Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tasting: Jaggery Dubbel

I realized recently that I haven't done a formal tasting of my Dubbel with Palm Sugar (Jaggery).  The brewday was a little off, with the power going out for a little over an hour as I was coming up to boil. Luckily I hadn't added my hops yet.  If I had, the alpha acids would have started to isomerize, turning the flavorful oils into compounds with bitter tastes.  This reaction happens above about 180°F from what I've read.

Dubbels are dark, high gravity beers.  Usually they are lighter in mouthfeel and residual sugar (the sugar left after fermentation has finished) than other high gravity styles like Imperial Stouts or especially Barleywines.  This is because they have simple sugars like table sugar (sucrose) that are easier 
than the sugars derived from the grain (maltose) for the yeast to turn into alcohol and CO2.  In this brew, rather than using table sugar or a traditional specialty Candi Syrup (flavorful caramelized syrups), I used a sugar from the local Asian grocery store called Jaggery or Palm Sugar depending on who you ask.  And, as you can probably guess, it is derived from sugar palm trees as opposed to sugar cane or beets (or agave or honey or maple trees or, well, you get the idea). 

I like to make my homebrewed Dubbels even more dry than commercial examples, because it's really easy to drink and something unique.  Mine finished at 1.005 (and 10% ABV) whereas commercial examples usually finish somewhere around 1.012-1.018 according to this very detailed document about designing belgian ales by the BABBLE Homebrewers. 

Well, enough talking, on to the tasting.

The beer is a nice brown, with surprising red hues when held up to the light.  It is clear, but not transparent.  I'm glad the power going out didn't have any affect on the clarity. It initially poured with no head, but as the pour finished it developed a 1/2-1/4 inch cream colored head that quickly faded away for some reason.  Maybe I'll toss some wheat in next time.

Right after opening it, it smelled like caramel.  As it warms, I'm getting a lot of burnt sugar and a lot of fig.  The fig is likely from the Special B malt, which is sort of an extra toasted Crystal malt, which also gave it all of it's color.

For as aromatic as this beer is, there isn't as much going on taste-wise. At least not in the front of my mouth. I get some of that caramel/burnt sugar/fig taste on the back of my tongue and some alcohol warmth as is goes down my throat. No hot alcoholic fusel notes.  There is a really spice coming out as it warms, and it's playing really nicely with the sugar and fig flavors.

Surprisingly viscous for 1.005.  A lot of lingering sugar, which is to style, but not what I was expecting since my last one was described to me as "airy".  Not as much carbonation as I wanted, which is kind of odd since my last dubbel was almost over-carbonated, and I used a tad more priming sugar this time.  This bottle has managed to stay in the fridge longer than the other bottles I've saved, maybe they've carbonated a little more.

Overall + Thoughts
I can't believe I haven't opened all of these yet.  It's surprisingly easy to drink, I would never guess it is 10% ABV.  Eventually I'll do a sugar experiment with dubbels to see which one is the best, but this dark Palm Sugar is pretty solid.
This beer reminds me a lot of Ommegang's Abbey Ale, but it has been over 6 months since I last had it.  I may have to pull the bottle out of my cellar to do a side-by-side. (At 8.5% and 10% I may end up getting Dubbel wasted...)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Plain Mead: Tasting

Before I moved, I made my first batch of mead ever.  It was surprisingly simple, just mixing up honey and water.  I kept it basic on purpose, I wanted to see what it would taste like without any chemical additions or fruit.  I've read that the quality and flavor of the mead is directly relate to the quality and flavor of the honey.  Basically, if you like the taste of the honey, you'll like the taste of the mead.  I've never really thought about the way honey tastes, other than "it tastes like honey".  That is definitely going to change now.

My 1 gallon batch netted me 8 bottles.  I bottled 4 bottles as still mead (no carbonation, like a wine) and dosed 4 bottles with 10 grams of honey.  I opened one of each bottle, hoping to compare.  Despite using twice as much honey as I would normally use, shooting for something close to champagne, the carbonated bottle was almost completely flat. I'm thinking most of the yeast died of the alcoholic conditions of the mead.  I would re-dose the bottles, but I waxed them.

As you can see in the picture, it a pale straw/yellow color.  The top of the bottle was amazingly clear (until it made the glass fog).  I didn't rack the mead (I went straight from primary to bottle, no bottling bucket) so there was some sediment in the bottom of the bottle. 

I'm surprised how much the smell of the honey comes through.  Really excited for experimenting with other honeys (like a peach blossom honey I bought).  Unfortunately this was grocery store brand wild flower honey, so the overall smell is underwhelming and muddled.

Zero alcohol taste, surprising for being 13% ABV.  The honey flavor is much less apparent in the taste than in the smell.  Overall taste is most similar to water with a little honey added.  I'm very surprised with how uninteresting it is.

Much less body than a normal wine.  Not much is going on here, fairly boring.

Overall + Thoughts
Not bad for a first shot.  Interested to see how it ages.  I didn't add any chemicals to the initial blend. I tested in the glass with some acid blend.  Next batch with this honey will get some acid blend and/or fruit to mask the uninteresting taste of the honey.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cranberry Wine

I'm slowly making the move to greater than 1 gallon batches of beer.  The biggest expense in doing this is upgrading my brewing pots and mash tun.  Since I'm still buying furniture for my new apartment, I can't really justify those expenses yet.  However, fermenters are pretty inexpensive, and that's all you need to make wine.

I've made a few batches of wine in the past that have worked out pretty well.  Peaches made some of the best wine I've had.  Their flavor held up amazingly without the aid of sugar.  Blackberries made pretty good wine, but I had to add some sugar and preservatives (called back-sweetening).

Around this time of year cranberry sauce is pretty inexpensive, much more affordable than whole cranberries (at least down in Texas).  My idea was to use cranberry juice and cranberry sauce to make up the must.  It's always a good idea to use as much pure juice as you can.  The artificial flavors of "fake" juice will impact how the final product tastes, and a lot of fruit tastes different after fermentation.  The classic Cranberry cocktail juice is basically cranberry flavored sugar water.  Since I'm already not able to use raw fruit, I wanted to stay as close to real ingredients as I could.  I wasn't able to find 100% cranberry juice.  The juice I ended up using was a blend of 4 juices (cranberry, grape, apple, and pear) with cranberry as the main component and flavor.  The juice had a SG of around 1.040.  I was shooting for a strong wine, but the sugar content of the cranberry juice and sauce was much less than I was expecting.  Since I was expecting to have more sugar from the juice/sauce, I didn't stock up my pantry before blending the must.  I had 2 pounds of white table sugar and 1 pound of brown sugar that I added to raise the gravity to 1.080.  It means the wine will only be about 10-11%. Not quite the 14-15% I was shooting for.

I have no idea how cranberries are going to taste post-fermentation, but that's what experiments are for.

Cranberry Table Wine
//6 gallon batch


9.5 bottles 100% Juice Cranberry Juice (1/2 used for starter)
10 cans whole berry cranberry jelly
2 lbs white sugar
1 lb brown sugar

6 tsp Fermax yeast nutrient
3 tsp pectic enzyme (may need more to compensate for the jelly)
6 Campden tablets, crushed (to sanitize the must before pitching yeast)

1L starter of Lalvin 71B-1122 (white, red, rose wines yeast)
With no airlock activity after 24 hours, I panicked
Sprinkled 1 packet Lalvin EC-1118 (champagne, all purpose)
OG 1.080

Blended Dec 1st
I wish I used more cranberry sauce, since it added less sugar than expected

First Tasting
Rack to secondary Dec 17th
Color is orange/pink, surprising since the juice and sauce was more maroon/burgundy
Very tart, will probably need to backsweeten this one.
Usually I'm trying to guess the final taste of my young wines through the alcohol heat, but there was none this time.

I had about a half gallon of wine and a half gallon of lees leftover after transfer.  (Lees are the wine equivalent of trub, the yeast and fruit parts leftover after racking.)  I put these leftovers into jugs to freeze and melt out some of the sugar and alcohol.  Maybe that can boost the weak body of the wine. I may end up freezing more and making a port/sherry.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Small Batch Barleywine

Before I moved, I stumbled upon a Stone Brewing tasting at my local liquor store. Since trying this year's Old Guardian Barleywine, I've been itching to try my hand at one.  It was easily one of the best complex beers I've had in a long time.  The caramel and honey sweetness was right up front, and even though it was 11% ABV there was no alcohol "heat".
I really like the idea of having a yearly brew that is tweaked each year. Anchor brewing does this with their Christmas Ale.  The Mad Fermentationist brews a dark Saison each year.  James and Steve over at Basic Brewing used to make a yearly 1 gallon (or less) barleywine and started a vertical tasting of each year's brew, although the last few years they have diverged from that.  I'm not sure if this will become my once-a-year brew yet.  It seems awfully tasty to only have 7-8 bottles a year.  Or only 1 bottle a year if I save it for vertical tastings...

This is a very "homebrewer" recipe.  I wanted to add a variety of complexities, so I threw in a little bit of everything.  Next time, I may try a single malt barleywine.  I was also trying to use up some of my stock of malts.  I really pushed the limits of my 2 gallon mash tun for this brew. I had a little more than 5 pounds of grain.  I usually shoot for a liquor/grain ratio of 2 quarts per pound.  Using basic math, that's more than 2 gallons of water needed, so I cut back a bit.  I collected a little less than 2 gallons of wort after a 60 minute mash at 150°F.

After tasting the hydrometer sample of the finished product, I am very excited about this beer.  I saved some for my girlfriend to taste the next day, and even though it wasn't carbonated or chilled, she was under the impression it was a finished product that she really liked.

Blockpoint 2012 Barleywine
//A "blockpoint" is what they call an update to a program

Grain Bill
4lbs            American 2-row
        9oz     Maris Otter
        2 oz    Crystal 60°L
        1.5oz  Special B
          .5oz  Chocolate Malt
        4oz     Aromatic Malt

Target temperature 148°F
Starting temperature 150°F
Sparge temp 170°F
-Collected just under 2 gallons of total wort
Preboil gravity 1.057 (bigger than some of my regular brews!)

Boil (60 minutes)
15g Columbus (15.5% AA) @ 60 minutes
13g Columbus (15.5% AA) @ 15 minutes
15g Cascade (6.4%AA) @ 1 minute

~3/4 packet Safale US05
Aerated by shaking vigerously
OG 1.100
FG 1.020
ABV: 10.7%

4 weeks in primary fermenter
Priming sugar: 17g honey dissolved in 1 cup of water and boiled
Yielded 7 bottles

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cider Season

Living in Texas, we don't really have a lot of apple orchards like up north.  There are a few, I got peaches for my Peach Wine at Henrietta Creek, and they also grow apples.  But, none of them grow hard cider apples.  Usually these apples are more tannic, and terrible for eating plain.  Rather than going to buy fresh apples, making a press, pressing the apples into cider myself, and ending up with sub-par cider I just go to Walmart and get gallons of unpasteurized, unfiltered cider for $4.50.  It's a cheaper route at probably the same result.

Last year I made several batches. The first one developed an unpleasant sour/bitter taste after a couple months. I think this goes back to the source apples not being good for hard cider.  During batch-priming, I added a packet of Splenda for every 2 bottles. This unfermentable sweetness balanced out the bitterness well into the summer.  You can make still or carbonated versions, but carbonated it was a very refreshing drink in the middle of the Texas summer.

I also took a couple of gallons and froze it in some gallon jugs.  When inverted in a funnel over a jug, the alcohol and sugar will melt out faster than the water. It makes a drink called Ice Cider or Applejack.  Cider-makers in the northeast used to use this technique to take cider to market.  They could carry less weight and water it down before they sold it.  Unlike my regular cider, I leave my Applejack still.  It feels more like a Brandy. Basic Brewing has a great video podcast on the process.

This year, I'm trying something new that I'm calling Caramel Cider.  I boiled about a gallon and a quarter of store bought cider for an hour.  It reduced to around 2/3 of a gallon.  I always get wrapped up in how simple cider is, and after 6 batches I have never remembered to take a starting gravity reading.  The unboiled version usually gets down to 1.000.  I'm hoping the caramelization from the boil will create some unfermentable sugars so that I don't have to add Splenda again. You can see the color difference in the picture.

First Winter Cider 2012

3/4 gallon of Musselman's Cider
1/2 vial White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001)

Caramel Cider 

1.25 gallons Musselman's Cider
Boiled 1 hour, final volume approximately 2/3 gallon
1/2 vial White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001)

Brewed 11-14-12
Did not take original gravity readings

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fig Dark Saison: Tasting

I'm planning to do a post like this for each recipe, assuming nothing goes terribly wrong with one.  I don't have the most advanced palate yet, but I'm only 22.  I only started drinking craft beer a year and a half ago, and even then it was mostly "I like that style" rather than doing a tasting analysis of it.  As with the blog in general, I intend for this to be an outlet for me to document my brews and develop my skills as a brewer and taster.  I hope you'll follow me on this journey.

Appearance:  Very dark.  Hints of deep brown around the edges.  Thin head forms around the edge, but goes away immediately.  Very small hiss when opened.  I didn't take notes past the brew day, so I can't be positive that I primed it.  It is fairly carbonated, however. 

Smell:  Malty with a hint of roast and caramel. Hops take a back note and are pretty much unnoticeable. 

Taste:  Exactly what I was going for with my original recipe.  Citrus up front.  A little bit of malt and caramel in the middle and a little bit of roast in the back.  The roast is really subtle, I guess the Carafa mostly added a lot more color than it did flavor.  Can't really taste any figs (which were a afterthought anyways).  Next time maybe I'll add more (and not blend them, that was a mess, there's fig chunks in the bottle of the glass).  Or just leave them out entirely.  

Mouthfeel:  The light carbonation works its way to the back of my tongue.  A little bit of sweetness remains, but it's very easy to drink.  Not cloyingly sweet or over-dry.  Just right.  

Overall + Thoughts:  Probably one of my favorite personal homebrews. I hit what I was expecting pretty well, since it's just a recipe I already liked with some Carafa thrown in.  It could stand to be a little more carbonated, however.  I really love this yeast (WLP566 Saison II).  It has great fruit notes, with just a hint of pepper.  Boulevard's Tank 7 (And Saison-Brett) is one of my favorite beers, and this yeast delivers that character.  Maybe I'll grab a bottle of Tank 7 and compare sometime.  

Next time I try to brew a dark saison I'm going to add something with more punch, a roasted or chocolate malt. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moving, Bear With Me!

Hey everyone! 

I just got a new job so I'll be moving down to the land of Aerospace, Houston Texas.  With looking for a job and a place to live, I've been insanely busy.  You know you're busy when you don't have time to drink beer.  I'm really excited though.  I found an apartment today, and the kitchen is HUGE.  Perfect for brewing.  This is great for me, great for my homebrew, and ultimately great for you as readers as well.  Unfortunately, it means I won't be able to post very much.  I have a lot of stuff in the works, but with packing and moving everything I own, my posts will be infrequent at best.  BUT: I have a lot of new posts coming up (probably next month).

Jaggery Dubbel (A dubbel brewed with Palm Sugar)
Spontaneous Plum Wine (With an update about what I've done since week 1!)

Messina Hof Winery in College Station, TX
Revolver Brewing (Grand Opening) in Granbury, TX

Bottling (no posts, but future tastings)
Mead (my first ever)

Other Things:
DIY Stirplate build. It is awesome, I've had it 2 days and I'm in love.
Kombucha Brewing
Kombucha Troubleshooting (assuming my fix works) 

Post move, I'll be brewing a Barleywine, playing with Cream Ales (how would a porter with California Common yeast work?), a big batch of Cranberry wine, tons of Ciders (straight, ice cider, caramelized cider, and blending), and moving up to closer to 5 gallon batches!
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