Thursday, August 19, 2010

On creationism...

No, I'm not talking about creationism in the theological sense. I'm talking about creating a new beer style! So here's the deal...

Every year we brew three beers for Novemberfest, and one of them is an Oktoberfest/Märzen style. Well, it occurred to me that since the party is called Novemberfest, not Oktoberfest, we should come up with a unique style to declare the official beer of Novemberfest (a Spätjahren--"late year" or autumn beer--if you want an analog for Märzen). Now I've already brewed an Oktoberfest, as well as a Schwarzbier, for this year's Novemberfest. Initially I was planning on making the third beer an Altbier, and then I thought of making it a Dampfbier (since it's a little more of an easy-drinker than the Alt). But now my inclination is to go brew the inaugural Novemberfest/Spätjahren. So what should it be?

Here are my initial requirements:

1. It must be German-inspired in its ingredients, techniques, etc.

2. It must be relatively light (i.e. it won't scare off casual beer drinkers).

3. It must be an ale (I might have time to brew one more lager before Novemberfest but I'd prefer to have the flexibility of brewing an ale).

So there we have it. Somewhat restrictive, but not overly so, right? Well, I have a few ideas up my sleeve. I figured I'd post them now and see if anybody has other ideas (or suggestions regarding mine). Here are the two I'm considering right now:

Prototype #1: Grain bill of 90% pilsner, 5% Munich, 5% wheat. Starting gravity around 1065. Around 30 IBU's. Fermented with WLP 380 (American Hefe yeast). The idea here is to make a beer that's part Kölsch (the ratio in the grain bill and the fact that it's an ale), part Maibock (the higher gravity and the more aggressive hopping), and part Kellerbier (the American Hefe yeast, which was originally an Alt yeast and is fairly similar to a Kölsch yeast but doesn't flocculate well, thus giving it a cloudy appearance).

Prototype #2: Grain bill of 55% pilsner, 25% rye malt, 15% Munich, 5% carapils. Starting gravity around 1048. Around 35 IBU's. Fermented with WLP 029 (German ale-Kölsch yeast). The idea here is to basically make a light version of a Düsseldorf Altbier but adding rye to add some complexity to the malt profile. I had an awesome Belgian tripel brewed with rye at the now-defunct Mattlingly brewpub in St. Louis that opened my eyes to what rye can do in lighter ales so I think this could be quite interesting. My only concern is that it might be too hoppy for many people there.

Thoughts? Warnings? Anybody else have an idea for this new style?

P.S. I stole the above image from these guys. Just figured I should give credit where credit is due.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

So, about that kid...

Yeah, I've alluded to it a few times now, but I figure I should formally announce that Leah and I welcomed our third child, Lillian Margaret, into the world on July 20th. She was another big baby, weighing in at 10 lbs. even (which means that Leah has now had TWO babies weighing ten pounds or more via natural birth; not bad for a chick who's only 5'2"). As you can see, Lily's doing just fine:

Lily's arrival meant that it was finally time to crack open the baby beer (which I hope to review soon). We brought it along to the hospital and cracked it open that evening... Needless to say Leah's excited to be back among the non-teetotalers again. On a side note, we've still got a few bottles left so if you're in the neighborhood feel free to stop by and grab one!

Finally, I'll note that the new addition hasn't slowed down our brewing. As has been documented on this blog, we've already had two brew days during the first three weeks of Lily's life. I would be remiss if I didn't post a picture of Leah and Lily during Lily's first brew day:

Something tells me there will be plenty more where that came from. (Brew days, that is. Not kids. I think we've got our hands full as it is!)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Brew day: Bear's Cage Schwarzbier

So I've sort of gotten back-logged with stuff I have to post about (like how our third child--Lillian Margaret--was born just a couple weeks ago!), and I'll get to them eventually, but the brews keep a'comin' so for now I'm just going to post about yesterday's brew day.

Today it was time to brew a Schwarzbier, a style I love but haven't brewed in four years. It was a fairly non-eventful brew day until we got to the chilling. My buddy Kevin came over to help out and learn about the brewing process, and we mashed in by 10am. We were a little low on our target mash-in temp (149°F instead of 152°F) thanks at least in part to Dorrie helping stir/add the grains (as you can see below), which meant the process took a little longer than usual. I was above my target temp in the kettle before we transferred to the mash tun, so from now on I'm going to start measuring my temp in the tun before I add the grains so I can get an idea of how much heat I'm losing in the transfer.

We mashed from 10am-11am; recirculated until around 11:20, and then did a nice long sparge until 1pm. I should note that, for this recipe, I decided to go a little crazy with the Carafa III (a whole pound for ten gallons) but kind of wussed out the night before so I decided to do half of the pound as a cap at the end of the mash. We collected a little over 12 gallons at 1048 (one point above my target), and after a 75-minute boil, it was time to chill.

That's when we ran into more problems. Armed with ten gallons of 35°F water, two blocks of ice and a new pump (you can read about my last chilling adventures here) I was confident we would be able to chill down to 50°F. I was wrong. We started running out of water after chilling only about three gallons, and because I couldn't find my icepick the new hose water we were adding was not getting much cooler. Long story short, we only chilled to around 65°F (something I could have done using hose water all along).

Then, as I am wont to do, I compounded the problem. How, you ask? Well, I had a family party to get to and I figured I'd throw the carboys in my chest freezer, drop the temp to around freezing so they cool more quickly, and then reset the thermostat to 50°F and give it overnight to hit my target temp. Well, at the last second I figured I'd speed things up even more my dropping it to 25°F. After all, I was only going to be gone a few hours and the temps couldn't drop THAT quickly, could they? Well, I think we all know the answer is yes. They were near 40°F when I checked last night.

So I set the thermostat back to 50°F before I went to bed and, when I woke up this morning, the temp had risen . . . one degree. Great. Well, I pulled the carboys out of the chest freezer all together and surprisingly they came up to 50°F in just a couple of hours. Finally, SOMETHING going right. So I just pitched the yeast slurry from our Oktoberfest, which led to one final curious observation: the slurry clumped up like Spätzle when I poured it into the wort. The yeast had been in the chest freezer overnight too so it should have been at or around 50°F, so I don't think it was temperature shock, but who knows. We'll see what happens.

So that was that. Thanks again to my buddy Kevin for his help. We're now 2/3rds done with our fall brewing trifecta! (Oktoberfest and Schwarzbier down; one last Novemberfest beer to go.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Brew day: Village Green Mild Ale

As the calendar turns to August, I'm reminded that my Maibock (Mai being German for "May") is not long for this world. And though we're cranking out the brews right now, they're all for various events in the fall (as I described in this post). With our other two beers on tap right now being our Big Mistake (a soured rye beer with raspberries that was originally supposed to be our Roggenbier) and our 1908 Old Ale, we need a session beer to carry us over until around November.

With our chest freezer currently filled to capacity with lager, I needed something that could ferment at ambient temps (low 70's right now). I also wanted something quick. That was when it occurred to me: why not try something British? My first thought was an ordinary bitter, but I had recently enjoyed an awesome dark mild at Flossmoor Station so I've had that on my radar for a while. Doing a little research, I discovered there's a quasi-defunct British substyle called AK that's essentially a cross between a bitter and a mild. If one relies on the BJCP guidelines, a beer overlapping the mild and bitter styles would have the following specs:

O.G.: 1.032-1.038
IBU's: 25
SRM: 12-14

So now I had something to start with. When it came to developing the grain bill, I was fairly clueless. The German brewing tradition rarely uses crystal malts, so I don't have much of an intuitive sense on how to work them into a beer. Fortunately my buddy Brian over at the Daily Ikura is as passionate about British beer as I am about German beer. He's never brewed a mild but for his bitters he generally goes with around 6% crystal, a mild toasted malt, and a combination of either a medium or dark roasted malt such as Victory.

Next I consulted Ron Pattinson's "Shut Up About Barclay Perkins" blog. If you've never checked out his blog, you should. Ron's an English beer researcher who's got more historical figures on beer than you could ever use. Anyway, I found some grain bills for milds brewed in the 1950s and discovered they used invert sugar for milds. Subsequent googling found various British beer geeks lamenting that American brewers don't understand the importance of sugar in milds. Okay, okay, I'll add the damn sugar!

Anyway, when all was said and done I came up with the following fermentables:
5.25 lb. Maris Otter pale malt
0.5 lb. Crystal 120L
0.25 lb. Special Roast
0.65 lb. invert sugar

That only gets you up to around 10 SRM but I want to keep it light (I always like to have one brew on tap for people who are afraid of dark beers). I also decided to back the hops down to 20 IBU's instead of 25 because in the end I wanted it to be more mild than bitter. So I finally had my recipe and was ready to rock!

The brew day itself was fairly straightforward (and pretty quick given that I was only dealing with six pounds of malt). I mashed in at 149°F at 10:10am (with Dorrie helping me stir the mash as I added the grain), began to recirculate at 11:10am, sparged until 12:30, and boiled until 1:30. I added 1/4 tsp. acid blend to the mash to keep the pH down, I added the invert sugar at 15 minutes, and I added Irish moss right after the sugar. I chilled down to around 71°F.

Only a couple of minor issues... First, my gravity came in at 1045 instead of the targeted 1038; it's an imperial mild! Honestly, I'm not sure what happened. Perhaps it's because I sparged so slowly with only six pounds of malt? Anyway, I didn't discover this until after I had already chilled (I actually just bought a refractometer so I could monitor such things--you can see Jonas below pretending that an old yeast vial is a refractometer--but I completely forgot about it during the brew day), and I thought about diluting the wort to 1038 but then my IBU's would be diluted as well so I decided to just let it be. The second issue is that I pitched a Wyeast smack pack and apparently I didn't actually smack it properly because I discovered the yeast nutrient pouch was still intact when I added the yeast. As such, I underpitched and as of 9:45am the next morning fermentation is just getting started.

So it may not technically be a mild, and it's certainly not a bitter. But hopefully our Village Green Mild will be good enough to get me through the fall!