Saturday, April 25, 2009

The newest brew

I took a month or two off from brewing, but started up again last month ready to try some of my own variations based off some of the things I'd been learning.

I created a variation on the Inglewood IPA, which is recipe from Culver City Home Brew, which supplies me with most of gear and ingredients. Here's the original recipe:

Pale Malt Extract 9 lbs
Crystal 10L 8 oz
Crystal 60L 8 oz

Columbus 1.6 oz 60 min
Cascade 1.0 oz 15 min
Cascade 1.0 oz 0 min

White labs WLP001 California Ale

Gravity - 1.067

I was interested in trying to create an IPA with some serious bright citrusy hops. Ideally, I was looking to use Simcoe hops, but I couldn't get a hold of any. So I substituted some other variations to try and get a similar effect. I replaced the Columbus with Summit, left the 15 min Cascade the same, and replaced the 0 min Cascade with Amarillo. I also used two vials of yeast upon the suggestion of the guy at Culver City Homebrew.

My last couple batches, I had some issues with a little funkiness on the back end, and they weren't finishing well. My big change for this batch was using all distilled water. I read in Sam Calagione's book Extreme Brewing that using more water for your tea is better, however, I heard exactly the opposite from some other brewers. So I compromised and used somewhere between 2 and 3 gallons to make my tea. I was also much more careful not to ring out my grain sack and had a better handle on temperature than I did in my last batches. The boil went well and after cooling and adding water, I was able to get the starting gravity to about 1.072.

After 24 hours in the carboy, I went to check on the brew and found that the fermentation had bubbled up into the airlock and was really churning hard. I did some quick reading online and was able to rig a blow off tube that worked fantastically. The additional yeast obviously had a pretty huge effect, I had to leave the blow off tube on for about 4 days before I was able to switch back to the air lock. I ended up fermenting for about 2 weeks and then did a secondary fermentation for another week.

I bottled mostly 22s since I was pretty happy with that result on my porter.

It's now been three weeks, and I'm happy to say that this is the by far the best beer that I've made yet; for what it's worth, most people who have tried it seem to agree with this as well. While it doesn't have the potency of the Simcoe, it definitely is in that direction with some really bright citrusy hops that finish really cleanly and are well balanced with the cascade. The front end is fairly subdued, but there's a nice sweet, almost creamy, flavor that is beginning to carry through into the hoppy finish as we approach three weeks of bottle time. As this beer gets older and older the front end just seems to develop. I wrote that last line this morning and tasting it tonight it's starting to develop just the slightest hints of that beautiful grapefruit rind flavor. It's not an overwhelming sweetness rind, just enough to add some flavor and subtle hints of complexity.

The color is a brilliant orange, perhaps a little dark for a single IPA, but the body is clear and consistent and looks really pretty. I'm most proud that I was able to eliminate the sort of homebrew funk and astringency that had been spoiling the finish on my earlier beers; I attribute this to the careful handling of the grains and the controlled water source. That funk had been killing the hop buildup and its elimination was the main goal for this batch.

My final gravity reading is at 1.015, which by my calculations means the alcohol content should be around 5%. This seems on the low side to me. The beer is definitely light and no heavy hitter, but it sure doesn't taste as low as 5.

All in all though, this batch was a great success. I've decided to name it Gamma Ray's Bitter Burst, in honor of scientists discovering the oldest object ever in space. The way I see it, anything that's been around for 13 billion years is going to be pretty bitter, so why not name an IPA after it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA

Delicious is the adjective stands out most as I search my mind and palette for a way to tangibly describe this beer. I've never been a big Avery drinker, for the simple reason that it's not easy to find out here. But after revisiting it tonight, I realize why so many swear by this label and why it has been so encouraged to me throughout the years. I'm not always a fan of the darker flavored hops, the kind that start with the bitter kick you'd expect from the end, and maintain that flavor throughout. But Avery has really mastered it in this beer, giving it complexity along with character. There's a bold tangy, almost apple like flavor to the hops that hits you right up front off the first sniff, and once you've inhaled it, you can tell you're in for a good drink. The back end culminates as the hop bite rolls back on your tongue and then snaps like a whip as the last of the beer disappears. Having recently drank a few imperials that built their hops too big for their britches, this is a welcomed surprise.

Maharaja Imperial IPA: ****1/2

Stone Cali-Belgie IPA

The Belgian style crossed with an IPA is becoming an increasingly embraced beer by North American Craft brewers. Stone has taken its own unique stab at this emerging fusion with its characteristic robustness and grandeur; if you don't believe me, just take a look at their back label. I'm proud to say I read it all. The IPA qualities come across immediately in the hops. Strong aroma and bite up front ride on a very light body, dip down and disappear, only to reemerge with a serious vengeful bite as it fades away. Stone claims that the Belgique side comes in particularly relevant with the choice of yeast. It's a fairly believable claim since the hops taste particularly enriched and there's even a subtle, yet non-intrusive, flavor of yeast that intermingles with the palette.

Cali-Belgie IPA: ****

Stone's Old Guardian Barley Wine

I like this beer for no other reason than you could call it the "OG" without hesitation. When you pour this beer out, the first thing you notice is it's rich impressive amber color, it really glows. At 11.4% alc this beer exemplifies everything extreme. The hops are strong and bitter and they're mirrored by very sweet malts. The flavor reminds me of some dark rich berrry, along the lines of chocolate malts and the hops burst far back on the tongue, lingering and developing as they dissipate. A beautiful and strong aroma, those who are ready will definitely enjoy this robust barley wine.

Old Guardian "OG": ****

Lost Coast Alley Cat Amber

Not being a huge Amber fan, this strikes me as one of the better ones. It has a nice roasted malt flavor that kicks in after the initial pass. While the malts are the more overwhelming sensation, the hops support the grains with just a hint of bitterness at the back, and leaving an underlying flavor throughout. Fairly mild aroma, nice color, but body is a little thin. Certainly not a bad beer by any means, but doesn't do much to inspire.

Alley Cat Amber: ***

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

I'm not usually a huge fan of brown ales that aren't in the stout or porter category. I tend to dislike sweet malty flavors when they aren't balanced with any bitterness or complexity from the rest of the body. This brown doesn't have much of a bitter end, but does have a lot of complex flavors going on that add a lot of enjoyable tastes to the palette. It's an extremely dark beer almost a porter. The first taste has hints of coffee and caramel, which quickly dissipate and are guided by vanilla overtones to a malty sweet finish that collapses into a characteristic brown bitter bite. Overall the experience is much more like drinking wine than beer as the flavors are rich and bold. Part of the way they create this complex flavor is with the largest barrels made since prohibition. They use a palo santo wood from Paraguay, supposedly the hardest in the world. There's a great article about this beer and the brewery in the New Yorker. Lastly, fragile drinkers beware, this beer is a whopping 12% alv.

Palo Santo Marron: ****