Sunday, October 14, 2012

Campaign for Real Ale

It's funny, I never cared much for cask conditioned ale when I was a native of England, despite living in the Thames Valley and Kent at various times, two places with strong ale histories.  I did enjoy the odd pint here and there but it wasn't until I returned to visit and spent some time in the Cotswalds that I began to really see what it had to offer.

Cask conditioning at the homebrew scale, like aging in a whole bourbon barrel's worth of beer, is simply not possible.  I did however come across one clever suggestion of storing the beer in screw cap bottles so the build up of carbon dioxide can be periodically released.  My first attempt went really well.  I used a London Ale yeast strain, bottled after about 5 days and let a little carbonation escape every couple of days for about a week.  If anything I overdid it a little and some bottles were too flat.  Nevertheless the result was a delicious bitter.

My second attempt has given me a few problems.  This time I used an ESB yeast.  It was a smack-pack so should have worked well but I didn't check the date on it.  I suspect since it was the last one in the fridge at my LHBS it may have been quite old.  The pack certainly didn't swell as much as they usually do.  As a result, after 5 days when I bottled, the beer had a very bad sulphury smell and taste.  It turns out that this ESB yeast strain can but badly behaved even in the best conditions, so between the old pack and me not aerating sufficiently the fermentation was dirty and left some off flavors.

Luckily, I am 'cask conditioning' this beer!  With beers that don't turn out as expected, patience is the key.  Under the right conditions, the yeast in the bottles will clean up the off flavors and the beer will turn out fine.  How much time that will take is hard to say, but there is plenty more drinkable beer in my house so this one can just hang out for a while.  The fall is here and my house is basically cellar temperature!  I have sacrificed one bottle that I open even now and they to see how it's doing.  So far the smell has improved.  Hopefully the taste will too!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Evolution of the Bronze Chicken

Obviously I am far behind on blogging about my beers as they happen and I will not even try to catch up.  After moving into brewing 5 gallons at a time I have tried to maintain the same approach of incorporating at least one new element into my brewing with each subsequent beer.  One of the most interesting ways to do this is to rebrew a recipe with some modifications and see what difference the changes make.

My first 5 gallon beer was a Belgian Trippel, which is meant to be golden in color and have those delicious fruity, spicy esters that Belgian abbey yeasts tend to impart.  I spent a little time on the internet looking a recipes and made a hybrid of a few to give me a relatively simple malt bill for my first attempt at this scale.

The beer turned out great and had almost the exact flavor profile I was aiming for but the color was much darker than I had intended.  Since the beer tasted remarkably like Victory's Golden Monkey, I christened it Bronze Chicken in honor of our recently acquired yard birds.

The beer takes a while to make.  It's a relatively strong beer, so it's important to make sure fermentation is completed, and that means patience!  The primary runs for about a week and a half, secondary at least three weeks and then it can take at least three to fully carbonate once bottled.  While this isn't a sessionable beer, so my supply was not being drunk too quickly, I was giving a fair amount to friends so wanted to start a rebrew fairly quickly.  I was thinking about the recipe over a beer at Crossroads.  The beer happened to be Curieux, a bourbon barrel aged Trippel by Allagash.  Well, it is just a fantastic beer and I had to take a crack at it.

It is possible to obtain used bourbon barrels and one of these days I'll get one and brew 55 gallons of beer to aged in it!  But in the mean time the homebrewer's cheat is to use toasted oak cubes soaked in bourbon.  This time I brewed 6 gallons a split it between two 3 gallon carboys during secondary.  I had heard that the oak cubes can quickly impart too much oakiness, so I planned to do the bourbon treatment to half the beer then blend the two portions to keep the effect more subtle.  Despite doing closer to a full boil to reduce caramelization the beer still came out several shades darker than golden.  I lost track of how many weeks the bourbon soaked oak cubes spent in the beer, but the effect was almost imperceptible.  While still in the carboy there was a pleasant bourbon aroma, but after transferring to bottling bucket then bottles I'm not sure how much of this will remain.  Still it is a tasty brew and being a little darker makes it more enjoyable in the fast approaching winter months.

I'm also starting to make wine and bought a corker, so some of the Chicken II went in corked Belgian bottles, which I think you'll agree look awesome!