Vienna Lager 5.0 Recipe and Review

Vienna LagerHow time flies! My apologies for the radio silence over the past two months. Between moving apartments, a trip to CBC, the announcement of a brewery that I’ve working on, and an awesome trip to Asheville, NC, things have been crazy! More information on all of those things to come, but in the meantime, here’s a quick post about my latest batch of Vienna Lager. Cheers!

It’s a little baffling to realize that this is the fifth iteration of Vienna Lager which I have brewed. Not only does this make me do a double take in terms of realizing how much I’ve brewed over the past 6.5 years (over 150 batches and counting), but also illustrates how much I love this style.

Considering the number of different batches I brew, the breadth of styles that I have attempted to master, and the period of time that a lager like this occupies my fermentation space, it speaks volumes about the amount of respect I give a humble beer like this.

In many ways, Vienna Lager is the perfect beer for my tastes. I find it somewhat intangible trying to pinpoint why I love this beer as much as I do. It circumvents reason and defies cogent prose, but the closest I can get to describing why I enjoy this beer so much has to do with malt’s ability to be delicate and nuanced, while maintaining a quenching minimalistic lager dryness and boundless sessionability.

Being the constant tinkerer that I am, I made a couple tweaks over previous versions of this beer. As time has progressed, I’ve consistently lowered the amount of crystal malt in this beer. This version eschews crystal malts completely, making the beer a pure expression of the high-quality German base malts of which it is solely comprised.

Vienna Lager 5.0 Recipe

Size: 3.25gal
Efficiency: 76%
Attenuation: 76.0%

Original Gravity: 1.052
Terminal Gravity: 1.013
Color: 13.35 SRM
Alcohol: 5.21% ABV
Bitterness: 23.0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
4lb (61.0%) Weyermann Vienna Malt
1lb (15.2%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1.5lb (22.9%) Weyermann Munich TYPE II
1oz (1.0%) Weyermann Carafa® TYPE II

Mash Profile:
144°F – 30m
151°F – 30m
170°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
2g Gypsum (to mash)
4g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

42g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (2.7% AA) – 60m

Kettle Additions:
0.5ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager – Decanted 2L Starter on Stir Plate

Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 7A Vienna Lager.

Aroma (10/12):
Bready malt wafts from the glass accompanied by complimentary amounts of toasty crust and just a hint of toffee. There is some slight malt sweetness coming through on the nose. There isn’t any real apparent fermentation character, although there is a touch of grape-like fruitiness. It is unclear if this is a fermentation by-product or coming from the Munich malt. No apparent hop aroma.

Appearance (3/3):
Medium copper color with pristine clarity. Tightly spaced, off-white bubbles form a great foam cap which persists.

Flavor (17/20):
Beautifully balanced malt with nuanced layers of toasty malt and just a hint of caramel or toffee. The malt is balanced far more towards toasty and dry rather than sweet and caramel-rich. A touch of hop bitterness balances out the slight perception of sweetness attributed to the malt. Exceptionally clean lager fermentation with no hints of alcohol, ester, or diacetyl.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
Medium to medium-low bodied with moderate carbonation. Soft and round with no perceptible astringency.

Overall Impression (9/10):
This is a beautiful, clean malty beer without being overwhelmingly melanoidin-rich or overbearingly complex. The beer finishes clean and dry making it a crushable pint. Dropping out the crystal malt only seems to have enhanced the beer as the base malts are still capable of producing some perception of caramel flavors without any of the associated sweetness or contributions of unfermentable sugars. This beer is a great alternative to Octoberfest beers which offer a great malt richness, but can often be a touch overbearing in terms of fullness and alcohol.

Excellent (44/50)

Solera 2014 Review & 2015 Solera Recipe

2014 SoleraAfter slightly more than a year in a corny keg in the corner of my living room, my 2014 Solera beer was ready to produce its first round of finished beer. From the 5-gallon corny, I bottle conditioned 2.5 gallons of aged sour beer. On the same day, I topped the corny keg back up with 2.5 gallons of another batch which had already gone through its primary fermentation (recipe below). With this round of top-up beer, my goal was to steer the Solera towards a more traditional lambic-style wort while also inoculating the Solera with a more diverse culture that includes Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend as well as microbes grown up from Sante Adairius Cellarman. My goal is to produce more acidity in future pulls from the Solera.

2015 Solera Recipe:

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: TBD (am expecting 90% +)

Original Gravity: 1.051
Terminal Gravity: 1.003 (projected)
Color: 4.06 SRM
Alcohol: 6.32% ABV (projected)
Bitterness: 0.0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
4 lb (61.5%) Dingemans Pilsner Malt
2.5 lb (38.5%) Briess Raw Wheat

Mash Profile:
With this recipe I completed a fairly complex turbid mash routine that involved taking the mash through a number of temperature steps. To get from 113 °F to 136 °F I used a simple hot water infusion. To get between the other steps, I pulled varying amounts of the thin portion of the mash, heated it to 185 °F, and then returned it back to the mash. The goal was to create a dextrinous wort that can provide abundant complex carbohydrates for an extended mixed-culture fermentation.

113 °F – 20m
136 °F – 5m
150 °F – 30m
162 °F – 5m
170 °F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4g Gypsum (to mash)
2g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

2oz Aged Hops (0% AA) – 90 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

1 Pack – WYeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend™
500 ml – Sante Adairius Grown up Culture

2014 Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 28B. Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (6/12):
Low to moderate lactic tartness on the nose, no real perception of acetic or other acids. There is a medium to medium-high peppery phenol accompanied by medium Brett aromatics reminiscent of hay, earth, and leather. There is a relatively strong, tart pie cherry Brett character, which is pretty nice. Some toasty malt hides behind the fermentation aromatics and features a touch of honey-like malt sweetness. At the very end there is a bit of rubbery phenol that isn’t particularly pleasant.

Appearance (0/3):
Deep gold with a light haze. No head whatsoever, although abundant fine bubbles rise from the glass. The head appears to be a casualty of the proteolytic lactic acid bacteria in the mixed culture.

Flavor (10/20):
The beer approaches the palate with a very lean and slightly toasty malt profile. Despite using aged hops that were labeled with 0% alpha acid, there is some definite low to medium hop bitterness that feels a bit out of place in the beer. Acid levels in the beer feel quite low compared to most commercial beers, exhibiting only a mildly acidic lactic tang. Overall the beers is quite mellow and austere. There are some biting phenolics on the finish that are a bit harsh.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
Very low body with a sharp carbonic bite. There are some tea-like astringent components that do not pair well with the sharp carbonation. The carbonation comes off almost soda-like.

Overall Impression (7/10):
In general, this beer comes off quite simplistic, especially considering the complexity of its fermentation and aging. The overall acidity levels could certainly be increased to round out the mouthfeel and bring another layer of complexity to the beer. As it sits now, it is primarily a showcase for Brettanomyces in both a pleasant sense (pie cherries) and negative sense (harsh phenolics).

Good (24/50)

Northern New Jersey Brewery Tour

NJ Map

Day trippin’ to three of northern New Jersey’s finest craft breweries: Kane, Carton, and Magnify Brewing Companies.

With the veritable explosion of craft breweries opening in NYC, any craft beer geek could be happily satiated blowing their beer tourism payload traveling the five boroughs enjoying all of the new offerings the city has to offer. That said, the surrounding areas around NYC are also booming with new breweries equally as exciting as anything happening in the city. Northern New Jersey is just one of these regional hot beds, offering a decidedly different experience than in the city. Chasing beer among the crowds of NYC can frankly be a bit tiring. Going out to New Jersey was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

Recently, I had the chance to spend an afternoon touring three of New Jersey’s finest breweries: Kane Brewing Company, Carton Brewing Company, and Magnify Brewing Company. With a little advanced planning, it is an enjoyable day trip from any part of NYC.

Kane Brewing Company

Kane Brewing Company

Valentine’s Day with the Homebrew Wife.

Our first stop of the day was Kane Brewing Company in Ocean, NJ. The Homebrew Wife and I hit the road early, leaving Brooklyn behind and escaping with little to no traffic via the Verrazano Bridge and Staten Island. With Kane just over an hour away, we had a bit of time to kill since the brewery didn’t open until noon. We happily spent the extra time fortifying ourselves with a breakfast of Pork Roll sandwiches at Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park. Starting our day with the quintessential New Jersey processed meat proved to be just the right beginning for a busy day of brewery hopping.

We arrived at Kane just as they were opening. Situated in a nondescript industrial park, the exterior barely hinted at the great beer inside. A tiny sign and the handful of patrons exiting cars empty growlers in hand were the only hints that you were arriving at a brewery. Coming into the building via a banal lobby better fit for the engineering office that shares space in the same building, we were greeted by a friendly staff and some great beers. We quickly made our way through the lobby past a small bar designed for quick growler fills and entered the actual brewery and main tasting room. The brewery itself was relatively compact with a large amount of the area dedicated to a tasting bar for flights and growler fills, as well as warehouse space with several picnic and standing tables.

We ordered a couple of tasting flights and spent some time relaxing in the warehouse space. Kane’s hoppy beers were among the best I’ve tasted coming out of the NYC area. My favorite by far was Head High, showcasing a very lean and dry malt character with lots of bright citrusy hops and a minimal level of bitterness.

Simplicity, Kane’s take on a Belgian Golden Strong ale was also great. The beer had a nice orange-like sweetness backed by a soft bready malt character and restrained Belgian yeast fermentation character showcasing fruity esters and minimal amount of peppery phenols.

Overhead, Kane’s Imperial IPA, felt like Head High on steroids. The hop flavor was huge, although it had a bit of an overly aggressive, grassy hop aroma with elements leaning towards the unpleasant vegetative / chlorophyll part of the hop spectrum. All of this was placed against a slightly sweet, and slightly boozy, malt backbone.

Carton Brewing Company

Carton Brewing CompanyWe headed north from Kane up the Jersey Shore to Carton Brewing Company in Highlands, NJ. Entering the ground floor of an old painted red brick building, we were immediately greeted by a staff member who checked our ID’s and then led us on (what we would soon learn to be) the requisite brewery tour as stipulated by New Jersey as a requirement for breweries wishing to offer beer tastings. The tour took us through the brewery, the history of the building, and the brewing operations at Carton Brewing before being letting us loose to an upstairs tasting room where our beer samples awaited.

The tasting room itself was rather compact and jammed with a mid-Sunday beer tasting crowd. We purchased a 6-sample flight to share, which was redeemed one-at-a-time with the tokens we were given. This was slightly problematic as the bar was pretty packed and waiting for single samples of beer quickly became a bit of a chore.

The beers at Carton were solid, seeming to focus on achieving a certain level of balance and quaffability rather than blowing out your taste buds with intense flavors.

Among my favorites were Boat Beer and Red Rye. Boat Beer was dry and quite bitter with a nice level of aromatic citrus-laden hops—although perhaps finishing a touch thin. Red Rye was the stand out for me, featuring a perfectly complementary balance of slightly sweet malt, peppery rye spice, followed by tangerine and grapefruit hop components. 077XX, Carton’s ‘West Coast inspired’ double IPA fell flat for me—overly sweet although it did deliver a nice punch of fruity hops.

Magnify Brewing Company

Magnify Brewing CompanyThe last stop on our New Jersey brewery tour was Magnify Brewing Company, situated about an hour north of Carton in Fairfield, NJ.

I was pretty excited to hit up Magnify since the brew kettle is currently manned by Erich Carrle, an old acquaintance that I met through our The Knights of Brooklyn Homebrewer’s Sentry, a club I occasionally frequent and which Erich was an active member of. Back before Erich was brewing great beers at Magnify, he was doing awesome funky beers on the homebrew scale and sharing them at club meetings. I was pretty excited to see how this would transfer to the pro scale at Magnify.

New Jersey seems to be filled with anonymous industrial parks and the one Magnify inhabits is no different. Once inside however, the company’s personality becomes apparent with a warm, pleasantly sized tasting room situated at the front end of what appeared to be a rather tightly planned brewery. Immediately adjacent to the taproom is a large wooden foudre hinting at the beer styles produced within. The tasting room itself was packed, but getting a drink and finding a spot to settle into was pretty easy.

The brewery feels like a family-run affair with warm friendly servers behind the bar. The tap list was eclectic and featured plenty of funky beers utilizing alternative yeasts and blending American hops into spin-offs of Belgian classics. Magnify was right up there with Kane as having my favorite beers of the day.

Unfortunately, it didn’t appear that Magnify served samplers so we limited our tastings to sharing three half pours of Magnify’s offerings. All three were really excellent and we could have easily spent more time here working through the brewery’s offerings had we the time (or liver capacity) to do so.

Flashbacks are Forever: this very approachable and tasty funky saison featured a mild level of acidity followed by brightly aromatic and fruity hops and moderate levels of Brett funk. Dry. Very drinkable. My favorite beer of the day.

Search Saison: just a touch of of sulfur on the nose, which volatilizes quickly. Perhaps just a hint of an enteric note. Peppery phenols and slightly herbal hops. Not as bright as Flashbacks, but still nice and dry and wonderfully drinkable.

Pollinator: fairly dank and aggressive with lots of piney resin character in the hops. A bit grassy. Very restrained bitterness with a light honey character on the finish. Again, well fermented and dry.

Things to Know Before Visiting New Jersey’s Craft Breweries

  1. You’re Going to Need a Car
    There really isn’t any way around the fact that you’re going to need auto transport from brewery to brewery. Public transit is something we take for advantage in the city, but really isn’t an option if you’re stopping at more than one brewery in the widespread outposts of New Jersey. Tied to the car is the inherent risk of driving while under the influence. Responsible consumption and planning accordingly cannot be overstated. On this trip, I limited myself to only a handful of small pours which were typically shared with my wife at each shop. We made sure to have a big meal before, drink plenty of water, and not finish any of the samples we received. Our cumulative consumption was well under a single beer at each stop, spread out over the course of about 5 hours. This kept us well below the point of even the faintest hint of a ‘buzz’ and confidently within legal limits.
  2. It’s a Bit of a Trek
    Everything on a map looks close. On the worst of days, getting in and out of the city can suck up massive quantities of time. We avoided this by leaving the city early and getting back late—effectively missing peak traffic times. Even with minimal traffic, it was still about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our apartment in Brooklyn to the southern most brewery, Kane.
  3. Tolls Add Up… Quick
    Seriously. Between bridges, tunnels, and turnpikes we spent well over $60 on tolls. Plan accordingly and bring cash and change if you don’t have an EZ Pass.
  4. Time Management is Key
    It’s important to research the hours of the taprooms you plan to visit. I went on a Sunday and all three taprooms I visited were open noon-5 pm. When factoring in travel time between breweries, it was important to keep an eye on the clock and heavily moderate the amount of sampling at each stop to ensure that we didn’t feel overly rushed and that we didn’t overconsume. Three breweries was really the maximum number I’d want to visit in the short time frame we were working with.

Dry Irish Stout Homebrew Recipe & Review

_DSC2168Update: This beer was awarded 1st place in combined categories 14&15 at Homebrew Alley X.

One of the great session beers in the world, Irish Stout is often maligned as being thick, heavy, chewy, sweet, and high in alcohol. This is a really interesting phenomenon as I see the style as being quite the opposite. For me, it is a low-alcohol session beer that has quite a bit of interesting roast character and enough flaked barley to keep the mouthfeel from being too thin.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit and am convinced that that the root of the problem has to do with the fact that it is typically the adventurous choice made by the typical non-craft drinker. In comparison to a beer like Bud Light, I would certainly agree that it is the heavier option. More so, I think a lot of the misconception in regard to Irish Stout has to do with the fact that the beer is nearly black–something that many people psychologically associate with something being heavy.

The basis of this recipe is the heavily cited clone recipe for Guinness Stout. The main change I implemented was in the overall composition of the roasted malts. I’ve used English ale strains for this beer in the past, but have found that American Ale yeast works even better, providing a clean fermentation character while being more attenuative.

Dry Irish Stout Recipe

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 60%
Attenuation: 75%

Original Gravity: 1.046
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Color: 37.31 SRM
Alcohol: 4.53% ABV
Bitterness: 41.7 IBU

Malt Bill:
5 lb (69.0%) Crisp Maris Otter
1.25 lb (17.2%) Barley Flaked
8 oz (6.9%) Crisp Roasted Barley
4 oz (3.4%) Crisp Chocolate
4 oz (3.4%) Briess Midnight Wheat

Mash Profile:
152°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
Added to mash:
2g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate)
5g Chalk (Calcium Carbonate)

36g East Kent Goldings (5.7% AA) – 60m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10m

Wyeast 1056 American Ale – 1L Starter on Stir Plate

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 13A. Dry Stout

Aroma (10/12):
Medium-low roast character that is dry and toasty while being reminiscent of coffee with a hint of bitter chocolate. Behind the roast are some nice bready and slightly toasty notes. No diacetyl, DMS, alcohol, or other off-aromas.

Appearance (2/3):
Just a shade lighter than black with some reddish ruby highlights. Clear. Great frothy foam with a beige head (white is typical to style).

Flavor (15/20):
Medium level of roast with lots of coffee notes and just a touch of acrid and burnt character. Very low levels of chocolate flavor. Malt is nice and toasty. Hop bitterness is medium-low with a very smooth character. No hop flavor. The finish is quite dry. Slightly acidic / tart twang on the finish.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
Low body with a full creamy mouthfeel. Dry. Just a touch of roasty astringency on the finish.

Overall Impression (7/10):
This is a really nice Irish stout. There is a touch of acidity from the roast which balances out the smooth mouthfeel provided by the flaked barley. Very sessionable and dry, but also intriguing with its nuanced roast character.

Excellent (38/50)


Homebrew Alley X Recap

Best of Show judging at Homebrew Alley X.

Best of Show judging at Homebrew Alley X.

This year marks the 10th year of NYC’s largest homebrew competition, Homebrew Alley, which is hosted by the New York City Homebrewers Guild. Year in and year out, this contest is consistently well run and a pleasure to judge. (So much so, Homebrew Alley and the National Homebrew Competition are the only two competitions that I consistently enter each year.) Feedback is always great, the prizes outstanding, and awards party a lot of fun. Homebrew Alley is also a great trial run for the National Homebrew Competition whose entries are due a few short weeks afterwards.

Special thanks go out to Alewife in Queens for hosting two days of judging, as well as the awards and after-party. They allow to commandeer their entire upper level, feed us tasty meals, keep the beers cold in their walk-in, and tolerate an influx of beer geeks.

Homebrew Alley X saw 491 entries submitted by 243 different brewers. It is interesting that the upward trend for entries has dropped somewhat dramatically from the peak of well over 700 entries a couple years ago. At the risk of imbuing too much meaning into these numbers and extrapolating some sort of trend, it does make me wonder a bit about the trajectory of the popularity of homebrewing. The American Homebrewers Association has made mention about the decline in homebrew shop revenue so perhaps the astronomic growth homebrewing has experienced in the past 5-10 years is beginning to waiver? Is NYC losing one of its two homebrew shops in the past year somehow related to this? Is it related to the broader economic condition with more people working and having less free time to brew beer? Perhaps this is just a sustainable leveling off of what had been astronomic growth? If it truly is leveling off, will this somehow translate to the pro side? It is easy to raise a lot of questions around this topic, but much harder to find any real hard stats to answer them. Perhaps in time hard data will be published that can provide answers to some of these anecdotal questions.

Homebrew Alley X RibbonsAt this year’s competition, I managed to place a couple of beers. My Rauchbier took second place in combined BJCP categories 6 and 7 while my Dry Irish Stout (recipe forthcoming) scored first place in combined BJCP categories 14 and 15. I was pretty confident in the quality of both of these beers so it was nice confirmation of my personal assessments.

Aside from the awards, this competition was a bit of a personal milestone for me. On the judging side, I’ve now accumulated enough experience points in the BJCP to move up in rank from Certified to National beer judge. Aside from bragging rights, it doesn’t mean a helluva lot, but it is pretty cool nonetheless!