going to change anything, except maybe the people will have less money to spend on other things."

Now it is hard to argue against the problems that come from excessive drinking, but increasing the government's rake off the sales of booze doesn't even really indirectly address the problem. I'll broadly suggest the same things that countless of other anti-neo-prohibitionists have said: let's try setting good examples for our children at home, modeling appropriate appreciation and enjoyment of alcohol, and responsible behavior around alcohol.


Extract Brewing Tutorial

Hey readers. I have been working on an extract brewing tutorial over at my main web site www.brainardbrewing.com, and you can find a few entries on equipment and the process over there. Check them out. I will be posting soon to finish up the extract series, and then after that, is the all-grain series. Don't miss it!


Brew Day!

Today I ended up with no dryer vents to clean, so I got to brew my kitchen sink IPA. This is made with all the leftovers from my past batches. But it ends up to be just about right for an IPA. I decided to call it "CornucopIPA" - like "Cornucopia IPA" sort of as a conjunction. Seems fitting, for the time of year.

There was one difficult aspect to the day. Of 3.5 lbs of grain in this partial mash batch, I had 0.75 lbs flaked oats, and 0.69 lbs wheat malt. This made for quite a tricky vorlauf and sparge. Same thing happened when I brewed my Belgian Trippel IPA, which had a less severe proportion of wheat and oats. But I just could not remember how I got past it last time.

I tried stirring the mash, and blowing on the drain, and altering the flow rate, and a few similar things, but nothing worked. I ended up dumping the whole mash into the brew kettle, and then scooping in just the liquid (to the extent possible) until I could get that to flow. Then I started slowly adding in the grains. Once I figured I had enough in there, I dumped the rest of the grains in there. All the while, I kept vorlauf going so I wouldn't risk getting it stuck again. I just hope I don't have to worry about oxidation from all the blowing and dumping. Guess I'll just have to drink it fast!

I'm looking forward to making a full sized all-grain batch again. The Oatquake didn't get stuck in vorlauf. I wonder what I'll make next. I have a vial of Brett B sitting here. But I might want to make something like a winter warmer very soon. Maybe I could even have one ready for XMas if I hurry.


Pils and Stout (edit: and IPA)

Two notes:

I got another real Pilsner. It is Victory Prima Pils. I had heard at my local beer store that Victory wasn't distributed in Connecticut any more, but they had it up at Manchester Wine and Liquor (the greatest beer store in Connecticut) anyway. It has a grainy nose, and a typical medium body, but the hops are subtle compared to the Lagunitas. It is very good nonetheless, and probably a bit more accessible than the Lagunitas which may verge on obsessively hopped.

I brought my stout, Oatquake, to poker on Saturday, and it was well received. I always find it interesting that Stouts are well received, because it isn't exacly the easiest style to drink. But I guess I can thank the likes of Guinness for mainstreaming stouts. Mine is more like Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (or whatever it's called - the stuff that is just in a 22-oz. bomber sans nitrogen). The more I have it, I don't feel is is overattenuated as I had pontificated before. I think it may have been still a bit young before. It is really getting enjoyable now. Sadly, just in time for it to be almost half gone :(

OK, I know I said two, but... third thought. Up next for me to brew is the "kitchen sink" IPA made from all the leftover stuff. I am still looking for a good name. Something that means like "all that is" or something. Kind of like Namaste (which I don't know what that means (OK Wikipedia says it means "I bow to you", and is a general greeting and departure, so I guess it is sort of like "Aloha")). Just a cool word that means something to the effect of "this beer includes everything". Maybe Cornucopia IPA in honor of Thanksgiving, since it will be brewed around that time of the month. It will be brewed this week if I am lucky, but even if I made it last week, it probably wouldn't really be ready for turkey day anyway.