Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring and Summer Brews

I haven't brewed in a few weeks now, but it feels like an age. My Blue Blood lager is in the bottle (to be opened for the first time this weekend), and my Red Pheasant Pilsner will be in the bottle soon. It is high time to plan some brews.

Many of you are aware of the hop shortage, and that is something that has been weighing on my mind as I was planning recently. I have a fair bit of hops left over from the winter brewing, and I've actually laid my hands on another ten ounces of several different varieties, so I should be okay for a while.

But hops are only a small part of the picture. Two pieces that I have recently read have sort of changed some of the plans that I was making for my upcoming beers. The first is the book Brew Like a Monk. Having cut my beer drinking teeth on German beer, I felt a small bit of disdain for Belgian beers. Reading that book completely changed how I look at beer, think about beer, and has caused me to revise some of my goals for brewing beer. The Belgians make some amazing beers, and there are quite a few of them who use one grain and one type of hops in their beer. They use the yeast to drive the taste.

The other was an article in Brew Your Own magazine. There was a column in this month's issue where a guy was complaining to the columnist about how his pale ale basically always sucked. One of the key things the writer said in his answer was to try and keep things simple at the beginning. I look at homebrew forums alot, and there are tons of dudes with a post title like: First AG-Double Imperial IPA. Their grain bill looks like a laundry list, and they're using four different types of hops. That's all well and good, but what if it doesn't taste right? How do you decide that it was the 1/2 pound of CaraPils that was too much versus dry hopping with three different varieties? It's very easy to go from a complex taste to something that is just weird.

That kind of brings this post full circle. Up to this point I've paid attention to yeast, but only insofar as I was interested in pitching the proper amounts. My recipes have not been needlessly complex, but I would like to get a little more acquainted with individual ingredients, to know when I can push the envelope a little or when to back off.

To that end, my beers for the spring and summer are going to be very simple recipes. One or two grains. One or two hops. I'm going to try and limit myself to two different kinds of yeast (an American ale yeast, and a Belgian ale yeast). I think if I can make consistently good beers within those narrow parameters, I'll feel better about adding ingredients in future brewing seasons.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rupert Lager

On this Sunday, we shall hear a reading from the prophet Patterson. "Thus sayeth the dog: his single decoction mashout skills shall be the envy of the near west side, and the back porch shall not be sullied by gigantic boilovers and moronic lautering."

The last few brew days, and their aftermaths, have been full of issues. To say the least. I felt like I had learned a lot during my previous batches, but that learning had yet to translate into a smooth brew day. I have proved that an old dog can learn new tricks.

The recipe:
7.00 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row)
1.00 lbs. Munich Malt(2-row)
1.00 lbs. Victory Malt
1.00 lbs. Crystal 60L

0.50 oz. Hallertau 8.50 60 min.
0.50 oz. Crystal 3.25 15 min.
0.50 oz. Crystal 3.25 0 min.

Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager- I made a starter of this from yeast that I harvest from the bottom of my two previous batches. It fermented those out extremely well, despite my lack of temperature control.

SG- 1.046
IBU- 20.9
SRM- 11.9

I mashed in at 152 degrees, and then did a decoction to get my mash out temp. In retrospect, I would have bought a 10 gallon cooler instead of a 5 gallon to give some flexibility on how I mash, but it's probably fine as it's caused me to try decoctions and fly sparging, which I think I would have put off otherwise. My brewhouse efficiency seems to be sticking at about 71%. I chalk this up to the fact that I'm using a bottling bucket as my hot liquor tank. It doesn't hold water temperature very well, so my sparge starts out with 175 degree water, and finishes with 165. It will be interesting to see if that efficiency stays the same when the weather is nicer and that water temp is a little more constant.

There isn't much to tell about the brewing itself. I feel like I'm starting to get my setup pretty dialed in, and the execution gets smoother with practice. In fact it went so well, that I was able to make myself some lunch during the boil. And by "make myself some lunch," I mean that I was able to burn a grilled cheese sandwich to a cinder.

A note on the name of the beer: Rupert was one of Kerry's rabbits. He was known for his big nose, and his hijinks. He liked to, on occasion, have Kerry's other rabbit run a diversion so that he could steal a sandwich or a bag of corn chips. That dude deserves a beer named after him.