Sunday, September 9, 2012

Brewing a Blonde Ale

It's been a while since I have brewed. Last post, which was ten months ago was the one after the Pumpkin Ale. The Pumpkin Ale was spicy and flavorful, but too much ginger and not enough pumpkin flavor. The next batch was made with leftover ingredients from  the Pumpkin Ale, although a lighter extract. It actually turned out very well, considering it was the first time ever that I brewed without a kit or a recipe. I would say it was a good test of my skills as a brewer. I am looking forward to trying a Pumpkin Ale in light of experience.

Since then, I brewed only one other batch but I didn't blog about it, so here it is.I made an Amber Ale from ingredients without a recipe. I brewed in the spring, an d had it ready by the 4thg of July. The problem was that I used a champagne yeast to ferment, and because of that, I held back on the bottling sugar, and it didn't carbonate very well. I still have half a case, which I have let sit to carbonate better, with some success. I used oxygen-absorbing caps to help it keep longer. It has a slightly different flavor due to the yeast, but still tastes really good. The lack of fizz puts me off a bit, though.

So, I decided to brew again. I bought a kit for Blonde Ale, which was easy to make. It was almost too easy, in fact. I used filtered water, and didn't add anything to the light amber extract and grain, and used just the two ounces of Williamette hops. It smelled good in the kettle before and after I added the hops. I racked it into the carboy by siphoning, and pitched the yeast about Midnight. It is twelve hours old, but shows no signs of life that I can see. I am not worried, as I have had beers take several days before they started fermenting. It is beautiful golden color in the glass carboy.

Two things that I incorporate into my technique are cooling and racking. I like to make sure to cool the wort as quickly as possible after the boil. I can have it cooled to 80 degrees in twenty minutes. Also, I rack the beer with a siphon rather than pouring through a filter or a funnel. Also, I never skip the secondary fermenter for settling out the solids. I think these things contribute to a good-tasing and high quality brew.

At any rate, I will be back to brewing again since the fall and winter are much cooler. Next up will be Pumpkin Ale 2.0.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brew Day

I'm sitting here, sipping an IPA and waiting for a kettle of water to get near to boiling. My grain is in the bag, and the malt extract is standing by. My latest brew is going to be a rather random brew, an Amber Ale with a little extra hops. The recipe is 1.5 lbs of Crystal Barley and .5 lbs of malted wheat. I'm using 6 lbs of Amber Malt Extract and a combination of Cascade and Mt. Hood Hops. I purchased these ingredients as part of my Pumpkin Ale brew from last month, and some extra barley and extract to make a second batch.

Speaking of the Pumpkin Ale, in my last installment, I detailed my brewing of my very first such ale, using a recipe from the Internet, and modifying it slightly for my own creative tastes. About a week ago, I transferred it to the secondary fermenter for settling and clarifying. It smells wonderful, all of the ginger and cinnamon, and the pumpkin. It is now about a week from bottling, and will be drank during December. I have never tried a Pumpkin Ale, because it seemed like a nasty idea, but I have totally changed my mind. I plan on buying a six-pack of a commercial brand to taste-test when the time comes.

The water is not quite boiling, so, the grain bag is in, and will steep for 30 or 45 minutes.

The IPA I'm drinking is a Ranger, from New Belgium Brewing company, of Fort Collins, Colorado. Fort Collins is where the National Institute of Science and Technology broadcasts the WWVB time signal that keeps automatic clocks up to date. Ranger is a dry and hoppy IPA with a crisp flavor and a refreshing hoppy edge to it. It has a very slight but not unpleasant aftertaste. I like it, and buy it regularly. I only have the one, so my second will be a Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic Brewing Company of Sonoma County in California. I find it to be pretty tasty, but a little bit too hoppy for regular drinking. I prefer the Ranger over the Racer 5.

In a short while, I will have to turn on the fire and add the extract. After I bring the beer to a boil, I will put in the first of the hops, and over the next hour, I will add a little more hops. Altogether, I expect to use an ounce of hops, so as not to over-hop the brew. I checked on oxygenation techniques, which no one told me about just yet, but I figured it out on my own. I definitely want to make sure the wort is oxygenated before pitching the yeast. This was something I may have been remiss about in previous brews, but apparently yeast likes to start out in a rather oxygen-rich environment, which helps it reach population numbers before it goes into a more anaerobic mode where it produces most of the alcohol.

In a few days, I will be back here to report on the bottling of the Pumpkin ale, and as to how this brew is progressing. Meanwhile, I have to get back to work, the mixture is coming to a boil and I have to stay close for the rest of the process.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back to Work

It's been a long, hot summer in Sacramento. It is finally starting to cool off a bit, and I am glad. I'm a fair-weather brewer, since I lack equipment to keep a brew cool during the hot summer months. In the rough economic times we are going through, I can't run the air conditioner while I'm away at work, even though the ability to brew beer at home can be a "green" alternative to store-bought beers. So, Autumn is welcome around my house.

To celebrate the fall season, I decided to brew a Pumpkin Ale. A friend of mine had some organic pumpkins, which one of his other friends had requested for his own Pumpkin Ale. He was kind enough to offer them to me, so I took them. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I went on line and found a recipe for a Pumpkin Ale using malt extract. I don't really want to do a whole grain brew just yet, even though that is in the future.

At the local brewers' supply store, I picked up the ingredients. I did the prep cleaning, and filled my kettle with filtered water. I washed the pumpkins and removed the seeds, and cut them into chunks, which I put in the oven to roast for an hour or so. Then, I soaked the pumpkin and the grains in the kettle for another hour. I removed the pumpkin and grain from the water, and added the malt extract syrup, and boiled it for an hour. I added an ounce of Mt. Hood hops at fifteen minutes, and at 50 minutes, I added 1/2 ounce of Cascade hops, and a bag of herb flavorings. I used fresh sliced ginger, cinnamon stick, crushed nutmegs, and whole cloves. They were in a grain bag, and I pulled them out after I cooled the wort.

I usually like to cool my wort really quickly, and so I brought it down to 85 degrees F, and siphoned it into the carboy. It was about five and a half gallons in the big jug. Then, I added a SafeAle American Ale yeast, and shook it up good. When I put the stopper in, it was a spicy-smelling brown liquid with a slight amount of bubbles on the surface, and it was just about getting dark out.

I cleaned up my mess, which was pretty bad by this time, and set the jug in the house. I had other things to do which had been put off by the brewing. The wort started bubbling by bedtime, and when morning came, it had an inch of suds on the top, and was venting gas at a good steady rate. By the time I got home in the evening, it was venting almost constantly. The foam was like a luxuriant bubble bath. When I opened the room, the smell of spices and hops was quite pleasant.

Because of the fact that I had bought the ingredients in non-kit form, I picked up enough extra stuff to do an Amber Ale. This was my first recipe beer not made from a kit. My next one will be not even a recipe, but a rather unique blending of Amber Ale malt extract, with some malted wheat and crystal malt, topped of with Mt. Hood and Cascade hops. I may decide to do another Pumpkin Ale, since the ingredients that I have left are much like the ones I used already. I am not really sure if I did the pumpkin right, either.

I'm down to my last five bottles of my X-Brew Agave IPA. They won't make it past this weekend. I enjoyed the heck out of them all summer long, augmenting with store-bought micro-brews. Next installment will be the brewing of my undecided next beer. Until then, drink in moderation, and enjoy life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Latest Taste Test

You may remember my last post, which was a little while back. I was getting my most recent batch of what I call X-Brew in the bottle for later drinkage. It was intended to be ready in time for the July 4th weekend. This is the report:

It turned out sort of dark, which was a surprise to me since it was an Amber Ale recipe. This may be because I steeped the grain bag for a longer time than I was supposed to. I tend to sparge the grain bag to get all of the whole-grain goodness out of it. Sparge is a term which refers to a rinsing or washing with the wort itself to capture the sugars produced. Anyway, it was of a brown color, not as clear as I was expecting. I also managed not to get any little floaty particles in there, which are not fun to look at when you are a hygienically clean brewer like I am. I spend a great deal of time cleaning everything that comes in contact with my beer, from the table surface to the brew kettle and the carboys, and all of the tools and instruments between.

The brew did not foam up as much as previous batches, because I now hold back on the bottling sugar. In fact, it hardly foams at all. It is still sitting at room temperature, and I think it may get a little bit more carbonation. I think it is better to give up a little foaminess in exchange for the beer staying in the glass. A couple of previous formulations of mine were excessively foamy, for reasons I was unsure of. I was told it could be contamination, but the beers didn't have any weird taste to them, so I ruled that out. The other thing was maybe the earlier brews were a little heavy on the sugar remaining after fermentation, and adding bottling sugar might actually be unnecessary. This one is lightly carbonated and well-behaved.

The smell is fruity and dry, and very clean. The taste is quite like an IPA, which is what I was aiming for. I used some agave nectar as an additional sugar source, and doubled the hops. It was 50/50 of cascade and citra hops. It has a nice finish and is kind of dry, like white wine, and leaves no aftertaste. It tastes really good. I'm pleased. The final test is the buzz factor. I just finished drinking a bottle, and I am waiting for the feeling... There it is. OK, so not too bad. Luckily I'm not driving anywhere today.

I am getting ready to start a new batch. I have to get a summer ale because it is kind of warm these days. I bought a tub to immerse the carboy in while I ferment, and a bunch of blue ice packs for the daytime when the temperatures rise. Stay tuned for my next installment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bottling the Beer Formula X

I decided to call my recent brew Formula X, because it has extra hops, and was aged extra long. I bottled it two weeks ago, neglecting to blog it at that time. It was a good 2 hours of washing bottles, and about thirty minutes of actual bottling. It is now about one full week from being ready to drink, and I'm hoping for a good result. Smell testing while bottling indicated that it would turn out just fine, so we will see.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

North Coast Brewing Excursion

As I prepare to move the beer in the large carboy into the small carboy, I like to talk about brewpubs. I particularly like to visit brewpubs whenever I go out of town.  On New Year's Eve, I visited the train station brewery restaurant in Oroville. I think I mentioned it in one of my previous posts... Oh yes, this post.

This past Friday night, I was in Fort Bragg, California. On the main road through town, which is also US Highway 1, there is a rather successful brewery called the North Coast Brewing Company. They are popular in Northern California for their Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout. They have a couple of other popular brews as well.

The restaurant is very easy to find, located on the corner of a block, on the opposite side of Highway 1 from the actual brewery. The place is warm and cozy, yet spacious, and not ostentatious or overly decorated. It is a small-town restaurant, in an older building, and they have chosen to keep the character of the place without a lot of clutter. There is no real theme to the place, other than that it seems that they like historical references to beer brands of days past, and some brewery-themed fixtures. The bar is nice, and the staff is knowledgable about the beer they sell. The food was average, yet somewhat pricey. They had a full menu of meats and seafood, salads and the like. I just remember noticing that the prices were rather steep. I guess it is to be expected being a seaside town and all. I had the fish and chips, which is usual for me. It still set me back twelve bucks, with five filets of tasty white cod and a generous helping of fries. The fries were pretty average, the fish was tasty with a crispy batter, but the tartar sauce was lacking in chunkiness and pickliness.

A full flight of 2-ounce pours, numbering twelve different brews, cost fifteen bucks. They had a gauntlet of brews, most of which were very tasty. I shall try to remember all of them:

Blue Star - A Wheat Beer, light yet flavorful, with a thicker feel like a Heffeweizen. It was good.
Scrimshaw - A Pilsner Beer, which I didn't like that much
Acme Pale Ale - A pretty average Pale Ale, in my opinion. It was OK.
Red Seal - This was not bad, kind of hoppy, but not something which got me excited either.
Red Seal Cask Conditioned Ale - Whatever this was, it wasn't anything like the other Red Seal, it was very mellow.
Pranqster - This was a pretty tasty brew, fruity and flavorful, like some good Heffeweizens I have tried. It had a flavor like bubble gum, in a way. I would go looking for this in a store. It was good.
Acme IPA - This was pretty bold, tasty and refreshing, although I must admit I was feeling a little happy at this point. It was good.
Old No. 38 Stout - I frothy brew, but not one that I particularly liked. I am not really a big fan of stouts, but sometimes you get a thick chocolatey stout that makes you appreciate stouts in a whole new way. This was not one of them. I would say no to a pint.
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - I can see why this brew is popular outside of the city of Ft. Bragg. It has a nice mouthfeel to it, and a thick rich body with a good flavor. I liked it.
The Brothers Thelonius - I was feeling pretty good by this time, and losing track fast. I  recall being impressed by this Abbey-style ale. It was dark and rich, and good tasting.
Old Stock Ale - Another fairly nice brew, with a barleywine flavor that got my attention. It was very good. Kind of an acetic acidity to it, not particularly strong, which I find overpowering sometimes, but just a hint. Nice.
Le Merle - A Saison-style beer, with a light flavor and a clean finish, a nice finish to a sampler tray. I would say it was worthwhile.

I would say that the best five of the twelve would be Blue Star, Pranqster, Old Rasputin, Old Stack Ale, and Le Merle. The others were good for getting a buzz and adding some variety, but these five were standouts. I would definitely make the stop again the next time I'm in Ft. Bragg, CA, and I would actually recommend it if you are staying nearby. I wouldn't go out of my way for the food, though, so if you are passing through, maybe don't stop here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Three Days Later...

It's been three days since the wort went into the carboy. It started out as a deep chocolate brown and was quiet. Within the first day, it was bubbling nicely and filled the room with the smell of hops. The gas output was almost constant.
The next morning the gas output was slowing slightly and the wort had changed from brown to a golden yellow. A froth of over an inch had formed on the top. One of the most fascinating things about this stage is how the yeast swirls around in the liquid.

After sixty hours, the gas production had slowed to half. The foam was still there, and it is still swirling. I am hoping for a good long fermentation time. I'm already thinking about what kind of beer to brew next. This one looks like it will be a success.