Monday, January 21, 2008

Sticking it to the hop shortage

Okay, so we've been thinking of doing this since before the hop shortage, but this year we're hoping to finally start growing our own hops. We're currently considering Northern Brewer, Hallertauer and Spalt for our hop varietal of choice. If anybody has suggestions on what grows well in Chicago or where to get some rhizomes locally, shoot us an email.

On a side note, I came across this link while checking my gmail account. I love how they don't actually say what varietal of hops they're selling, as if they're all the same. Well, they do note that the vine "[p]roduces pale yellow hops that give home brews authentic Old World flavor" and that "[v]ariety is 3-4 times more bitter than most hop vines." Of course, when I think "Old World flavor," I think of noble hops, and when I think of "3-4 times more bitter," I think of Pacific Northwest hops. So what varietal would be both? Beats the hell out of me. Anyway, the bottom line is I can't imagine any homebrewer would buy hop vines not knowing what kind of hops they actually are. Then again, somebody recently sent me this link which features a 1-lb. bag of unspecified hops on sale for only $9.99, so maybe I'm wrong.

Belated credit due to Leah (and Marta) (and, technically, Dorrie)

A couple of overdue notes...

First, with respect to my Germany trip posts, several people commented on the cool photos. Any pictures that had any artistic quality to them whatsoever were taken by Leah, who's a pretty sweet photographer. Any pictures that simply consisted of somebody standing in front of something were probably taken by me.

Second, I recently realized that I never posted about the results of the 2007 Queen of Beer competition.* I am excited to belatedly report that Leah, our good friend Marta, and our daughter Dorrie took third place in the "Wheats n stuff" category with their Berliner Weisse. I think Dorrie may have set a record for the youngest ever winner of a homebrew competition, as she was 15 months old at the time of judging. Of course, just in case DCFS is reading this, we should point out that Dorrie did not sample any of the final product. Anyway, congrats to them on their third straight ribbon from the QoB!

*Just for the record, Leah could have posted about either of these things at any time, as she is an official contributor to this brewing log.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Update: White Riot Gluten-free Belgian Wit

Yesterday Leah and I bottled our gluten-free Belgian Wit (since most of the batch is going to a friend, we figured it made sense to bottle-condition rather than keg). The final gravity was 1017, which with an estimated O.G. of 1052 (sorry, I forgot to take a reading!) brings it in at an easy-drinking 4.6% ABV. The sample I tasted was remarkably close to a "normal" Witbier. It had a distinct coriander flavor as well as a slight sour tang which I've heard is typical of sorghum brews and works very well in a Wit. The only thing is there is a light sour aftertaste that's just a tad off (relative to barley beers, that is). Overall, however, not bad for a first stab. I suspect my friend will definitely enjoy it after being stuck with Redbridge and Bard's Tale for the last few years.

My only concern is that the beer never really developed a kraeusen. Sorghum is notorious for being thin-bodied, which is why I added the malto-dextrin. I'm hoping the lack of kraeusen is simply a combination of a somewhat thinner body and the fact that I fermented 2.25 gallons in a 5-gallon fermenter (so you have half the CO2 going through the same surface area). Nonetheless, the worst-case scenario is it doesn't retain its head at all. I can live with that for now.

Oh, a couple technical notes. I didn't do a secondary, instead letting it sit in the primary for two weeks before racking into a keg and bottling with the beer gun. Also, I primed what ended up being a hair over 2 gallons with .375 cups of corn sugar.

Stay tuned for a final evaluation later this month. Next up, likely, will be either a cherry stout or a split batch of half cherry stout and half Cocoa Puffs stout. (Yes, I make it with real Cocoa Puffs.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Final analysis: Polar Jet Christmas Bock

Here's a wrap-up on our Christmas beer, which was originally intended to be a Doppelbock but didn't come out strong enough, so I had to demote it to regular Bock. Any way, here are the final notes on our Polar Jet Christmas Bock:

Style: Traditional Bock. Original gravity: 1065. Final gravity: 1015. ABV: 6.6%.

Appearance: Pours a very dark, nearly black, mahogany color with an ample, creamy tan head.

Smell: Malty aroma of sweet rye and pumpernickel. Just a touch of grassy hops.

Taste: Sweet up front, with flavors of dark molasses, sweet rye and just a hint of chocolate. A very slight banana note on the tongue, but otherwise very clean. The finish is bitter enough to keep the beer from being cloying, but not overly so. There's a hint of roastiness as you swallow, but the bitterness comes mostly from the hops. Any perceived roastiness seems to go away as it warms. Despite the maltiness of the beer, the hop bitterness is what lingers on the tongue afterwards. Slight alcohol warmth, but no astringency.

Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation; full-bodied but only average for a Bock.

Drinkability: As is generally the case with a German-style Bock, it'll fill you up, but you can still drink it by the half-liter mug.

Final thoughts: It's funny. At first I thought this beer was crazy roasty for a Bock, but now I think it's more that it has decent hop bitterness (at least by Bock standards). I didn't use any roast grains, though I did use a generous amount of Carafa malt, so it shouldn't really be roasty. It's still too dark to fit the profile of a traditional Bock, but it's too big and malty to be a Schwarzbier. I suppose I could call it an Imperial Schwarzbier. The funny thing is I had a BJCP-certified judge try it and he said I could probably even enter it in a competition as a robust porter. So I guess the level of roastiness is in the palate of the beholder. Anyway, it really reminds me of the Bock I had at Spezial in Bamberg, minus the smoked malts. I'm actually thinking of brewing this again in the future with some Rauchmalz to make a nice Rauchbier. One other thing I might do next time is go with a little more Carapils malt to increase the head retention, which is good but could be better. Overall, though, it's definitely a beer I'd like to brew again.

Not sure what's up next... We still have a bunch of frozen cherries that I'd like to brew in a stout, and I'd also like to re-brew our Gose with more sour character (a la Ohne Bedenken). Stay tuned to see what we decide on!