Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Homebrewing Book Reviews

One of the great things about being a homebrewer today is the breadth and depth of literature that is easily available. The homebrewing books I've read have been nearly all been well-written, well-researched and focused on issues relevant to homebrewers.

Introductory texts:

How to Brew, by John Palmer. For most homebrewers, the only book you'll ever need. It's written so clearly that it's accessible to nearly anyone, but includes in-depth discussion of all the major brewing issues and techniques.

Brewing science:

Principles of Brewing Science, 2nd edition by George Fix. A slim text, but packed with important information. Dense, but accessible to anyone with a scientific bent (no biochemistry background required).

New Brewing Lager Beer by Greg Noonan. Not just for lager brewers, this book reads like an expansion of Principles of Brewing Science, but benefits from the author's experience as a professional brewer. A must-read for anyone thinking of going pro.

Yeast by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff. Very good discussion of yeast handling and fermentation practices. Some of the information is very much geared towards professional brewers with tens of thousands of dollars to spend, though.

For the Love of Hops by Stan Heironymous. Far and away the most readable of the science-y texts. More relevant information about hop chemistry, hop growing, and hopping techniques than you can find anywhere else.

Beer styles and recipe formulation:

Brew Like a Monk by Stan Heironymous. Very readable. This book is a great guide to brewing Trappist-style beer. (Also covers similar breweries like Duvel, Karmeliet, etc.)

Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. An excellent guide to brewing saisons and bieres de garde.

Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow. The only text available on sour and wild beers. Poorly written and short on information.

Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. Probably the most fun brewing book I've read. A must-read for anyone who likes to experiment with new ingredients.

Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. Contains good information, but is quite dated, poorly organized, and not much fun to read. Still, if you want to brew traditional English- and German-style beers, it's worth reading.

Bitterness, Acidity, and Astringency

These three flavors play a crucial role in many of the beverages we consume, and are often confused. All three are essentially defense mechanisms that plants have developed to fend off predators and parasites. Now, ironically, many plants are used precisely because they have high levels of such flavors—a testament to human perversion. But these flavors are not unequivocally desirable or undesirable. In certain contexts they're highly valued, while in other contexts they're considered flaws. In some cases certain types of acidity or bitterness are desirable, while other types are undesirable.

Bitterness is one of the four traditional basic tastes. Since many toxins are bitter, aversion to bitterness confers evolutionary advantage. Beer is one of the few beverages in which bitterness is valued. (Many cocktails also rely on bitterness.) Hops contain compounds known as alpha acids that, when isomerized by boiling, are highly bitter. In low concentrations, this bitterness balances the cloying sweetness of unhopped beer. (Beer is generally sweeter than wine, because barley imparts more unfermentable dextrins than grapes do.) In higher concentrations, this bitterness becomes a powerful, lingering sensation that many Americans have become enamored of. Very bitter beers like American IPAs are off-putting to the uninitiated, but for hopheads, there's no substitute. Other natural sources of bitterness include cinchona bark (quinine), orange peel, artichoke, cascarilla, and many more.

Acidity is a prized attribute in wine, coffee, and certain styles of beer. One of the reasons acidity is so desirable is that, when combined with certain aromatic compounds, it evokes flavors of fruit, nature's only dessert. Acidity also provides a crisp, refreshing quality, and balances out sweetness that would otherwise be cloying—which is why soda is usually dosed with citric or phosphoric acid. However, perceived acidity does not always track pH. People often talk about coffee as being highly acidic, but it only has a pH of ~5, on average. For comparison, that's about the same pH as black tea. A typical beer has a pH around 4, even though beer is not usually thought of as an acidic substance. Wine and sour beer sit in the 3 - 4 range, and anything below 3 isn't something you'll want to consume straight. The main acids found in beverages are citric (lemon), malic (apple), lactic (yogurt), tartaric (grape), acetic (vinegar), and phosphoric (cola), each of which has its own flavor.

Astringency is not traditionally classified as a taste, but as a tactile sensation. The source of astringency is a group of compounds known as tannins, which are a type of polyphenol. When tannins come into contact with proteins, they bind them together. When this reaction occurs in your mouth, it results in a dry, parching sensation. In tea and wine astringency can provide a sense of body to an otherwise thin liquid. Adding milk to tea reduces its astringency, because the tannins in the tea will bind to the milk proteins, meaning there are fewer unbound tannins that can bind proteins in your mouth.

Friday, May 24, 2013

IPA (4/27/13)

Christened Hoppily Ever After, this IPA is probably the best I've made yet.

The last IPAs I brewed turned out too dry, so for this batch I added more specialty malts and raised my mash temperature. I also increased my hop-stand addition significantly, a decision I made based on the success of my hop-stand amber ale experiments.

My current theory on hopping is that some hops are inherently better suited to dry hopping than hop stand additions, while others are the reverse. Simcoe and Nugget, for example, produce beers with high levels of linalool, a desirable aromatic compound. Linalool, which has a floral aroma, is not itself present in hops, but is produced through enzymatic reactions. Many of these reactions are accelerated by the presence of yeast, so adding linalool-producing hops before fermentation should be advantageous.

Other hops, like Cascade and Amarillo, have very high levels of myrcene. Myrcene, which has a pungent resinous and pine-like aroma, is extracted most effectively after fermentation through dry hopping.

In order to take advantage of both these effects, I've loaded up on the linalool-producing hops in the hop-stand, and saved the myrcene-heavy hops for the dry hop.


OG: 1.066
FG: 1.012
ABV: 7.1%
IBUs (Tinseth): 185

Water adjustments: 7 grams of gypsum
Mash temp: 154F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 65%

Yeast: US05
Pitching temp: 67F
Max temp: 72F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 12 84% 36.00
Belgian Munich 1 7% 36.00
Muntons Crystal 600.25 2% 34.00
Barley (flaked) 1 7% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 2 60 13.0%
Chinook 1 60 13.0%
Nugget 1 30 13.0%
Simcoe 1 30 13.0%
Nugget 2 Hop stand 13.0%
Simcoe 2 Hop stand 13.0%

5/5/13: Dry hopped with 1 oz Chinook, 1 oz Cascade, 0.5 oz Simcoe, 0.5 oz Citra (leaf).
5/11/13: Bottled to 2.6 volumes of CO2.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hoppy Amber II (4/19/13)

Christened Ale We Need is Love, this American Amber is a descendent of my hop-stand experiment. It has no hops in the boil, but lots of hops at 175 degrees. It turned out fantastic.


ABV: 6.5%
OG: 1.060
FG: 1.009
IBUs: 25?

Water adjustments: 3 grams calcium chloride, 2.5 grams calcium sulfate
Mash in: 152F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 67%

Yeast: US-05
Pitching temp: 66F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 8 64% 36.00
Munich 2 16% 36.00
Munich 1 8% 36.00
Crystal 80 0.5 4% 34.00
Barley (Flaked) 1 8% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Nugget 2.5 3 13.0%
Simcoe 2.5 3 13.0%

4/25/13: Dry hopped with 1 oz Cascade, 1 oz Chinook.
5/6/13: Bottled #11 to 2.8 volumes of CO2. FG: 1.009

Sunday, May 12, 2013

That Belgian Again (4/16/13)

Christened RachAle, this beer is a tweak on the last Belgian ale I brewed. This time I used a lighter (Belgian) Munich, dropped the biscuit malt, lowered the IBUs and added flavor hops (Nugget).

OG: 1.062
FG: 1.009
ABV: 6.9%
IBUs (Tinseth): 26

Mash-in: 150
Mash time: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 70%

Yeast: WLP570 (Belgian golden ale)
Starter: 1 liter
Pitching temp: 66

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Belgian Munich 1.5 14% 36.00
2 Row 7.5 68% 36.00
Barley (flaked) 0.5 5% 32.00
Other Fermentables Amount % Max Pts.
Cane sugar 1.5 14% 46.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.4 75 12.0%
Nugget 1 5 13.0%

#10 bottled 4/28/13 to 3.3 volumes of CO2.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Robust Porter (4/7/13)

Tasting notes:

Aroma: Chocolate, toffee, fruity esters and (pleasant) spicy alcohol notes.

Taste: Caramel sweetness balanced by a mild roastiness.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with moderate carbonation. Light enough to drink easily, but thick enough to support itself.

Overall: Near perfect for a porter in this alcohol range. Balanced and quaffable, but with a lot of depth.


OG: 1.051
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%
IBUs (Tinseth): 33

Water adjustments: 5 grams calcium chloride, 2 grams calcium hydroxide, 1 ml 88% lactic acid
Mash in: 154F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 57%

Yeast: WLP007 (Dry English Ale)
400ml of thick slurry from smoked brown ale (harvested one day earlier)
Pitching temp: 66F
Max temp: 70F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
Crystal 90 0.5 4% 34.00
Briess Chocolate 0.5 4% 28.00
Simpsons Chocolate 0.5 4% 28.00
Barley (flaked) 1 7% 32.00
2 row 11.5 82% 36.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.75 60 12.0%
Nugget 0.5 5 13.3%

Bottled 4/19 to 2 volumes of CO2.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Malt Vinegar

If I'm brewing a high gravity beer with liquid yeast, one yeast vial does not provide enough cells for a proper fermentation. Rather than buying more vials, I propagate the yeast by adding it to a 1-4 liter starter of unhopped wort. If the starter is on the larger side, I typically decant the liquid and add only the yeast slurry at the bottom of the starter. This means up to 3 or 4 liters of unhopped beer down the drain.

While this decanted liquid is pretty bland on its own, it is exactly what malt vinegar is made from. Therefore, I've decided to start making my own vinegar. For the first batch, I added Bragg's raw apple cider vinegar to kickstart acidification, at a ratio of 1 part cider vinegar to 3 parts unhopped beer. For future batches, I will add samples from previous batches instead, so the cider content will be negligible after a few generations.

After decanting the liquid off the yeast and adding the cider vinegar, I let fermentation continue for two weeks in a gallon jug covered with tinfoil, occasionally swirling the jug to aerate. Then I transferred the finished malt vinegar to a swingtop bottle for longer term storage. This particular starter was fermented with a Belgian yeast (WLP570), so I'll be interested to see if any of the yeast flavors remain in the vinegar.

In the future I may experiment with adding oak chips or fruit to my malt vinegars. (Raspberry malt vinegar = delicious raspberry vinaigrette?) I could also add caramel or liquid malt extract to make darker, sweeter vinegar.