Sunday, November 01, 2009

Brew day: North Kilttown Scottish Export/North Pole Export Christmas Ale

As we did last year, today we brewed a double batch, some of which will be fermented as is and some of which will be spiced (likely with vanilla) for a Christmas beer. We decided to go with a Scottish Export (80/-) for the base style... a style I love but haven't brewed for a while. Our trip to Scotland earlier this year definitely got me motivated to brew one again, and after completing our frenzy of Oktoberfest/Novemberfest German-style beers, we're finally getting around to brewing a Scottish beer for the first time since we went all-grain.

A quick note about the recipe... Historically, Scottish beers have a huge jump in gravity between an 80/- Export (which the BJCP indicates has a starting gravity between 1040 and 1054) and a 90/- Strong Scotch/Wee Heavy (which the BJCP says should be at least 1070). We wanted to go higher than an Export so that it's a nice winter warmer but not as rich as a Wee Heavy, so while we call this an Export it's really stronger than it should be. Maybe we could call it an 85/- ale?

Now, moving on to the brew day... I think I average one stressful brew day for every two smooth brew days. Today was a stressful one. I had issues with my water filter (the nylon that keeps the charcoal in the filter broke, leaving me with gray, charcoally water); my pump crapped out again (I'm pretty sure I need some sort of seal or o-ring replaced); I undershot my target mash temp by three to four degrees; my mash tun manifold came disconnected from the outlet--twice; I believe we had raccoon pee dripping down outside of our garage door (don't worry, it was NOT near the beer, nor did it get on anybody; but I'm pretty sure there are raccoons living in our garage loft); and I might have pitched a dead and/or infected yeast starter.

But those complaints aside, it was a successful brew day. I usually brew on Saturday mornings, but we spent the non-trick-or-treating part of our day going to car dealerships (you can check out our new wheels to the right). So today I fired up the brew kettle as soon as we got home from church. The mash seemed much thicker than usual (I used Golden Promise pale malt; maybe it's more floury than others?) so it took me longer than usual to dough in, leaving me with a mash temperature of 152-ish instead of my target of 156°F.

By 2:10 we had the sparge water ready to go and I started recirculating. Unfortunately, as I started to recirculate I noticed I was getting a TON of grain coming through the hose. My manifold had first come undone from the mash tun outlet when I was filling it with the strike water and I thought I had reconnected it successfully but apparently not (memo to myself: buy a clamp to connect the manifold to the outlet). As such, I had to dump out half of the mash into another pot so I could reattach the manifold. I suppose if I'm ever going to experience hot side aeration, this would be it. That being said, I've had to do this twice before and never noticed any issues.

After recirculating for twenty minutes or so, I started sparging at 2:30. Since Scottish ales are known for their caramelization, and I'm too lazy to do a two-hour-plus boil, I took the first gallon of runnings and sent it to the kitchen for Leah to reduce. Meanwhile, I started the kettle boiling at 3:00pm, when I had collected in the neighborhood of three gallons. By 3:45 I had collected 9.5 gallons (I was shooting for 8.25 gallons of wort, enough for a five-gallon batch of Export and a half-batch to be spiced for Christmas) and was ready to add the hops.

A note on the hops: I've always suspected that bittering hops are pretty much interchangeable, as any flavor or aroma is driven off. I decided to test that theory today, bittering the beer with Simcoe hops, a style generally considered NOT appropriate for European-style beers. We'll see if anybody notices.

At 4:30, I checked in on the reduction and it was down from a gallon to a quart. I tried a little and--damn--it was tasty. It was like liquid caramel corn. Leah was saying it would be great on ice cream or other desserts, and we might just try that with the finished beer. I added the reduction, along with an additional quart of water, back to the wort and also threw in some Irish moss.

By 4:50 I was ready to chill. I collected 8.5 gallons at around 63°F and then began to add the yeast starter of WLP 028 Edinburgh Ale yeast. It was then that I noticed a slightly odd, tart smell. I poured a sample of the yeast starter and it was kind of weird. It didn't seem sweet enough to suggest the yeast was dead, and it wasn't funky so I really don't think there was any wild yeast or bacterial infection, and the flask had been washed and used several times since I had the lacto starter in there, so I'm not sure what the deal is. Maybe it's nothing. I guess we'll see if we have fermentation tomorrow.

So yeah, that was my brew day. The wort tastes awesome and we ended up with an original gravity of 1070, four points above target, so I was happy with that. I'm just hoping we don't have any issues with the yeast and/or an infection. If it ferments well then this will fall into the category of "all's well that ends well." If not, I may try to turn this into some kind of sour ale. Lets hope it doesn't come to that.


Blogger Matt said...

Wow, the reduction is a great idea! Have you tried this with any other styles?

2:51 PM, November 02, 2009  
Blogger Russ said...

No, Matt, this is the first time I've done anything like this. I'm not sure what other styles I'd try the technique with, since Scottish ales are the only ones I can think of that call for caramelization of the wort, but I could see the technique also producing a pretty tasty Belgian Strong Dark Ale or maybe even a Doppelbock.

5:20 PM, November 02, 2009  
Blogger Kevin LaVoy said...

That is the greatest beer label in history.

I read once that a brewery in France brews a Saison that uses only Pilsner malt and a three hour boil to end up with a red beer.

10:32 PM, November 08, 2009  

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