Spawn of Duvel Review

Belgian BlondTasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP Category 18a Belgian Blond. Recipe can be found here.

Aroma (7/12)
At first pour the nose is a bit biting due to an abundant amount of CO2 coming out of solution. This sharpness combines with a strong ester character making it a bit over-the-top. Aromas of under-ripe pear and a touch of nondescript berry dance from the glass. Once some of the carbonation dissipates, softer honey-like malt components become apparent and are quite inviting. No phenols or alcohol apparent. As the beer warms, a light touch of banana ester becomes barely perceptible.

Appearance (2/3)
Medium golden in color with a light chill-haze that clears up as the beer warms. High carbonation levels (to style) push forth a large billowy white head that is constantly replenished and very attractive.

Flavor (14/20)
The potent ester character found on the nose is much more subdued on the palate. The beer strikes a nice balance between fermentation character, and a beautiful soft pilsner malt backbone. The Belgium pilsner malt has a honey-like sweetness that is very nice. There is a touch of herbal hop flavor coupled with a balancing medium level of hop bitterness. The flavor is very round and soft, but finishes quite dry with a slight mineral note.

Mouthfeel (4/5)
Bright prickly carbonation; perhaps a touch high for style. The beer is medium bodied and has a pleasant dry finish.

Overall Impression (7/10)
This is quite a pleasurable beer that changes dramatically as the beer warms in the glass and loses carbonation. At first, the beer is quite brash. After some time in the glass, the beer flavors round out, making for a softer, much more nuanced beer. In the end, the balance of fermentation flavors and very attractive soft pilsner malt character make this a solid rendition of the style.

Total: 34/50 Very Good

Note: This beer was entered into the Second Round of the National Homebrew Competition. It did not place in the competition, but it did receive a 36.

Wild Cider Review

Wild CiderTasting Notes:

This cider started off as a 1-gallon experiment in which I took a preservative-free farmer’s market apple cider and fermented it with a mixed culture of microbes grown up from a number of different sour beers. The cider went from 1.050 OG to 0.99 leaving behind a whopping 7.84% ABV.

Aroma (6/12)
Initially there is a faint whisper of bruised green apple which is quickly overcome by the by-products of fermentation. There a pleasant barnyardy Brett character that is slightly musty and borders ever-so-closely to the mousey descriptor often used in funky beers with negative connotation. There is just a hint of tannic/earthy apple skin on the nose. There is no hint of the phenolic plastic / adhesive strip aromas that seem to dominate many of the Spanish / Basque funky ciders.

Appearance (2/3)
Straw yellow — almost looks like a white wine. There is a light haze. Bubbles form around the rim and quickly dissipate, much like a sparkling wine.

Flavor (10/20)
Apple character is almost non-apparent and comes off slightly watery. Austerely dry with no apparent alcohol. The is an interesting grain-like nuttiness reminiscent of Cheerios that is somewhat intriguing, but perhaps a touch out of place. The funky Brett character perceived on the nose isn’t quite as intense in the flavor.

Mouthfeel (3/5)
Moderate carbonation that quickly dissipates. The combination of carbonation and acid leaves the cider with a slightly sharp impression.

Overall Impression (6/10)
This was a fun experiment and good foray into the world of funky ciders. In the end, the amount of apple flavor left behind was a bit disappointing. Additionally, the mixed fermentation did not create as much acid as I had hoped. Further back-sweetening to enhance the apple character, as well as a dose of acid would dramatically improve the overall impression of this cider. In future experiments, using a blend of apples selected for their suitability in hard cider production would likely create a better end-result.

Total: 27/50 Good

SMaSH Mandarina Bavaria vs Hallertau Mittelfruh Pilsners

Both SMaSH pilsners were brought the annual NYC Hombrewers Guild picnic --- the perfect beer on a hot summer day.

Both SMaSH pilsners were brought the annual NYC Hombrewers Guild picnic — the perfect beer on a hot summer day.

About 6-weeks ago I brewed a couple of SMaSH pilsner lagers, inspired by Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, and featuring 100% Weyermann Pilsner malt. For hopping, one was brewed solely with a new German varietal called Mandarina Bavaria, where-as the other was brewed with the more traditional Hallertau Mittelfruh.

Rather than do a full BJCP-style evaluation of each beer, I’ll describe the malt and yeast  character present in both beers, and then attempt to describe the real hop character differences that exists between the beers.

Malt Character:
Clean and crisp is the best way to describe this malt. I was able to achieve 80% + apparent attenuation which lends a nice lean character without becoming watery. Although I missed the very high level of attenuation found in Pivo Pils (88%), this beer still captures the dryness that makes Pivo so great. The standard Weyermann Pilsner malt I used has a nice light bready, and ever-so-slightly grainy character that is very nuanced. This is a great neutral malt that begs to be set down as a base to bounce other flavors against. The Weyermann malt does not feel as round and bready as other pilsner malts I have used, in particular Dingemans pils from Belgium which features an almost honey-like sweetness. Using this malt in this manner clearly illustrates how similarly colored malts from different maltsters can have dramatically different characteristics.

Yeast Character:
Unfortunately, the homebrew shop I purchased from did not have the Wyeast 2124 lager yeast used by Pivo Pils in stock. As a back-up, I brewed with my go-to lager yeast WLP833 from White Labs. This yeast performs superbly, attenuating well, and cleaning up any residual diacetyl. There is a very light fruity ester present in the beer, but other than that, the beer is clean and neutral, setting the table to showcase the hops and malt.

Hallertau Mittelfruh Hop:
This hop look you straight in the eye and without blinking proudly proclaims its German heritage. This hop features a classic, and very nuanced herbal quality. When searching, there is a low white pepper note as well. On the finish is a slightly grassy, almost tea-leaf like flavor which I attribute to the fact that I needed to use nearly twice as much of this hop to hit the same IBU levels provided by the higher alpha Mandarina Bavaria. The quality of the bitterness in this beer is very smooth, and does not linger.

Mandarina Bavaria Hop:
Mandarina Bavaria is often cited as a next generation German varietal being bred to compete with the novel hop varieties being grown in the Pacific NW. True to its name, this hop has a nice round sweet mandarin and tangerine flavor that comes across almost as candied orange that while present, is much more subtle than the citrus displayed by other types of hops. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be any of the bitter, pithy citrus character that is found in many varieties. There is none of the pine or resin flavors which dominate other hops. This hop does not match the brash intensity and massive oil levels found in the newer American hops. This hop works really well in this beer, providing a sweet citrus component without dominating the malt or other lager characteristics. Mandarina Bavaria shines in more nuanced beers, but probably won’t be able to stand up to the Simcoes, Citras, or even brasher South Hemisphere hops that dominate the IPA world. That said, there is a definite place for this hop in the ever-expanding tool chest of hops modern brewers have access to.

SMaSH Pilsners – Recipe Inspired by Pivo Pils

Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils. This beer delivers a terrific hop punch set against a modest amount of alcohol and absolutely dry fermentation character. An immensely drinkable beer during the dog-days of summer. Firestone Walker classifies this beer as a ‘hoppy pilsner’; a short and simple sub-title, but perhaps a bit light on providing a comprehensive description of the beer. In many ways, this beer reminds me of a fresh German pils, mainly due to its austere dryness. If you take a classically lean German pils and then beef it up with late kettle and dry hopping as well as a bit firmer bittering, you’ll likely get pretty close to the character of Pivo.

Intrigued by Pivo, I set out to design a beer that captures this malt character, and then use it as a platform for testing out a couple of different German hop varieties. With a little research from Firestone Walker’s website, and an interview with Matt Brynildson during a podcast on The Brewing Network, a few key recipe spec’s could be ascertained:

Original Gravity: 1.048 SG (calculated from terminal gravity and ABV)
Terminal Gravity: 1.005 SG (from TBN podcast)
Attenuation: 88% (calculated)
Alcohol: 5.3% ABV (from Firestone Walker website)
Bitterness: 40 IBU (from Firestone Walker website)
Color: 4 SRM

Other Key Points:

  • 6 week turn-around time (from TBN podcast)
  • 100% Weyermann malts (from TBN podcast)
  • Mash Regiment: 122° > 145° > 155° > 168° (from TBN podcast)
  • Calcium Chloride water treatment (from TBN podcast)
  • Wyeast 2124 yeast (from TBN podcast)
  • Magnum bittering (from TBN podcast)
  • Spalter Select mid-boil addition (from TBN podcast)
  • Saphir dry hop (from TBN podcast)

With these details in mind, I set out to formulate a recipe that captures the spirit of Pivo Pils. I selected two German hop varieties which symbolically depict the tradition of German hop growing and the direction it may be heading. Hallertau Mittelfruher is about a classic as it gets in the German brewing world, where-as Mandarina Bavaria is a new cultivar bred by the Hop Research Institute in Hull which has a Cascade hop lineage and is described as having tangerine and mandarin orange characteristics.

In determining the bittering levels for each beer, I used the Hallerau Mittelfruher beer as my base, and then scaled down the amount of hops used on the hot-side of the Mandarina Bavaria beer to achieve a comparable amount of hop bitterness.

SMaSH Hallertau Mittelfruher / Pilsner Recipe

Recipe Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 88%

Original Gravity: 1.048 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.006 SG
Color: 4.26 SRM
Alcohol: 5.53% ABV
Bitterness: 28.0 IBU (does not take into account bitterness achieved during whirlpool)

Grist:
6.75 lb (100.0%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt

Water Treatment added to Strike Water:
Soft NYC Water
4g Calcium Chloride
1g Gypsum

Mash Regiment:
0m – 122° F – Mash in at 122° F and immediately ramp up to next step
50m – 145° F – Beta Amylase Rest
10m – 155° F – Alpha Amylase Rest
5m – 168° F – Mash Out

Hopping:
60m – 20 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA)
30m – 20 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA)
Whirlpool 20m – 80g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA)
Dryhop 3 Days – 26 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA)

Kettle Additions:
15m – 0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablet
10m – 0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient

Yeast:
White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager – 1400ml starter on stir plate

Fermentation:
1. Chill to 46° F and let rise to 48° F
2. Ramp temperature as fermentation slows up to 58° F for diacetyl rest
3. Crash to 32° F
4. Keg and lager at 32° F for 4 weeks.

SMaSH Mandarina Bavaria / Pilsner Recipe

Recipe Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 88%

Original Gravity: 1.048 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.006 SG
Color: 4.26 SRM
Alcohol: 5.53% ABV
Bitterness: 28.0 IBU (does not take into account bitterness achieved during whirlpool)

Grist:
6.75 lb (100.0%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt

Water Treatment added to Strike Water:
Soft NYC Water
4g Calcium Chloride
1g Gypsum

Mash Regiment:
0m – 122° F – Mash in at 122° F and immediately ramp up to next step
50m – 145° F – Beta Amylase Rest
10m – 155° F – Alpha Amylase Rest
5m – 168° F – Mash Out

Hopping:
60m – 12 g Mandarina Bavaria (7.2% AA)
30m – 12 g Mandarina Bavaria (7.2% AA)
Whirlpool 20m – 44 g Mandarina Bavaria (7.2% AA)
Dryhop 3 Days – 26 g  Mandarina Bavaria (7.2% AA)

Kettle Additions:
15m – 0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablet
10m – 0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient

Yeast:
White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager – 1400ml starter on stir plate

Fermentation:
1. Chill to 46° F and let rise to 48° F
2. Ramp temperature as fermentation slows up to 58° F for diacetyl rest
3. Crash to 32° F
4. Keg and lager at 32° F for 4 weeks.

Berliner Weisse Review

Berliner WeisseAfter nearly six-months, my Berliner Weiss with Brett Trois is ready for review. Utilizing sour-mashing techniques, my intention with this beer was to quickly turn-around a clean, refreshing, brightly acidic beer with a minimal investment of time. In the end, the finished beer meets my expectations, but the timeline ended up being much more protracted than I initially intended.

For many months, this beer was a pain in the ass. My initial plan was to ferment the beer cleanly down to a reasonable finishing gravity (1.007 or so) and then bottle condition with Brett Trois. Unfortunately, after primary fermentation with a clean ale yeast was complete, the beer finished at 1.010 SG. I suspect the Saccromyces strain (WYeast 1007) was impeded by the high acidity that the beer exhibited after the initial sour mash. Rather than bottle with Brett and risk bottle-bombs, I opted to add the Brett at secondary and hope for some further attenuation. After a couple more months, the Brett knocked a couple more points off the beer to the point that I was comfortable bottling. The caveat being, that I would not add any priming sugar as I suspected that there were still some carbohydrates in the beer that the Brett could work on. This turned out to become another source of frustration, as the carbonation came to life at a painfully slow pace.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP Category 17A Berliner Weiss

Aroma (8/12):
Bright lactic acidity up front which pair nicely with some mellow pear-like ester. Quite fruity. Low crackery malt note. No hops, DMS, or diacetyl.

Appearance (3/3):
Hazy gold. A vigorous pour presents a fluffy white head that quickly dissipates to a ring in around the glass.

Flavor (12/20):
This beer presents with quite a lot of lactic acidity. The acid is somewhat tangy and slightly yogurt-like. At the same time, it is soft and round, especially when compared to sharper acids (like acetic). The bright acid gives way to a nice round crackery malt character that lingers on the finish. The malt is perhaps just a touch sweeter than the style would dictate. Hop flavor is absent, and there is barely a whisper of bitterness. There is a hint of papery oxidation on the finish.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
Low to medium-low body. Medium (2.5 volumes or so) carbonation. The carbonation is improving, but continues to not be nearly as effervescent as the style calls for. The lack of champagne-like carbonation is a big detraction in this beer.

Overall Impression (6/10):
After many months, this beer is getting to be really nice. The biggest problem is the lack high carbonation that would help the beer become even more bright and refreshing, and cut some of the slight residual malt sweetness that is present. Surprisingly, I am not picking up any of the typical Brett flavors that could be attributed to the Brett Trois addition. My instinct is to drink this beer now at its current carbonation level rather than risk increasing the low oxidative notes that are beginning to develop.