Differences in Hops

I’ve gotten a number of homebrews under my belt. One way I decided to experiment was to make the same beer in terms of malt and process but change the hops. While it’s helpful to read the hop profiles that people have put together the only real way to figure out how I perceive the profiles is to dive in and and see what happens. The basic idea is that I’d be able to pick out differences in how well a hop bitters, flavors and adds aroma when it comes to my taste buds. So far I’ve only done two of these experiments but the results were enlightening!

The Rules

Hop PelletsTo do the experiments such that I could trust the results I needed to have rules in place:

1. The same DME and steeping grains (if used) must be used for all brews in the experiment
2. A standard IBU must defined to hit. I decided on 40 IBU
3. More than two hop additions must happen during the boil. One addition must be at 15 minutes or under
4. Dry hopping will always be 1 week and will be 1 oz
5. Only 1 variety of hops may be used

Experiment 1: Chinook

My first brew for the experiment was all Chinook. I read a bit about the hop and noted the conventional wisdom was that a little goes a long way. What better hop to try than one that most people think can be overdone! The result of a 40 IBU Pale Ale (closing in on IPA) was a beer that was complex enough to stand on it’s own. The bittering was strong and set up for the flavors to follow. The flavoring brought with it pine, earthy notes and a little orange and grapefruit like citrus. One person described it as “orange rind like”. Aroma is where chinook fell down. Dry hopping did not produce the strong aromas that I would have expected from such a potent hop. While present, the aroma was light. All in all this was both a success for the experiment as well as my taste buds.

Experiment 2: Citra

Citra is a very popular hop addition which is spoken of fondly by many homebrewers and avid IPA lovers. As the name implies it has a strong citrus side but also includes a lot of tropical fruit like characteristics. Citra also produced a good, strong bittering. This I expected based on the Chinook results. as both varieties have high alpha acids. However the flavoring and aroma differences were quite shocking. The flavor is much more citrusy than chinook. This itself was not shocking but what did get me was the simplistic nature of the hop when compared with chinook. I found myself highly enjoying the pint to start and, by the time I was 7/8’s through the glass being bored. The complexity that chinook has is not present with citra but more on this in a moment. The aroma that citra gives is strong and inviting. A combination of sharp citrus notes and smooth tropical fruits. Using this in a dry hop mixture seems like it would produce some great things! Unlike chinook it seemed like citra needs mixing to get the complexity that my taste buds want. The flavor and aroma was pretty much the same (and the bittering was bittering as one expects). So by the time the glass was nearing empty I was bored with citra. I think citra shines best when used with other hops, not as a single hop.

Conclusions

I didn’t expect the two to be that different in their usage. I figured there would be differences in flavor and aroma but not as much in the complexity ability. Both produced good beers but, of the two, the chinook based on is easier to drink more than one while the citra based beer is good for a glass (and fades through the glass). In other words the experiment has already proven useful to me and I’m only two hops into it. I’m eager to find out how other hops fit into the puzzle!

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It Doesn’t Have To Be Craft To Be Good But It Helps

It’s true. Or at least I believe it is. I’ve been using Untappd long enough to be able to see some basic trends in what I find to be quality beer. The overwhelming majority is craft beer (big craft, micro, nano, gypsy, brewpub, etc..) but, to my surprise, there were some macros which I legitimately enjoyed as well. The top three macros were:

Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse Natürtrub
I didn’t know this was a macro brewery else I honestly would have passed on it. I’m glad I didn’t know as it’s one of my favorite hefe beers. It’s got nice, strong banana esters, good feel and easy to drink.

Guinness Stout
Probably the most obvious one and on many lists. It’s not my favorite dry stout ever but it is tasty on draft. In a can or bottle I will probably pass unless the list is all macros. I can never seem to shake that extra bitter taste that accompanies bottled Guinness.

Murphy’s Irish Stout
Also done by a macro. I’ve never seen it on tap but for a dry stout in a can it’s good. It does have a thinner mouth feel that can turn some away but, for me, it works well.

While it’s nothing earth shattering it does tell me to judge less on the maker and more on the brew. It’s possible for macro including MBC to release a well crafted beer. But probably less likely. I don’t believe that macro beers will shoot up on my list any time soon, but I welcome the few that hit the spot.

Second Homebrew: Great Success!

My first homebrew was an experience that taught me a lot but had poor taste results. My second attempt, an American IPA, turned out much, much better. As one would expect my IPA was full of hoppy goodness. Since I’m still new I decided to use a kit from the fine folks at American Brewmaster. The recipe I used called for Summit, Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo. I decided to add Columbus for a short dry hop as a way to make the recipe my own.

Hop Bill

After brewing I kept in primary for 10 days and then racked into a secondary for dry hoping. While I probably didn’t need to move to secondary to dry hop I decided it was worth doing due to my worry about keeping the beer on the trub too long (I know now it takes a lot longer than a few weeks to cause a problem ..). Next I dry hopped in secondary for 4 days. Why four days? Mainly because I really wanted to find out if my brew worked out this time and couldn’t wait. So after four days I racked to my bottle bucket with my carb sugar, filled the bottles and capped.

After 1 week of bottle conditioning I decided to see how well carbonation was coming along. This is what I saw after an aggressive pour.

Test Batch #2

I was happily shocked. I was not expecting so much carbonation so quickly! My first brew never got half that carb’d! Like my first try the aroma was amazing but I knew the kicker would come with a first taste. So I took a few bottles and threw them in the fridge for tasting later.

I pulled the bottle and shared it for a testing. Both of us agreed it was quite good. It cleared up a bit compared to the above picture but it still needed some time to settle. Here is my review (of my own beer so take it with a grain of salt…).

Sciential Ale Labs: Test Batch #2

Appearance

Hazy. Color similar to Lagunitas IPA. A finger and a half of slightly off white head which slowly dissipates into small layer of persistant head.

Smell

Slight pine with earthy/herbal notes. Nothing overpowering. Reminds me more of a pale ale.

Taste

Nice and bitter but balanced well with a malty backbone. There is also a very slight ester profile as well which surprisingly works in the brews favor adding a bit of fruit complexity. The hop profile is hard for me to really explain but the closest comercial beer I can equate the bitterness portion of flavor with would be Sierra Nevada‘s Torpedo. As the ale warmed up the bitterness came through even more. Even nearing room temperature the beer still was tasty!

Mouthfeel

Medium mouthfeel with consistant carbonation. Possibly a little creamier than should be due to things still not being settled.

Overall

Happily surprised. For me this is a pretty unique beer (though is probably pretty common in homebrew circles). My rating is 4/5 stars.

Others

I’ve gotten two pieces of feed back so far on my first successful homebrew. The first was simply “Oh, that’s good!” during the shared tasting. The other was an unsolicited text from a friend when he popped the cap and gave it a whirl: “Your beer is excellent.” That feedback made me feel pretty good.

On Deck

I’ve since brewed an Abbey Dubbel and a single hop American Pale Ale of my own design. Both are in primary. If both of these come through successfully I’ll feel pretty confident in my process.

That Darn First Homebrew

While some people remember their first homebrew as something that brought great fun and great taste it’s not my story. My story is one that is far greater than the simple beer that started it all for a hobbyist. See, it was a comedy of errors that taught me much more than a simple yet tasty first batch could have.

My very first attempt at homebrewing was a hefeweizen. I chose a hefeweizen for a few reasons. First it’s one of my favorite styles of beer. There is something about the esters and light ody that draws me in. Then there was the temperature control factor. I believed, correctly I might add, it to be easier to keep my place warm than keep it cool even in winter. Since esters are wanted in the hefeweizen style and esters are more common in higher brewing tempature it seemed like the perfect fit.

What I didn’t think about was that my first try was going to be with such a delicate style. In fact Big Beard Brewconsin even noted this after I wrote my first Homebrew post. It’s not like attempting a hop bombed IPA or a malty stout where mistakes can be overpowered by the primary flavors. With a lighter beer hiding defects isn’t so easy and my beer was full of mistakes.

The first big mistake was in my boil. As I noted previously I let it boil over. Luckily it was only for a second and I was able to recover before losing too much. This was probably the most minor of all your mistakes.

Up next was a common rookie mistake. I didn’t know that the tempature in the primary could be 5 or more degrees warmer than the outside. I had my ambient temperature at 72F thinking that I was keeping the fermentation somewhere around there. In reality in was keeping things somewhere in the upper 70s! I’m sure this caused the yeast to be stressed and put out byproducts.

But the mistakes kept rolling and I let the beer stay in primary too long. The beer really was done after a week and half, maybe two but I kept it in primary for almost three weeks. Why? Because it seemed like that’s what many homebrewers were recommending on forums, blogs, etc.. Keeping that beer for a week and a half after fermentation was done is one of the causes for an infusion of extreme bitterness to not the back end. When it was time to dispose of the trub it had a very distinct smell which was present in the bitter aftertaste of the beer.

When it came time to bottle I misused the autosiphon. I should have had the primary higher and the bottle bucket lower but I put them on the same level. This caused me to more or less pump the beer from bucket to bucket causing a lot of aeration. The taste of cardboard that seeped in is likely from this error.

I believe the first process showed me what can happen when specific things go wrong. So far I’ve avoided all of the mistakes I made with my first try with my second homebrew: A partial grain American IPA. It’s currently in primary and resting inside a slightly larger water container (to help keep temperature). More to come soon, I’m sure!

Two Beers I Don’t Get

I like very trying new beers. It’s no secret. But recently I had two beers, in a row, that I could not wrap my head around. Don’t misunderstand, these were not bad beers but beers that either fly over my head or I expected too much from.

312 is golden
Photo credit: swanksalot)

The first beer is Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat. What is an urban wheat? I don’t know either. According to Beer Advocate it’s an American Pale Wheat Ale. Now APWA’s are a style I enjoy – In fact Bell’s Oberon is way up there on my list – but I just could not figure out the beers concept. First off, it’s a very light APWA and clearer than I’d expect. The aroma was very faint grassy and maybe slight lemon. The taste was wheat and an extremely faint hint of lemon. Both fade away to a water like taste after a few sips reminiscent of a cheap light lager. Mouth feel was light carbonation and supper thin. It was after roughly an eighth if the pint I said enough and drained it. It was almost like a cream ale but with wheat malt. Not close to what I want out of an APWA. As a side note I learned that Goose Island is owned by a very large company with a poor reputation with craft beer lovers …

Petrus dubbel bruin
(Photo credit: Lec)

The second beer was from another of my beloved styles: the dubbel. I’ve enjoyed St. Bernardus Pater 6, Chimay Rouge and the Westmalle Trappist Dubbel and I I walk by Petrus bottles every time I’m in the Belgian isle. It was time to try Brouwerij Bavik’s take on the dubbel. After pouring into a goblet I noticed quickly the low carbonation. There was some very minor white off lacing but it didn’t look anything like what I expected. The aroma was carmel, brown sugar and spices. The taste initially was dominated by sweetness followed by an RC Cola like flavor. After that I couldn’t shake that, not only did it taste like half flat RC Cola, it even looked a bit like it as well. And it wasn’t the pleasant hint cola like taste of Foothills Peoples Porter. Maybe I got a dud bottle?

Raleigh Brewing Company: First Taste

Today was the opening of the Raleigh Brewing Company which kicked off with a 7 hour opening celebration. I was able to enjoy roughly three and a half hours drinking, talking and just having a good time.

The place is much bigger than I expected. The main entrance serves as the door to both the homebrewing shop as well as the main bar area.

Be hind the bar is a warehouse/brewery area which also has a back in slot for food trucks. On opening night there was plenty of cornhole games going.

Unfortunately the doors opened before 5pm but they wouldn’t sell tickets for beer or food until the 5pm mark. This was a little awkward as a line formed waiting to get ID’d and ticketed with some people being turned away from the line. This caused a little crowed watching other people drinking. This was the only oddity of the night.

Once the general public was allowed in things started to move quickly. I was in the first five people to enter from the general public and went straight to the taps. Unsurprisingly people were friendly and civil at the bar. When a bartender asked the fellow next to me what he’d like the man kindly stated that he was third in line after me and another fellow. People were easy to talk to and just having a fun time. True craft crowd!

Beers

City of Blokes

I’m not really a fan of English bitters. I’ve not had a ton but, of those I have tired, I did enjoy Fuller’s ESB. City to find Blokes was my first pour and it wasn’t bad! I chose it so I wouldn’t be putting my first taste up against some of my all time favorites in the Belgian or IPA categories. It also helped that it had such a low ABV.

House of Clay

I was going to down a HellYesMa’am but decided to try the Rye IPA. I was seriously impressed. This may be my go to beer when visiting the establishment. It has an amazing citrus aroma and a nice job bite. I’m a fan of Sierra Nevada‘s Ruthless Rye but this has something it doesn’t. Maybe it’s simply the freshness, I’m not sure, but I really like it.

End Result

Fun night, good people, good beer. It was a success. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other core beers … especially that HellYesMa’am!

Raleigh Brewing Company Opens Today

Today marks the opening of the newest craft brewery in Raleigh: Raleigh Brewing Company. It’s sort of funny. By now you’d think someone else would have already chosen this name as there is no shortage of breweries springing up in the area.

The beer line up looks interesting. To be honest I’m surprised to see three English inspired beers (ESB, Porter, Scottish Ale) in an opening line up. I’ll likely try the ESB named “City of Blokes” as I’m assuming they see their strong point in English styles.

The test batch ratings are available already on Untappd. This may be a great way to decide what you’d like to sample if you are able to drop in. However, keep in mind that early tasters are probably looking at a beer with more of a critical palate than they would if they were simply dropping in for a drink. Here is the data logged by the tasters:

  • City of Blokes Test Batch (ESB): 3.53/5 Stars
  • Blatherskite Test Batch (Scottish Ale): Not Listed
  • House of Clay Test Batch(Rye IPA): 3.65/5 Stars
  • HellYesMa’am Test Batch (Belgian Golden): Not Listed
  • Coffee Porter (May be Hidden Pipe Test Batch) (Porter): 3.63/5 Stars
  • The Uncommon (May be Uncommon Curiosity Test Batch) (Blonde Lager): 3.64/5 Stars

At this time it looks like untappd is the only popular online beer location which has Raleigh Brewing Company beers listed. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer didn’t return any results though I’m pretty sure this will change today.

Trophy: A Nano Brewery

Nestled a bit behind Raleigh’s Central Prison is a new nano brewery which has already been making some waves. It’s name? Trophy Brewing. It is a three barrel brewery which already has plans for minor expansion with pizza planned in the near future. And this is happening in a place where craft beer has been booking and new breweries are opening up left and right. But enough of all the background, let’s get down to the good stuff.

The Place

Right now the size of the place is holding Trophy back. My guess is roughly 30 people can be in there at any one time as long as about half of them are standing. They are working on adding a patio which should open things up a bit.

For now things are tight. The first two times I wanted to stop in the place was so packed I decided to just move on. After a while the traffic will slow down but for now finding the right time to make it in requires luck and some voodoo.

Parking is very limited. It’s probably best to park elsewhere and walk over.

The place has trophies lining the edges of the ceiling as well as trophies for tap handles. The decorations are minimal. Color scheme is woody and slightly retro.

The Beers

Sampled

Trophy Wife

American Pale Ale

Untappd

This was a highly drinkable APA. Generally I like more hop in a pale ale but this take on the style works. A bit sweeter than I would have expected with a much more understated citrus characteristic. So much so that it’s even less than the citrusy west coast IPA styles.

If you wish APA’s would be have less citrus, less hops yet keep the same mouth feel, aroma and a bitterness bite this should be on your list.

Biggest Flirt

Belgian IPA

Untappd

This was, unsurprisingly, my favorite of the tasting due to my love for Belgian style beer. Staying true to the Belgian heritage the brew was not overly hoppy. If it wasn’t for the name I’d have thought it was a lighter in color, general Belgian ale of some kind. Don’t let the IPA in the name fool you. It also was quite low in carbonation. I don’t know if this was a choice or just the will of the yeast. In appearance it was a bit of a turn off but the taste and liveliness of each sip did not suffer.

Best In Show

American Saison

Untappd

I have been on a saison kick and was a bit disappointed in this one. It was just too sweet and not as complex as I’d like in the style. Even the color was different than what I normally see in other saisons.

Don’t misunderstand me the drink is not poorly crafted, just not what I want out of a farmhouse ale.

Note they do specifically call this out as an American Saison. I’m not sure if there is a difference between traditional saisons or not.

Limbo Champ 

American Brown Ale

Untappd

This was the biggest surprise for me. Usually brown ales do nothing at all for me with exception to the CBC Maduro. Limbo Champ adds another exception to my list. Not only did I notice how easy it goes down but was intrigued by the chocolate and toffee notes I usually notice in its stouty brethren. Brown ale purists need not apply.

Eye Catching

The King

Belgian Dubbel

This I’ve yet to have only because they had already ran out of it before I was able to get in! Peanut butter and bananas (brewed with peanuts and includes plenty of esters). Here’s hopping it makes a comeback.

Trophinator

Dopplebock

This I took home in a growler for sampling later. Trophy describes it’s as a “Strong German style lager with notes of caramel and brown sugar.” Can’t wait to try it! It’s mocking me from my fridge.

Conclusion

In a city that has breweries springing up everywhere Trophy is going to need to find it’s nitch to stand out. Brews like The King, Limbo Champ and a few others not listed above show Trophy is willing to embrace the old extreme beer notions and experiment with taste. If they can grow to understand and supply the demand for their concoctions they may be able to take a front seat in a crowded NC beer marketplace.

Cream Stout? Yes! Cream Ale? No.

Recently I ranted about cream ales. More specifically trying to figure out who actually enjoys them. Earlier in the week I decided to give it another go but accidentally picked up a cream stout instead. Silly me.

Bell's Special Double Cream Stout
(Photo credit: tabounds)

I originally thought I would only be deciding what I thought of cream stouts via this single example of the style. The bottle was a Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout. As it turns out a cream stout is another term for one of my favorite styles of beer: the milk stout. It was pretty obvious after the first few sips that this was, if nothing else, something very similar to a milk stout. Chocolate and toffee like sweetness up front followed by a bit of espresso.

What makes me think though is how vastly different the styles are yet they both use the term cream. One style uses cream to mean light and bland while the other uses it to mean sweet and thick. I think of it sort of like:

Cream ale: Slightly grainy, bland, carbonated, light colored and watery drink with some alcohol.
Cream stout: Sweeter, chocolate with some espresso notes, smooth, carbonated, dark colored and mildly dry beer with normal levels of alcohol for beer.

Seems like opposites to me! I’ll likely continue using the term milk stout simply because so many in the style seem to favor it.

I’m still trying to find a good example of a cream ale to try that is enjoyed by the style’s fans. Unfortunately I’m still stuck trying to find the fans to get a good recommendation. Until then I’ll stick to the stouts when enjoying beers of the cream variety.

Homebrew: Second Look

Earlier I posted about my not so great early look at my first homebrew. That was from a test done earlier in this week using a bottle which had matured 1 week and then stayed in the fridge for a little under a week. Today is the two week in bottle mark so I decided to pull one bottle from the batch to pour it and test it. To be totally honest I figured it would be not too far off from my original test but the results were dramatically different.

There is carbonation. A good amount of it. I still think it will be a better move to use the sugar in the bottling bucket next time but this does alleviate one of my fears relating to that I may have to drain the entire batch due to flatness. As a side note I also believe my fridge may have been set a bit too cold as well which could have been a (small) factor in the lackluster carbonation in the first trial.

The smell is much improved. The smell from the first test is hard to describe but the best I can come up with is banana, sugar and some spices. It wasn’t un-heffe like but it was still off. The smell now is much more of a solid banana and spice aroma.

The look has improved as well. The first test had a darker tone to it. Maybe it was related to flatness but, no matter what the reason, this has a darker (but not dark) wheat look to it.

My Hefeweizen in poor light
English: wheat beer Deutsch: Weizenbier
Wheat Beer in amazing light (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This makes me feel a lot better about homebrewing. I’ve been a bit rocky thinking I made too many mistakes and preparing for the worst but things are looking up!