Posts Tagged brown ale

Week 4 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1916Finally the time has come to taste the fruits of my efforts on this brown ale. All in all, I would say it was a good effort and fun, to be sure. As I got ready to crack the first one (I chose the last bottle from the batch that was not quite full), anticipation built within me and those around me. I put the bottle opener to the cap and strained my ears to try to hear that magical hiss while the gas from the yeast doing its thing escaped the bottle.

Alas, there was none. It failed to carbonate. While a little disappointing, I was not going to let it get me down and I brought out a glass to see how the thing poured. With no carbonation, of course, there was no head. Instead, it poured a little like juice. It was a lovely deep red color, which I was heartened to see.

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It still smelled wonderful, though- a kind of sweet and sour maltiness. That gave me further hope for the taste. The first sip brought a heavy malt flavor, likely due to the lack of time the hops spent in the boil. Otherwise, it tasted very much like the smell. The sweetness did linger a bit throughout, until the sourness came in. That, in turn, gave way to a not unpleasant bitterness on the finish.

So, as I said, not bad for a brew I made on my own and a fun learning experience to boot. Now I want to try to re-pitch some yeast into the rest of the batch to see if I can get some suds into this beer. I will let you know how that turns out.

 

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Week 3 Brew 2: The Brown

The time has come to place this beautiful liquid into bottles. The smell is awesome– a kind of sweet and malty sourness that gives me every hope that this concoction will turn into delicious beer. I started by washing all my bottles in the dishwasher to clean off any dust or other particles that may have been on there. Then I filled a bucket with sanitizer solution, which consisted of a pack of powdered Star San that came with the kit. While the bottles were washing and the other parts were sanitizing, I went to the store to get some sugar.

IMG_1896At this point the beer is just about ready, but still needs some final settling in the bottles and carbonation. To do this, the remaining yeast particles still suspended in the beer need something to feed on. To do this, sugar is added to the mixture. Some kits come with stuff pre-made, but mine did not. So I got some corn sugar and mixed it in about 2 cups of water on the stove. While this came to a boil, I transferred the beer to another bucket to further reduce the yeast crud leftover. I took care to make sure it didn’t slosh around, as adding too much oxygen can make the beer taste stale. I also took this opportunity to take what is called the final gravity. This is the same thing as the original gravity, but much more of the suspended yeast is now fully fermented, so the number is lower. Using the hydrometer again, I came up with an alcohol content of about 5%.

Now, of course, I forgot to take the temperature of the mixture, as I was supposed to. This is because temperature affects how the yeast reacts in the beer during fermentation. Keep it too hot and you risk killing the yeast; keep it too cool and the yeast may not be active enough to initiate fermentation. No matter; the difference in temperature according to the scale on the hydrometer is a matter of .5%. Plus, we tasted it straight from the hydrometer container from which we took a sample and it tasted great– pretty much like the smell.

IMG_1894After the corn sugar was dissolved and cooled to make a syrupy mixture, I stirred this into the beer bucket. I allowed it to cool a bit more as I put the washed bottles into my sanitizing bucket, taking care to not let them knock into one another too much.

Then I set the bottling bucket up on the counter above the dishwasher. The idea was to use the dishwasher door to catch any overfilled bottles or other spills. You see, beer in this form tends to be quite sticky when spilled.

Once again using the auto IMG_1899siphon, I attached it to filling wand, which is basically a tube with a ball valve at the bottom and I filled each bottle rather quickly. A friend helped me by capping the bottles. I hope the result is something more drinkable than my last attempt, but nonetheless, this has been a fun experience and anything but my last…

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So now they sit for another week to “bottle condition,” during which time they will also (hopefully) carbonate.

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Week 2 Brew 2: The Brown

It’s the second week of The Brown brewing experiment and I am ready to move the beer to secondary fermentation. This is the stage during which the beer settles down and ages. To do this, I used an auto siphon to move the beer from the primary fermentation bucket to another bucket. The auto siphon, sometimes known as a “racking cane”, is a neat gadget that relies on suction to provide a continuous flow up the tube of the device and into a hose attached at the other end. This is much quicker than traditional siphoning using the mouth– not to mention much more sanitary.

IMG_1871This step in the process could not be easier: I merely placed the end of the auto siphon into the fermented brew, attached a 3/8″ hose to the outlet at the top of the siphon and placed the end of the hose into the secondary fermenting bucket. Then I just let it rip, taking care to let as little of the yeast muck into the transfer as possible. This is because beer in the secondary fermentation step is not to be exposed to the dead yeast and other debris (also known as “trub”) that have settled to the bottom of the primary fermenter. This helps avoid off flavors and such in the finished product.

The entire 3-gallon mixture took about 5 minutes to drain into the secondary bucket. After it was done, I just put the lid on the secondary bucket and wrapped it up with a towel like the previous week to keep the temperature more consistent throughout.

Now to wait another week while this does its thing. Then it will be time to bottle this stuff up!

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Week 1 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1889The time has come for my second attempt at brewing beer at home. This time I went with a Nut Brown Ale kit from All About Brewing. They have a pretty wide variety of kits to choose from and I seriously debated getting their Irish Red Ale kit as a sort of do-over from last time, but perhaps next time. This time I planned to dedicate myself to correcting as many of the wrongs, or things my inexperience told me were wrong, with the last batch. Not only was I going to sanitize all my equipment properly, but I told myself to read the instructions with a much keener eye. With these things in mind, I set to work.

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First, I compared all of the equipment to the list included on the box to make sure it was all there. After confirming it was, I set to cleaning everything in the box. This cannot be stressed enough for anyone thinking about brewing their own stuff at home: do not assume things are clean out of the box or merely “good enough” with a simple rinse; clean anything that could come into contact with your brew. Use sanitizer, either the stuff that comes in the kit, or if the kit does not include any, just go purchase a food grade sanitizer. Star San is a popular choice, but there are others. It can come in two forms: pre-mixed and the powder you have to mix into water yourself, like making some kind of weird Kool-Aid (although not harmful if it touches stuff you eat or drink from, it is still not recommended you drink it straight.)

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Once I was sure everything was clean, I moved on to the second step, which was to steep the grains. Now, this is the first place we messed up with our last brew, which brings me to my second recommendation: read all instructions CAREFULLY. In this step, you are not boiling the grains, but merely steeping them as with a tea bag in tea. Make sure you have a pot large enough to boil the amount of water appropriate to the amount of beer you want to end up with. This particular kit calls for 6 gallons of water, but I didn’t have a pot big enough for this, so I split a 5 gallon Sparkletts-style container between two pots, with about 3 gallons going into one pot and another gallon boiling in a smaller one alongside it.

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This allowed me to steep the grains in water that got hot enough on an electric stove to get to 170 degrees in a reasonable amount of time (~1 hour). When it got to 170, I removed the grain bag (which smelled delicious, by the way) and added the second pot of boiling water to get as close to the original 4 gallons I had started with. I brought the earthy-smelling water to a boil, which took about another 20 or so minutes, took it off the heat, stirred in the malt extract that was included in the kit, and brought that back up to a boil. At this point, the mixture is called “wort”.

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The malt step was kind of an adventure: I had to keep the canister of syrupy liquid in a bath of warm water to loosen it up and make sure I was able to get enough of the extract into the pot. Then I shook some hot water around the inside to get the last of it and…the canister exploded all over the kitchen. Yep, sticky, syrupy malt extract all over the place. Oh well- you live and you learn.

After it was at a boil again for 15 minutes, I added the bittering hops. The recipe called for a full 60 minute boil with the hops, but I like my beer less hoppy, so I decided to decrease the exposure of the hops. This kit came with a clarifying agent called a Whirlflock tablet. This helps to take any haziness out of the mixture. I added this tablet with about 5 minutes to go in the final boil.

While that was finishing up, I had a buddy watch the boil while I ran to the store to get some ice, as the next step was to cool the wort as quickly as possible. Last time, we used a chiller ring, but we didn’t have one for this brew, so the plan was to put the kettle in the sink and pack the sink with ice around the kettle. I figured direct contact with the metal sides of the kettle would transfer the heat pretty evenly. This process took much longer than I anticipated and about 30 minutes later I had it at 81 degrees. The instructions recommend 70-80 degrees, but I had an appointment in about 5 minutes, so I just wanted to get it done. I figured transferring the mixture to the primary fermenter would cool it down the rest of the way, anyway.

After transferring the 80-degree wort to the primary fermenting bucket, I added the yeast. The kit came with a packet of Safale US-05 yeast, which seems to be a pretty standard choice for making ales. I want to learn more about yeasts and maybe even culture my own someday. So, here is another step where I should have read more carefully, but in my rush, I did not… The packet is a dry yeast, similar to bread yeast, which means that I should have reconstituted it in 90-degree water for about 10 minutes before pitching it into the bucket with the wort. Well, I didn’t do that and just pitched the dry yeast straight into the bucket. This is what we did with our first brew and ended up with very carbonated beer (more on that in the third week).

It was at this point that I remembered something else I wanted to do this time that we had forgotten last time: to take what is called the ‘original gravity,’ which gives an idea of the potential alcoholic strength of the final brew. This measures the fermentable and unfermentable substances in the wort before fermentation. To do this, the kit came with an instrument called a hydrometer. It is a float or buoy with a scale printed on it that essentially compares the relative thickness of the liquid compared to just plain water. This brew came in at about 10% with this initial reading.

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Then I wrapped the fermenting bucket in a towel to keep the temperature somewhat consistent. We’ll see what happens, but for now, as with much of the beer-making process, all I can do is wait and prepare for week two: secondary fermentation.

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Micro-brew Mecca

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to two local breweries that I read about in the Mission Times Courier, Groundswell Brewing and Benchmark Brewing. These brewery start-ups are located right in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego, a commercial/industrial section just north of Mid City in San Diego. We went to Groundswell first, so let’s start there.

Oops, sorry- something broke Oops, sorry- something brokeIMG_1705Groundswell Brewing was started just last month in November, so they are just getting going with their production. It was started by 6 friends from the Art Institute San Diego. Most of them went to the culinary school, but Chris, the bartender who helped us, went for sound production. When he’s not brewing beer, his day job is running the sound system at San Diego Padres games at Petco Park.

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There wasn’t much to the outside- it’s in an industrial complex, all of which look the same, so I got some shots of the inside. This is a pretty comfortable place to just lay back on their pillowed benches, or belly up to the bar, order a brew and relax. There was Bob Marley blasting from the sound system to help mellow the mood. As I said, they just started up, so they didn’t have a huge selection, but I appreciate smaller selections of (hopefully) better beers. I decided on the Piloncillo Brown.Oops, sorry- something broke

I had high hopes for this beer, as I’m a big fan of brown ales. It poured a deep, dark brown, with a fairly bright, thin head. It reminded me of a semi-flat root beer. It smelled faintly of caramel and malt, with just the slightest hint of sweetness. The taste, however, was pretty bland. It didn’t have those roasty flavors I have come to expect from a brown ale. It was actually pretty tasteless, though more carbonated than the lack of head lead me to believe it would be. The aftertaste was the winner for this beer for me. It brought out all the aforementioned flavors and characteristics that were missing up front while drinking it. Overall, not a bad beer, but just nothing to write home about.

They are just starting out and Chris told us that they occasionally do specialty brews, so I will definitely check back with them to see how they come along.

Oops, sorry- something brokeOops, sorry- something brokeNext, we went to Benchmark Brewing, which is just around the corner from Groundswell. These guys have been around since April, so they have had some time to get their feet underneath them. This brewery is run by a man and wife team, with his mom helping out behind the bar. He is the head brewer, while his wife did all of the interior decoration. The decor isn’t half bad, either. It has your standard industrial feel, with little things here and there to help spruce it up a bit. For instance, the lighting over the bar consists of groups of reclaimed old flashlights tied together into chandeliers.Oops, sorry- something broke Oops, sorry- something brokeOops, sorry- something brokeThe walls are a kind of rustic wood grain, with old-timey lamps overhead. Under the stairs (going up which, a chain and sign saying “Stay on the trail” discourages) is a nice rock garden with some children’s toys. Our host told us that since opening, they have discovered that the sand in the rock garden serves as a fun sandbox for kids who come in with their parents. She also let us know that Benchmark is currently just producing for corporate accounts and plans to focus on the smaller batch production for their tasting room later. Probably the coolest thing about Benchmark is their policy on growler fills:  you can bring in any growler from any other brewery and they will fill it with any of their beers, so long as you somehow obscure the other brewery’s label on the growler. She advised that this is due to a change in California state law that says breweries and tasting rooms can freely dispense their product in any (legal) way they see fit. Now, mind you, they are not required to fill growlers from other breweries; it is just a nice service they offer to those who choose to come into their tasting room.

IMG_1710Now onto the beer. None of their beers are high in alcohol, making for a nice way to taste all they have to offer. Although the Dubbel was tempting, I decided to go with their oatmeal stout.
This one poured like a rich, dark coffee, with a tan, frothy head. It smelled like coffee, brown sugar and roasted malt. The first thing to hit my tongue, after the creaminess of the head, was the malt. It coated my entire mouth for a good while. This kind of masked most of the other flavors that may have been present. I wouldn’t call it oily, but it was certainly a thick mouth feel. The real experience, much like with the brown from Groundswell, was in the aftertaste. The brown sugar sweetness followed the roasted malt flavor, which was itself followed by a sort of fruity character. I was left with flavors of coffee bitterness and roasted malt on the finish. I really enjoyed this beer and at only a little over 4% abv, I would be able to enjoy a few of these.

I enjoyed Benchmark a little more than Groundswell, but as I said, the former has had a little more time to get going.

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KnB 5 Anniversary

Test batch tasterLast Thursday I went to my friendly neighborhood brewery/bar KnB Wine Cellars. I’ve written about them before and I continue to love this place more each time I go. This time I went for the third day of their 4 day long 5-year anniversary celebration. To commemorate this day they were tapping 3 of their own test batches, along with some new menu items. Since I love everything that I’ve tried on their regular menu (so far), I was pretty excited to try anything new they had to offer and they did not disappoint. Come along and let me take you on a little journey…

First up, I ordered a Figueroa Mountain Davy Brown (6% abv). This has a smooth, creamy head, with a medium-dark color. The taste is nutty and creamy, with light hints of caramel and a noticeable caramel aftertaste.

Next I wanted to try each of their KnB Test Batch beers, #3, #4 and #5. I didn’t get to try #1 or #2, which appear to have been IPAs (here is the only “review” of #2 I was able to find). I wanted to start low to high on the alcohol content and still be sober enough to enjoy them. I thought the best way to do this would be to order their beer flight sampler, which is pictured above.

I started the sampler with Test Batch #4, which was a saison (8.1% abv). This beer is a dark yellow, cloudy and very fizzy. The head loosely laces the glass and doesn’t stick around long. The characteristic sour smell of this beer may be off putting to some, but I found it kind of refreshing. Also, the sour taste of lemon and grapefruit, with a little peach mixed in was pretty good. The tart aftertaste stuck around a while and while it was not unpleasant, I felt like heartburn was likely. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen.

Then I went to Test Batch #3, an American strong ale (9.0% abv). A dark burnt orange and semi opaque, I was really looking forward to this beer. I waited too long to get to this one and the head had all but disappeared, but that didn’t seem to take away from the taste at all. It had a semi-sweet, very rich flavor. Its high alcohol content was really apparent cutting through after the initial sweetness. The aftertaste was about the same, though I was feeling the effects of the alcohol by then, so it may have just clouded my taste buds.

Next, I tried the Test Batch#5, an imperial stout (11.2% abv). This was super dark, with a semi-sweet, sugary smell. I again waited too long (20 mins) to get a good look at the full head, but what was left held lightly to glass. The taste was very rich and sweet, with brown sugar and mild spice (cinnamon?). The heavy, sweet aftertaste of caramel was appropriate for such a big beer, but in the end, the sweetness was just a bit overpowering for me.

I was going to stop there, but there was a Shipyard Smasher Pumpkin (9.0% abv) right there on the menu, taunting me. I couldn’t help myself. This beauty poured a surprisingly bright orange color, with an off-white, medium creamy head. It smelled sweet and spicy, with a noticeable pumpkin aroma. It had a very creamy feel to it and tasted a bit creamy as well. I could easily pick out brown sugar, pumpkin, cloves, a little cinnamon- pretty much pumpkin pie in a glass. The cinnamon aftertaste with some brown sugar and clove finished the beer nicely.

I should point out that while I don’t pretend to be a professional, or even experienced beer reviewer, I am able to pick out certain common elements. I may not always use the “correct” terms, but I hope it’s apparent that I do love and truly appreciate beer. Which beers are you most excited about?

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