Monday, November 30, 2009

My Second Batch of Homebrew: Phase Two (Bottling)

You can read Phase One (Brewing) here

Yesterday marked three weeks since my wife and I brewed our second batch, an India Pale Ale named FML IPA. 21 days was a long time to wait, but it was worth it to give the beer plenty of time to clear up. I'm happy to report that things went a lot better this time, compared to the last time we bottled.

Homebrewing Bottling Equipment
Here's the equipment we used for bottling:
  • Five-gallon spigoted bucket
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Bottle washer
  • 24 new 22 oz. bottles
  • 2 previously used 750ml bottles
  • Bottle-caps to match
  • Capper
  • Hydrometer
  • Sampler for hydrometer
  • Probe thermometer
  • Bottling wand with tubing
  • Transfer tubing
  • Small saucepan
  • Corn sugar (measured amount for 5 gallons of beer)
  • Star-San sanitizer
We were a little concerned about infection because of a mistake we made in preparation for brewing (you can read all the gory details back in Part One), but cracking the fermenter revealed a perfect looking (and smelling) beer. Beer is indeed less fragile than the novice brewer gives it credit for.

Homebrewing Sainitized BottlesThe first step, as always, was sanitation. To start things off, we mixed up a 5 gallon batch of Star-San sanitizing solution in the bucket to be used for bottling. Then, we started rinsing out the bottles in batches of about eight using the bottle washer. Once rinsed, we dunked the bottles in the sanitizing solution and left them under the surface for two minutes. After the bath, we put the bottles into the bottom rack of our dishwasher (which acted as a poor man's bottle tree) to wait.

It's worth taking a second to note that there was no rinsing after the sanitizing bath, as Star-San works best while the bottles are wet and does not affect the beer whatsoever. It produces a lot of bubbles, and many people are put off by the idea of adding their beer to sudsy bottles, but there is no need to rinse it off. In fact, rinsing it off would leave the bottles unprotected briefly.

Once all the bottles were in the dishwasher ready to be filled, we used the mixture to sanitize the brewer's spoon, the sampler, and then both sets of tubes (with the wand attached) via the handy spigot. It took a little warm water to loosen the tubing up enough to fit on the spigot, but once warm, they fit nicely. The remaining sanitizing solution was then poured down the drain and the bucket put in place on the floor ready to be filled (again, unrinsed).

At this point we started to heat the corn sugar mixture and let it boil for five minutes with 16 ounces of water. Once boiled, we set the mixture aside to cool for about ten minutes. While it was cooling, we boiled the bottlecaps to sanitize them and cracked open the fermenter to take quick gravity and temperature readings (1.016 at 70°F). I tasted the beer from the sampler once the readings were done and was excited to find that, even though it was warm and flat, it tasted like an IPA.

Homebrewing TransferThen, we put the fermenter on the counter above the empty bucket, attached the transfer tubing to its spigot, and let it start filling the bottling bucket. The spigot was placed perfectly, allowing all but the dregs transfer nicely in just a couple of minutes. When the bottling bucket was full, we slowly stirred the priming mixture into the bucket with the brewer's spoon.

We then swapped the bottling bucket with the fermenter, attached the tubing and bottling wand, and got down to filling bottles. With the big 22 ounce bottles, it went a lot faster than last time, making the new bottles a worthwhile investment. Capping with the new plastic capper we bought was a lot easier than the old metal one—the plastic had a bit more give in it, meaning the capperHomebrewing Filling Bottles would bend before the bottle wouldbreak. This time, no bottles were lost to breakage.

Unfortunatley, the two 750ml bottles I had picked turned out to be a bad choice, as their flared necks made it impossible to get a perfect grip with the capper. We fear they might not be sealed correctly, but at least it is just two bottles. Quite a shame we won't be using them again, as the bottles are quite nice.

Once full, we put the bottles back in their box and put them back away in the bathtub to prime and mature for another few weeks. Things were so much smoother this time, and I'm very happy with our new purchases. According to my calculations, the ABV is around 6.43%, which is in the range I was Homebrewing Waitinghoping for. The beer tasted pretty damn good, and I'm confident that when I crack the first bottle in a few weeks, the beer inside will be pretty damn decent.

You can read the review of the finished product here

Victory Prima Pils Review

Brewery: Victory Brewing Co. | Beer: Prima Pils
Style: German Pilsener | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: ~35
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Victory Prima PilsSo far on PintLog, I've tried three beers from the Victory Brewing Company out of Pennsylvania, and I've given them all grades in the "A" range. This makes Victory one of the highest rated breweries on the site, and puts a little pressure on Prima Pils, the next Victory brew up for review.

Prima Pils is a German Pilsener, a style that essentially represents a Czech Pilsener adapted for German brewing conditions. Victory is a little stingy with the specific ingredients, stating only that 2-row German pils malt and "German and Czech whole flowers" hops were used. Here's how they describe the beer:

Heaps of hops give this pale lager a bracing, herbal bite over layers of soft and smooth malt flavor. This refreshing combination of tastes makes Prima a classy quencher in the tradition of the great pilsners of Europe. Dry and delightful, this is an elegant beer.
Will Prima Pils be the fourth Victory brew in a row with an "A" on it's report card? Let's pop it open and see.

Appearance: Exceedingly pale lemony-yellow, hazy body under a generous white head that leaves gorgeous clumpy lacing. A rather pretty presentation.

Aroma: Lemony and earthy hops over a honey malt base. A unique and intriguing profile.

Taste: Crisp lemony hops in charge, with plenty of honey malt in the base. Not particularly bitter, but grassy and slightly minty at times. Well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body with crisp carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Nice and refreshing, this goes back rather quickly.

Verdict: Prima Pils is a very solid Pilsener and another very solid offering from Victory. Rather unique and quite sessionable, this is well worth a try if you're in the mood for something light. Victory is one of those breweries who can brew great beers from all parts of the spectrum, from this pale Pilsener to Storm King, their Russian Imperial Stout.

Grade: A-

Bass Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Bass Brewers Ltd. | Beer: Bass Pale Ale
Style: English Pale Ale | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: ~30
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Bass Pale AleBass Pale Ale is one of the most recognizable English beers on the planet and the principle product of the Bass & Co. Brewery. Bass was established way back in 1777 by William Bass in the now famed brewing town of Burton upon Trent.

In a world where many beer companies are younger than my bulldog, a brand that has endured for well over 200 years is impressive. Of course, the brewery and beer are now owned by conglomerate brewing concerns, but let's not dwell on that too much.

Just to put the age of the company in proper perspective, consider these facts:
  • The distinctive red triangle adorning Bass bottles was Britain's first registered trademark
  • The brewery is only one year younger than the Declaration of Independence
  • Bottles of Bass are featured in Manet's famous painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
As for Bass Pale Ale itself, it is essentially the typical English Pale Ale, serving as one of the best examples of the style for many people. As the beer was originally brewed in Burton upon Trent, the beer has the characteristic minerals of the area's water. It's also well known as one half of the classic Black & Tan beer cocktail.

It's about time I got around to reviewing this English classic, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A crystal-clear, copper-amber body topped by a finger and a half of creamy off-white head that features only passable retention and lacing.

Aroma: Lightly-toasted malt, some mild earthy hops, and a few notes of banana.

Taste: True to the aroma. A base of lightly toasted caramel malt accompanied by mild, earthy hops and some decent fruity notes. It's nicely mineraly, giving it that classic English Pale Ale feel. The aftertaste is lightly grainy and rather short-lived.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with sharp carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: It may not come as much of a surprise, but Bass is a highly sessionable beer. Quite refreshing.

Verdict: Bass is simply a straightforward and sessionable British classic, and it's obvious why it has endured for so long. While it may not offer the serious beer enthusiast too much to ponder, it's still a satisfying and refreshing experience that really typifies the English Pale Ale style.

Grade: B

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Belgium Hoptober Golden Ale Review

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing | Beer: Hoptober Golden Ale
Style: American Blonde Ale | ABV: 6.0% | IBUs:40
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into globe glass

New Belgium HoptoberNew Belgium introduced a new fall seasonal this year, Hoptober Golden Ale. It is pitched as "a veritable cornucopia of the earth," which is rather fitting given the season. As the name implies, the beer is a more hop-focused effort than the average fall seasonal, and what New Belgium usually produces.

Spokesman for the brewery Bryan Simpson put it this way: “This beer is a Hop Lover’s dream within the Belgian idiom. [It] is hop-forward but very well-balanced with generous mouthfeel.”

Golden Ale is not an official style, but is generally interchangeable with the American Blonde Ale style, so I've listed it as such )even though it doesn't exactly seem like the best match). As for its construction, the backbone is a mix of pale malt, wheat, rye, and oats, while Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette, and Glacier hop varieties are employed.

Sounds like a wonderful mix for a fall evening such as this, so let's dig in, shall we?

Appearance: A crystal-clear, golden-amber body capped by a little over a finger of near-white head that features good retention and lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and tropical-fruity hops over a biscuity malt body. If you'd presented this to me as an India Pale Ale, I wouldn't have thought twice based on the aroma.

Taste: Moderately bitter, green, and citrusy hops up front. Underneath, a toasty, biscuity, and caramel-like malt body keeps everything nicely balanced. The aftertaste is citrusy, a little leafy, and biscuity with a nice bitter kick. In the flavor department it ends up resembling a Pale Ale, rather than an IPA.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and slightly creamy with good carbonation. A dry finish.

Drinkability: A very quaffable brew that would be make for a great session choice.

Verdict: It's always nice to see New Belgium playing on the hoppier side of the spectrum, and Hoptober ends up being a tasty, easily drinkable, and cheerful little beer.

Grade: A-

Note: While this review is being published in November, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past September.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Widmer Brothers W'09 Belgian Style Ale Review

Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. | Beer: W'09 Belgian Style Ale
Style: Belgian Pale Ale | ABV: 6.5% | IBUs: 26
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Widmer Brothers W'09 Belgian Style AleWidmer Brothers Brewing Company was founded in 1984 by Kurt and Rob Widmer in Portland, Oregon, a city now known a "Beervana." When the brothers founded their brewery though, Portland was still far from Beervana, and the country was just starting to get a taste of good beer again. In the 25 years since the brewery was founded, much has changed in the company and the industry, and Widmer has evolved into one of the most powerful craft breweries on the scene through a devoted following and some big business dealings

In an attempt to get in on the craft brew bubble, Anheuser-Busch bought a minority stake in the company in 1997, giving Widmer a ride on AB's trucks and increasing their distribution potential exponentially. In 2007, Widmer announced it would merge with Redhook Ale Brewery (another company AB owned a stake in) to form a company named Craft Brewers Alliance, which is currently the seventh largest brewery in the country.

Each year, the company brews up a special new beer under as part of the "W" series. This year's, W'09, is a Belgian Pale Ale built with 2-Row Pale and Briess Caramel 10L malts with Alchemy (for bittering) and Sterling (for aroma) hops that the company describes this way:

The brewers have recreated a classic Belgian style Golden ale that holds true with a unique aroma and flavor. The ale has a hop spiciness that gives it a little extra pop. And at 6.5% ABV the drinker will feel a nice warming sensation while consuming.
I figured a special release, and a Belgian-themed one at that, would be an appropriate first review for Widmer, so let's dive in.

Appearance: A slightly hazy, golden-orange body. On top, one finger of off-white head that recedes quickly and leaves spotty lacing.

Aroma: A complex Belgian mix: coriander, clove, banana, apples, yeast, and sweet, bready malt. Good stuff.

Taste: All the same character from the aroma, with the intensity ratcheted up a few notches. There's lots of spices, yeast, and fruit over a solid bready pale malt base. Similar to a Witbier in some ways. The aftertaste is bready malt with a mild bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and smooth with good carbonation. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Decent enough—if you like the flavor profile you could drink a few of these easily.

Verdict: W'09 is a tasty enough Belgian-style beer, though it's more of an impression than a recreation if you catch my drift. It seems to me like it might be somewhere in between a Belgian Pale Ale and a Witbier, rather than just a straight-up Belgian Pale, but that doesn't bother me too much. A great beer to introduce some Belgian flavors to the uninitiated, and an okay substitution if you're in the mood for a Belgian but can't find the real stuff.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in November, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past April.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Second Batch of Homebrew: Phase One (Brewing)

Well, it's been about a year since my wife and I brewed up up first batch of homebrew (you can read all about that saga starting here), and just yesterday we found the time for our follow-up. The last batch was somewhat of a failure, and we still have a lot of it sitting in bottles waiting to be poured out, but we're still optimistic about this batch. We learned a lot of lessons last time, and this time we set out to address each problem we encountered.

For this batch, we decided to go with an India Pale Ale, and due to a lot of turmoil over the last few months, light-heartedly settled on the name FML IPA (if you're unfamiliar with the initials FML, let's just say its shorthand for a feeling of hopelessness). For our recipe, we picked one from Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing called "Palilalia India Pale Ale." We made some modifications based on what was in stock at the local homebrew store, and with the intent of kicking the intensity up just a little. Despite the poor results last year, we were a little more adventurous this time, opting to go with malted barley, dried malt extract, and hop pellets, instead of the pre-hopped liquid malt extract and sugar we used last time.

Homebrew Equipment

Here's the equipment we used:
  • 22 quart kettle
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Strainer
  • Six-gallon spigoted bucket with airtight lid
  • Fermentation lock (aka bubbler) with a stopper to fit the hole on the bucket's lid
  • Hydrometer with sampler
  • Probe thermometer
  • Measuring cup
  • PBW cleaner
And here's the ingredient bill:
  • 6 pounds of dried Pilzen-style malt extract
  • 1 and a half pounds of toasted crystal malt (in a steeping bag)
  • 2 ounces of Northern Brewer hop pellets
  • 1 ounce of Cascade hop pellets
  • 1 packet of dry ale yeast (Safale US-05)
  • 2 teaspoons of gypsum
  • 5 gallons of drinking water (3 of them chilled)
First up was sanitizing, a subject that caused a lot of headaches last time around. Instead of bleach, this time we used PBW, a non-caustic and bio-degradable cleaner. We added 4 tablespoons of PBW, along with about five gallons of tap water to the fermenter and threw in the lid, the hydrometer, the sampler, the scoop used to add the gypsum, the spoon, and the bubbler assembly. To heat the water a bit to aid in cleaning, we topped the bucket off with about 16 cups of boiling water. We let everything sit for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with the spoon. (See note at the bottom of this post for a big mistake we made in this step...)

Homebrew MashWhile we were waiting for the PBW to do it's thing, we started the brewing process. Up first was the mini-mash, where we steeped the malted barley. We added roughly one and a half gallons of drinking water to the kettle, and added the steeping bag full of malted barley. We brought the temperature up to about 160 degrees and held it there for around 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the bucket, and everything inside were ready to be rinsed off and the steeping bag was ready to be removed. We used the (now clean) brewer's spoon to agitate the steeping bag to help get all of the sugary goodness out. We removed the steeping bag from the water and allowed it to drain, and then pressed it against the side of the kettle to get as much water out as possible. We then poured about 8 cups of boiling water over the bag to sparge, and again pushed the bag against the side of the kettle until it was dry.

Now it was tiHomebrew Malt Extractme to add the dried malt extract (DME), hops, and gypsum. We tore the DME bags open and slowly stirred the contents into the wort. I'm not going to lie, at first it seemed like getting that much dried malt to dissolve in a little less than two gallons of water did not seem possible. But, I trusted in my recipe and went ahead and added the two ounces of Northern Brewer hops and the two teaspoons of gypsum and turned up the heat to get everything to a boil.

Once the heat came up and approached boiling, with the aid of some rather stern stirring, the DME started to dissolve nicely. Once it was boiling, there were a few times where the wort threatened to boil over the kettle, but judicious stirring and removing the kettle from the heat kept everything inside the pot. 60 minutes of boiling, and a beerish odor to saturated the entire house, then ensued.

Toward the end of the boil, we prepared a cup and a half of boiling water in my measuring cup and allowed it to cool to around 105 degrees. It took a little longer than we had expected to cool, so next time we'll have to start this earlier. Once it came down to temperature, we added the yeast, covered the cup with foil, and let it rehydrate for about 20 minutes.

About one minute before the boil was over, we added the Cascade hops (they smelled excellent), as per the recipe. Then, we took the kettle off the heat, and put it in the kitchen sink, along with as much water and ice would fit. We started to cycle the water out of the sink, replenishing it with fresh water and ice every five minutes, and the temperature dropped slowly, but surely, to 100 degrees after 30 minutes or so.

Once the wort had cooled, we added two gallons of chilled drinking water to the fermenter, and began to strain the wort into the fermenter. It took about ten minutes, stirring the contents of the strainer occasionally, to transfer all of the wort to the fermenter. At this point, we poured about 6 cups of hot (but not boiling) water into strainer to sparge off what we could. Then, we topped the fermenter off to five gallons with the rest of the chilled water.

Homebrew in FermenterAt this point, the temperature was at 72 degrees, and we took a sampling and got a gravity reading of 1.065. The yeast was ready to pitch, so we went ahead and added it, and proceeded to put the lid onto the fermenter. We then put the fermenter in it's new home for the next week or so, in the spare bathroom's bathtub, and attached the bubbler.

Everything seemed to go rather smoothly this time, and the contents of the hydrometer sampler that I sipped actually did taste a little like an IPA, so there's a lot of hope for this batch. I checked on the bubbler this morning, and I'm happy to report that it's already showing plenty of activity.

Now, once again, we wait.

Note: It turns out I got some bad advice, and PBW simply cleans brewing equipment, and does not sanitize (I was told it did both, which is just further proof I should double-check everything I hear on the Internet). So, what that means is that the equipment that has touched the beer so far was not properly sanitized, and it is rather possible that the the beer could pick up an infection from those surfaces. Luckily, I caught this before bottling, and we can properly sanitize everything the beer has yet to touch, reducing the chances that the final product will be infected. At this point, there is nothing to do but hope that the surfaces the beer has touched were clean enough, and that the beer will be okay. Suddenly, FML seems like a very appropriate name...

If you'd like to catch up on the first batch, Young At Heart Stout, you can read about Phase One (Brewing) here, Phase Two (Bottling) here, and the review of the finished product here.