English Bitter Homebrew Recipe & Review

bitterMalty. Dry. Balanced. These are the characteristics I prize most in a well-made British session beer. I am a firm believer that the judicious use of high quality English base malts like Maris Otter will take you most of the way in achieving an interesting and nicely balanced bitter. A touch of crystal, herbal hops, and fruity yeast act as the seasoning that takes you the rest of the way.

With all the hoppy, sour, and high alcohol beers I’ve been brewing, a sessionable bitter was a great change of pace.

English Bitter Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 67% (measured)
Attenuation: 72% (measured)

Original Gravity: 1.048
Terminal Gravity: 1.011 (measured)
Color: 32.8 SRM
Alcohol: 4.8% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 14.11 IBU (does not account for IBUs created by whirlpool hop addition)

Malt Bill:
6lb (92.3%) Crisp Maris Otter
0.25lb (3.8%) Thomas Fawcett 45L Crystal Malt
0.25lb (3.8%) Bairds Crystal 130

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m

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

Hopping:
1oz East Kent Goldings (5.7% AA) -60m
2oz East Kent Goldings ((5.7% AA) – Whirlpool 15m

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

Yeast:
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 8B Special Bitter

Aroma (10/12):
Moderately intense fruity esters upfront that have almost an apricot and perhaps cherry character. Below this is a round toasty malt note with just a hint of caramel and toffee. The inviting nose finishes with a whisper of herbal and floral hops that have just a hint of a rose character.

Appearance (1/3):
Light copper with a noticeable haze. Head is bright white with great persistence.

Flavor (16/20):
Medium-full malt greets you with notes of freshly baked bread, toasty crust, and just a hint of deep caramel and raisin. There is a good amount of toffee as well. The hop bitterness is medium-low, enhancing an already dry finish. There is a slight mineral character on the finish.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
Medium-low body with a full creamy mouthfeel. Carbonation is medium-low and to style. There is a slight minerally astringency on the finish.

Overall Impression (8/10):
This is a beautifully balanced beer where none of the constituent ingredients feel out of place with the overall beer. The yeast character is really unique among English strains and gives the beer a delicious character not seen in many English bitters. Really nice.

Excellent (39/50)

 

Chuck’s Mexican AKA HBC 438 Blond Ale

Chuck's Mexican Blond

Chuck’s Mexican Blond

Way back in 2015 at the National Homebrewers Conference held in San Diego, Jason Perrault of the Hop Breeding Company (HBC), Karl Vanevehoven of Yakima Chief Hopunion (YCH), and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company gave a great talk about a new hop variety called HBC-438. The hop is lovingly referred to as Chuck’s Mexican, having originated from Chuck Zimmerman, a breeder at the USDA, and sharing a genetic lineage to neomexicanus, a wild hop found in the southwestern United States. The history of how this hop has made its way into homebrewer’s kettles is fascinating and can be read here. Origin story aside, what intrigued me the most about the hop was its relatively high alpha acid (14-18%) and high oil contents (2.5-3.5 ml/100g). Additionally, I love the idea of using a hop with at least some of its lineage tied to the Americas.

At the conference, I was given a couple ounces of the hop which lived in the back of my freezer until nearly a year later when I got around to brewing with them. I was a little concerned about the freshness of the hops, but decided to go ahead and give them a shot in a single hop beer. Opening the vacuum sealed bags, there was no detectable cheesiness or other off-aromas so I was optimistic that the brew would turn out well.

Chuck’s Mexican Blond Ale Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 66%
Attenuation: 76%

Original Gravity: 1.050
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Color: 7.82 SRM
Alcohol: 4.98% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBUs (does not account for whirlpool addition hop isomerization)

Malt Bill:
6 lbs (83.1%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
6.5 oz (5.6%) Briess Victory Malt
6.5 oz. (5.6%) Weyermann Rye Malt
6.5 oz. (5.6%) Rahr White Wheat Malt

Mash Profile:
152°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

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

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

Whirlpool Hopping:
2 oz. HBC-438 (16.6% AA) – 20m

Yeast:
Wyeast 2565 Kölsch

Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 18B American Pale Ale

Aroma (5/12):
The beer has a medium to medium-high fruity character that seems to be equal parts hop and expressive yeast. There is a moderate berry character—maybe blackberry as well as some overripe, almost rotten mango notes. The yeast is slightly sulfury / eggy, which may dissipate with some extended cold storage. There is a weird, almost savory / herbal note that seems to be hop-derived. In the background are some nice toasty / biscuity malt aromas.

Appearance (3/3):
Deep gold with good clarity. Just a touch of light haze. The beer is capped with a big fluffy white head that shows excellent persistence.

Flavor (9/20):
Medium to low malt sweetness upfront with some great toasty malt flavors. The beer is a touch oversweet and could benefit from some more hop bitterness. There is a touch of mineral / seltzer water character on the finish. Again, there is a bit of a weird herbal / savory hop flavor that my palate doesn’t enjoy.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
Medium body with a great roundness / silkiness provided by the rye. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Very pleasant.

Overall Impression (4/10):
I’m pretty surprised at how hoppy this beer is considering the low hopping rate and age of the hops. I can say unequivocally that HBC-438 has a very unique profile. Unfortunately, for me, it contributes an unwelcome melange of overripe berries and savory herbs, which don’t quite jive with my tastes.

Good (26/50)

Mixed-culture Saison – Hops vs. Lacto!

Hoppy Mixed Culture Saison

Great head retention, on this beautiful golden saison.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the past couple of years maintaining a mixed culture of Sacc, Brett, and Lacto; and using it to make some pretty nice tart, funky saisons. The culture started its life as a blend of cultures grown from Saison DuPont bottles, The Yeast Bay’s Amalgamation Brett Blend, and White Labs Lacto Brevis. Over the 6+ generations I’ve used the culture, it continues to produce great beers that have an awesome Brett fruitiness that plays especially nicely with big punchy dry hops. Initially, I was very concerned that too much drift would occur in the blend of different organisms, but the culture has remained remarkably consistent in its fermentation characteristics—something I hope stays true for many more generations.

One thing that I’ve always known is that this mixed culture reacts differently to varying levels of kettle hopping, especially in terms of lactic acid production. I’ve observed this anecdotally over several batches, but never completed a side-by-side experiment. For fun, I decided to actually test the culture on two very similar worts to see just how different the beers would become.

For starters, I used the hoppy saison recipe that has turned out quite good in the past.

Base Saison Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 69%

Original Gravity: 1.050
Color: 4.45 SRM
Bitterness: 0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
5 lbs (71.4%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1 lb (14.3%) Flaked Oats
1 (14.3%) Weyermann Rye Malt

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

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

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

Yeast:
Mixed Saison Culture

The Experiment

Two identical batches using the above recipe were brewed back-to-back. The key difference is that Batch 1 received hopping at the end of the boil in the whirlpool, whereas Batch 2 did not and was instead given a post-fermentation dry hop. Other analytic differences between the two batches are outlined below.

Batch 1  – Whirlpool Hopped at End of Boil
Hopping:
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15 m
4 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15m

Attenuation: 76%
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Alcohol: 5%
pH: 3.27

Batch 2  – Dry Hopped Post Fermentation
Hopping:
No hops before fermentation.
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days
2 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days

Attenuation: 80%
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Alcohol: 5.24%
pH: 2.71

The Results

Both batches of beer turned out extremely unique (and quite delicious). I am guessing most people would be surprised to find out that the two beers were produced from the same mixed culture and remarkably similar recipes.

As expected, the whirlpool hopped beer developed significantly less acidity than the batch that was not hopped prior to fermentation. Tasting the beers, it is very obvious that the beer that did not receive kettle hopping is significantly more sour than the beer that was hopped in the whirlpool. That said, the whirlpool hopped beer did develop a light lactic tartness that is consistent with its 3.27 finishing pH.

It is also interesting to note that the kettle-hopped beer attenuated slightly less than the beer that only received a dry hop. I would have thought the opposite would have occurred with the lower pH inhibiting attenuation by the Brett / Sacc in the culture. The difference of .02 SG is probably not significant enough to draw any real conclusions, but it is an interesting anecdote.

The sensory aspects of the two beers are strikingly different. The beer that received kettle hopping ultimately developed a much higher level of the traditional flavors attributable to the Brett in the mixed culture (funk, overripe fruit) whereas the Lacto-heavy dry-hopped beer is much more two note with lots of acid and a significant fruity, dry hop character. It is unclear to me why the kettle-hopped beer developed more Brett character and it will be interesting to see if the dry-hopped beer eventually develops these characteristics. I hope to keep some of the beer around to see if the flavors ultimately converge at a single point or whether they continue to remain two incredibly different beers.

UPDATE: The dry-hopped version of this beer placed first in Category 28, American Wild Ale at the 2016 Joint Novembeerfest / Puget Sound Pro-Am.

Tropical Corn IPA – Recipe and Review

Tropical to the max, not so sexy in the glass.

Tropical to the max, not so sexy in the glass.

If you’ve followed the various IPA recipe posts on this site, you’ll know that my IPA preferences lean towards increasingly lower levels of malt while pushing hop flavor and aromatics towards absurdity. A big part of this rational is that I honestly believe IPA is at its best when it becomes a pure expression of hops. “Balance”, an often proselytized descriptor among beer geeks, is becoming increasingly meaningless to me, especially when applied to contemporary American IPAs. At the risk of sounding irreverent, finding “balance” in a beer, often defined as the counterbalance between competing forces (malt sweetness vs. hop bitterness vs. acidity, etc.) should not be sought in IPA. Instead, creating as light of a body as possible while providing enough sneaky alcohol to both extract the hop goodness and leave you feeling immersed in a hop halo is a priority. While hop choices and technique are fundamental (and often the focus of recipe creation), providing the right malt canvas for alcohol creation should be equally as important.

It is in the realm of creating minimally flavored alcoholic liquids that I think we can learn from our distant brewing cousins from the world of industrial lager. Frequently, corn or rice is used as a medium for creating highly fermentable worts with very little residual body or sweetness. Craft brewers often use refined dextrose in their beers. For this beer, I thought it would be fun to introduce both the refined product (dextrose) and its pre-gelatinized source material (flaked corn) into an IPA recipe and see if I could push further, the lean body I am looking for.

Tropical Corn IPA Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 77%
Attenuation: 82.7%

Original Gravity: 1.060
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Color: 3.15 SRM
Alcohol: 6.56% ABV
Bitterness: 50.7 IBUs

Malt Bill:
5 lbs (70.8%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1.25 lbs (17.7%) Briess Flaked Corn
13 oz. (11.5%) Corn Sugar

Mash Profile:
149°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

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

Hopping:
15g Warrior (17.9% AA) – 90m

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

Whirlpool Hopping:
34g El Dorado (13.2% AA) – 20m
68g Galaxy (16.1% AA) – 20m

Yeast:
Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Dry Hopping:
34g Azacca (10.3% AA) – 2 Days
100g Galaxy (16.1% AA) – 2 Days

Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 21A American IPA

Aroma (8/12):
Bright tangerine, ripe mango, honeydew melon, and pineapple leap from the glass accompanied by a touch of lemon, grapefruit pith, and light pine resin. Fruit salad in a glass. There is a very subtle, bready malt note hiding somewhere in the background. There is almost no malt at all—just a lot of punchy hops. As it warms, some ethanol heat is apparent.

Appearance (1/3):
Very hazy, bordering on murky. Big white head with awesome, super clingy white foam that persists.

Flavor (13/20):
Super juicy hop punch flavor. Lots of tropical aromatics—mango, melon, pineapple, and some grass. The beer has a firm hop bitterness that I find refreshing in comparison to many underbittered, nouveau IPAs. There is a pretty obvious alcoholic heat that is not pleasant. The beer is very dry, but there is some implied sweetness derived from the mind’s association between the fruity hop flavors and their real world counterparts. Malt really has no role in the flavor composition, except perhaps in lending just a deft touch of soft breadiness to the finish.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
Medium to medium-low body. Carbonation is slightly low. The body has a softness that I often associate with heavily hopped beers packed with hop oils.

Overall Impression (7/10):
This beer is an excellent showcase for newer tropical hop varieties. Time will tell whether these flavors stand on their own merits or if they’re simply novel. I think it’s the latter. The hops are allowed to shine in this almost austere beer; although, finding a way to temper the alcoholic heat is vital for this to really be a fantastic beer.

Very Good (32/50)

Sun Shower Saison Review

Sun Shower Saison

After much planning and some apprehension, The Pour Report homebrew wife finally brewed her very first beer this summer. While the brew day itself went quite well, the final product, christened Sun Shower Saison, wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Conceived as a refreshing, low-alcohol “tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer” for the dog days of summer, Sun Shower was able to live up to most of what I’ve just described. The most disappointing characteristic was the flavors contributed by the saison yeast, specifically the peppery spiciness. While I’ve always considered myself a fan of saisons, I’m finding that my palette interprets the peppery spiciness as more of a distraction than a complement to the beer. On the flip side, I have discovered that there is no such thing as “too tart” when it comes to my palette and I wish Sun Shower had a little more tartness to it. As a result, I find myself very much disliking this beer and already have plans to rebrew this recipe with a different yeast. Stay tuned to see how Version 2 turns out…

Tasting Notes:

Jessie’s Review:

Judged against my original intent to brew a “refreshing, low-alcohol tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer”

Aroma (8/12):
Peppery with a hint of ham (reminiscent of the carved ham station at King’s Table Buffet). When fresh, the Galaxy hops bring a nice melon (mainly cantaloupe) flavor.

Appearance (2/3):
Yellow-to-gold range (if there are any designers reading this, think PMS 7405). Relatively clear, but with very poor head retention.

Flavor (10/20):
Peppery spiciness with melon and a touch of salt. A subtle hint of barnyard funk and tartness.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
Very light body with seltzer-like qualities. Could afford to be more carbonated.

Overall Impression (5/10):

If I had set out to brew non-alcoholic water, I’d be ecstatic! But as it stands, I’m satisfied that my first beer came out without any major flaws.

Good (28/50)

 

Nick’s Review:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 34C Experimental Beer

Beer Description: Ultra low alcohol (3.0%) saison. Minimal malt, light fruity hop character, soft lacto sourness. Dry, crisp, effervescent, quenching.

Aroma (7/12):

A whisper of sulfury egg hits the nose first, but blows off quickly and is followed by a fairly prominent Belgian yeast note featuring some light peppery phenol, a touch of clove, and a subdued generic fruitiness. There is a touch of yogurt-like lacto and some soft hop aromatics reminiscent of mango, citrus, and perhaps a touch of pineapple and honeydew melon. The nose is subtle, but nuanced.

Appearance (1/3):
Pale gold with a light haze. A low white head forms, but quickly dissipates under a crackle of soda pop like fizziness. No retention whatsoever.

Flavor (14/20):
There is a soft bready malt flavor that is quickly underscored by a fairly expressive peppery yeast character. The beer is somewhat tart, although much less so than I would have expected given the pH tested at 3.14 prior to pitching Saccharomyces. The beer is bone dry. The hop flavor is generally fruity and citrusy, which plays nice with the acidity in the beer. There is no hop bitterness. The beer gives an impression of mineral water with an almost seltzer-like finish.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
Extremely low-bodied with spritzy carbonation. There is a slightly astringent tannin present. The beer is very quenching, although perhaps a bit watery.

Overall Impression (7/10):
This is a nice refreshing beer. I think to be on target with the recipe’s design intent it needs a bit more tartness and residual body to make it more sessionable and expressive.

Very Good (31/50)