Rich’s Pale Ale 2.0

April 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm

This is my second iteration of my Pale Ale recipe (version 1 can be found here).  For the most part I kept the grain bill the same, a mix of American 2-Row with some Vienna for color and maltiness.  I did however modify both the type of and amount of Crystal Malts in the grist.  I swapped out the C-120 for C-80 in the second version and also upped the overall percentage of crystal malts to 6.4% of the total grist vs. 4.% in version 1.  As I discussed in my tasting notes for my original recipe (tasting notes) the first version was slightly more hop forward, so I’m hoping the slight increase in the Crystal malts will work to make the second version a bit more balanced.

The main area that I focused on re-working for the second version was the hop profile.  I was fortunate enough to get my hands on 1 lb packages of Amarillo and Simcoe, two of the more popular hops, and wanted to incorporate them into my Pale Ale as they are known to work amazingly together. I used a backloaded hop schedule of 60, 20, 5, and 0 minutes to capture the the classic American citrus hop flavors associated with these hops. I also added some Chinook at flame out in an effort to introduce some pine and fruity notes to give the beer multiple layers of hop aromas.

I decided to do a split batch fermentation as I am planning on brewing this beer for my wedding and still in full out experimentation mode.  I decided to use Safale 05 for its clean fermentation for one batch. This traditional yeast choice for an American Pale Ale should serve as a good contrast to the second batch, which I decided to ferment with White Labs Burton Ale strain.  For this batch I am hoping the fruity notes from this strain will provide a nice interplay with the fruity/citrus hop aromas and contribute to the overall malt flavors in it.

I will be looking to see how the different yeast strains effect the perceived hop flavors as well as bitterness. Since I would up brewing 11 gallons I am also planning on dry hopping a small amount of the second version with some coffee beans in addition to the Amarillo/Simcoe/Chinook additions.  Stay tuned for tasting notes on  all three versions of Rich’s Pale Ale 2.0.

Rich’s Pale Ale 2.0

Batch Size: 12 Gallons

Original Gravity: 1.064
Est. Final Gravity: 1.016
ABV: 6.3%
IBU: 42.3
Color: 8.7 SRM
Boil Time: 90 Min

75.3% American 2-Row
18.3% Vienna Malt
4.1% Crystal 80 Malt
2.3% Crystal 40 Malt

1.25 Oz Amarillo (9.8% AA) at 60 min
1 Oz Amarillo (9.8% AA) at 20 min
1 Oz Simcoe (12.20% AA) at 20 min
1 Tbsp Irish Moss at 15 min
1 Oz Amarillo (9.8% AA) at 5 min
1 Oz Simcoe (12.2% AA) at 5 min
1 Oz Chinook  (13.1% AA) at 0 min
1 Oz Amarillo (9.8% AA) at 7 Day Dry Hop
1 Oz Simcoe (12.2% AA) at 7 Day Dry Hop
1 Oz Chinook  (13.1% AA) at 7 Day Dry Hop

Split Batch Fermentation

6 Gallon: 3.2 L Starter of White Labs 023 Burton Ale Yeast
5 Gallon: 1 Pack Safale 05


60 minutes at 152 F (Saccharification Rest)
10 minutes at 165 F (Mash Out)

Ferment at ambient air temperature of 62 F


Lost 1 gallon to hop matter.

Due to a mis-configuration in Beer Smith I pulled more wort than I should have, thus the 90 minute boil.  A 60 minute boil would be appropriate for this beer and I will use one for future batches.


Pale Ale Ingredients

Update: Make sure that you use a blow off tube when using WLP 023 Burton Ale Yeast!!

photo (2)

German Hefeweizen Yeast Experiment

April 14, 2013 at 9:51 am

My fiance and I will be getting married this October at the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  I will be brewing all the beer for our wedding, so needless to some of my brewing this year is going to focus on fine tuning the beers for our big day.  The plan is to brew four 10 gallon batches of moderate alcohol beers and serve a 2.5 gal keg of either the Cognac or Bourbon Lets Grow Old Together Ale, depending on which tastes better, throughout the evening.  While neither my fiance nor I are particularly German, we have fully embraced the venue and are planning an Oktoberfest themed wedding with Brats, Spatzel, and of course a good ol’ German style Hefeweizen.

The recipe is fairly straight forward for a German Hefeweizen with a 3:2 wheat to barley grist ratio.  I added a small amount of Vienna Malt for color and some added complexity to the overall mouthfeel.  I selected traditional German hops in Hallertauer Mittelfrueh for its mild bitterness and herbal flavor contributions.  A great Hefeweizen is made by the yeast and the mash schedule as they contribute to the production of the classic banana and clove flavors.  I wound up using WLP351 Bavarian Weizen described as imparting “moderately high, spicy, phenolic overtones reminiscent of cloves.”  and a traditional Hefeweizen step mash schedule of 111, 126, 151, and 168 degrees.

The Experiment

My original thought was to experiment with several different Hefe yeast strains, however I had to change my plans when a trip to my LHBS turned up only one Hefe strain.  After a bit of research I discovered that the yeast pitch rate can directly influence ester production that gives the classic clove/banana flavors of a hefeweizen.  Although this is somewhat of a contested thought (many people believe the risks of under-pitching outweigh any potential rewards) I decided to give it a try.  Generally speaking there are three ways to create a more banana flavored hefeweizen.  The first is yeast strain selection, the second is temperature, and the third is pitch rates.  The hotter a hefeweizen ferments (66-68 Deg plus) the more banana flavors will be produced, similarly if the yeast is under-pitched and thus stressed during the ramp up phase of fermentation it will also produce these flavors.

Since I ferment my beers in a fairly stable cool basement (ambient temperature 62 Deg.) and WLP351 is described as producing clove forward hefeweizens one would assume with a proper pitch of yeast I would finish with a clove forward hefeweizen with little to no banana flavors.  Since I wanted to brew two unique beers from one batch I decided to pitch one carboy with the proper yeast rates and the second with 40% less yeast in an effort to create a more banana forward less clove flavored beer.  However, like many things in life, the best laid plans often go awry.  After spending a week diligently growing the proper amount of yeast required for my experiment I wound up with a much more efficient mash than usual (79% vs the usual 72%) and in turn a much stronger OG than I had planed for.  After some debate I decided to add sanitized water to my final volume so that I would still be at my planned OG of 1.048, albeit with 12 gallons instead of 11.

While usually I would be thrilled with a more efficient brew-day, my carefully planned yeast pitch experiment went by the wayside.  Since I didn’t have time to grow additional yeast I wound up under-pitching both 6 gallon batches.  The first carboy was under-pitched by 25% and the second carboy was under-pitched by 55%.  While the increased efficiency caused my experiment to lose its control I’m still looking forward to the results.  By some accounts under-pitching 25% will have little to no overall impact on the final flavor profile of the beer so I am still hopeful I will finish with two distinct hefeweizens, one clove forward and one banana forward.  Check back for the results in a few weeks.

German Hefeweizen

Batch Size: 12 Gallons
Original Gravity: 1.048
Est. Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 5.0%
IBU: 12.6
Color: 4.7 SRM
Boil Time: 60 Min

66.7% Wheat Malt
27.3% Belgian Pilsner
6.1% Vienna Malt
1 lb Rice Hulls

1 Oz Hallertaur Mittelfrueh (4% AA) at 45 min
1 Tbsp Irish Moss at 15 min
1.25 Oz Hallertaur Mittelfrueh (4% AA) at 20 min

4.11 L Starter of White Labs 351 Bavarian Weizen Yeast

Step Mash:
15 minutes at 111.2 F (Feurilic Acid Rest)
10 minutes at 126 F (Protein Rest)
45 minutes at 150.8 F (Saccharification Rest)
10 minutes at 168 F (Mash Out)

Carboy #1 25% Under Pitch: 2.75 L
Carboy #2 55% Under Pitch: 1.135 L

Ferment at ambient air temperature of 62 F

Update: So after sampling both batches I could not tell a significant difference between the two different pitched batches.  With that being said I did feel that the underpitched batch tasted a bit thinner and had some extremely slight off flavors (potentially from extreme yeast stress, but i’m not sure), there is also a chance this is just my mind trying to rationalize that they should taste different.  

I have come to conclude that while underpitching hefeweizen yeast maybe able to directly effect the clove/banana ratio in the final beer there is a temperature or temperature range that if fermented below, no matter what amount of yeast pitched will directly limit the banana flavor profile of a hefeweizen.  I’m assuming that the ambient air in my basement (65 deg) must be below this threshold as I was unable to successfully alter the two beer flavor profiles in a significant way.  In the end the risks outweigh the reward in my opinion, and the best bet would be to pitch the proper amount of yeast and work on altering the fermentation temperatures to achieve the desired banana/clove ratios.


West Coast Wheat

March 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm

India Pale Ale is one style that has experienced a renaissance among American Craft brewers, with the momentum clearly excelerating as the number of variations continues to grow. The transformation of the traditional IPA began with the birth of the double IPA,  as in true American fashion, brewers began pushing the limits by brewing stronger, hoppier, and bolder IPA’s. Recently new IPA variations have emerged including the Black IPA, Belgian IPA, and Rye IPA as brewers strive to meet the American consumers love affair with the almighty hop.

One lesser known IPA variation, the Wheat IPA, happens to be one of my favorites even though few commercial examples exist, the most popular probably being Anaheuser-Busch’s Shock Top. My preference for wheat IPA’s stems from the wheat’s contribution to the malt profile of the beer and in my opinion, the superior balance that it provides with the traditional citrus hop IPA flavors. The West Coast recipe below is the third iteration, one that I feel strikes the best balance of the three, while still allowing for a delicious interplay of wheat and citrus flavors.

I am satisfied the grain bill has achieved a balance of wheat and sweetness that can stand up against the 60 IBU contributed from the hops, however I am planning on modifying the hop bill this year.  While I love Falconers Flight, the fact that it is a proprietary blend of several hop varieties of unknown proportions has led me to reconsider its use in the recipe.  Moving forward I plan to eliminate it completely from the hop bill and experiment with different ratios of Simcoe, Amarillo, and Belma hops in order to allow for better duplicity moving forward.  Don’t get me wrong the recipe is great as it currently stands, so good in fact that if I was every able to open a brewery of my own this would be one of my flagship beers.  This makes the use of Falconers Flight potentially problematic, thus my reasoning for seeking out the alternative hop combinations.

West Coast Wheat

Batch Size: 11.5 Gallons
Original Gravity: 1.057
Final Gravity: 1.014
ABV: 5.7%
IBU: 59.1
Color: 6.2 SRM
Boil Time: 60 Min

52.2% American 2-Row
32.6% Wheat Malt
9.8% Munich Malt
2.2% Crystal 15

1.25 Oz Magnum(14% AA) at 60 min
1 Tbsp Irish Moss at 15 min
1.4 Oz Falconers Flight (10.5% AA) at 15 min
.75 Oz Summit (17% AA) at 15 min
1 Oz Citra (13.4% AA) at 5 min
2.6 Oz Falconers Flight (10.5% AA) at 1 min
2 Oz Citra (13.4% AA) at 1 min
1 Oz Summit (17% AA) at 0 min
4 Oz Falconers Flight (10.5% AA) Dry Hop (7 Days)

2 Packs Safale American Ale US-05 Dry Yeast

Mash at 15 for 60 minutes raise to 168 for a 10 minute mashout.

For detailed tasting notes of this West Coast Wheat recipe, click here.

Anatomy of a Craft Beer Brand

March 8, 2013 at 8:02 am

In the hyper competitive landscape that is the craft beer industry brewing great beer will only take you so far. It is critical for the long term viability of the product to develop a strong brand that the consumer can readily relate to. Successful branding can be the difference in a customer selecting one particular brewery’s product over another. Successful branding makes a connection with the consumer, often times through the establishment of positive connotations such  as  reliability, quality, or status. To put it bluntly, branding is big business.

When surveying the hundreds of craft beer brands currently available there appears to be several common approaches to branding and hundreds more truly unique or hybrid approaches. For this article I would like to take a closer look into three particular branding strategies that are common place in the industry, and I believe to be extremely effective.

Theme Based

This strategy involves creating a theme for the brand and integrating it into every aspect of the company. The theme is integrated into the individual beer names and often times special release series product lines. Furthermore, it takes front and center on all logos, packaging, labels, and associated text for each of the companies products. This overarching theme provides the unifying element for the brand and promotes the companies message to consumers in a clear and consistent message across all product lines.

Examples: Flying Dog Canine Theme, Heavy Seas Brewing Co. Pirate Theme

Location Based

This strategy relies on using local information, wether it be geography, lingo, or landmarks to make an emotional connection with the consumer. This approach can be extremely powerful as it capitalizes on the consumers pride of place. Successfully linking a brand to a local identity also provides the opportunity for the brewer to capture additional drinkers who may not be as familiar with craft beer, but are able to associate a positive connotation of location with the product. Brewers employing this branding strategy also have the opportunity to tap into the extremely hot local food/drink renaissance currently underway.

Examples: Flying Fish New Jersey Turnpike Exit Series, Cigar City Brewing Company Local Tampa Culture

Brewing Philosophy Based

This strategy utilizes the brewers brewing philosophy or approach to brand the product. This approach seems to gaining popularity particularly among American brewers specializing in the production of wild or sour beers. Marketing the technique and hand crafted aspect of the product, particularly the quality and mix of ingredients allows the consumer to believe they are getting a truly unique product. Often times this approach is linked to higher premiums on the products as they require more time and ingredients to produce, thus they are brewed in limited quantities.

Examples: Dogfish Head Off Centered Beers for Off Centered People, Ancient Ales Series, Extreme Brewing Jolly Pumpkin Open Fermentation,Barrel Aging, and Bottle Conditioning, Crooked Stave  Brettanomyces Beers

Essential Components

This may or not be considered a branding strategy but I believe it is important none the less. The product model for the majority of the commercial craft breweries goes something like this. The staples, these are the brewers year round offerings, usually sold in six packs, seasonal offerings usually fall into this category. Big beers, usually marketed in some type of series, these high alcohol beers are usually sold in 22 oz bombers and command a hefty premium. Barrel Aged beers, a subset of the big beers series, have become increasingly popular in today’s market place with many brewers offering a bourbon barrel or wine barrel aged product in their product lineup. The newest trend among today’s brewers is the collaboration series, where two or more breweries team up to create a beer, often times with each of the participating brewers incorporating their hallmark brewing styles.

Lionheart Brand

While I am no where close to opening a brewery anytime soon, I have spent some time thinking about how I could potentially brand Lionheart Brewing.  My approach to branding would utilize the theme based strategy, specifically medieval royalty and nobility.  Lionheart is most commonly associated with generosity and courage, two traits of King Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart.  It was also a nickname given to me in high school by a friend of mine, and a name I thought would make for a good name for my brewery.

My Lionheart brand would consist of medieval based themes for my standard six pack and seasonal offerings.  My big beers would be branded as a “Nobility Series” and would be associated with famous Kings and Queens throughout history that embodied the characteristics of that particular beer.  I think that this approach could also be integrated with a tagline that plays into the courage aspect of Lionheart, almost as a challenge to drinkers to consume the product, similar to the approach Stone Brewing takes with its Arrogant Bastard beers.  Something along the lines of  ”Lionheart. Is it in you?” Obviously these are still half baked ideas, however the take away is that branding is an extremely important part of a brewery and should be thought of early on in the process as it can have long lasting implications on the overall success or failure a brewery.


Port Oak Aged Saison #5 Tasting Notes

March 2, 2013 at 3:21 pm

If you frequently read my blog it may seem like I’m addicted to using port in my homebrews, rest assured this is not the case. In fact I had the unfortunete experience of dumping my Kate The Great Clone (recipe) several months ago due to a nasty acetobacter infection in my brewhouse. That recipe called for extended aging on port soaked oak cubes, so as a result of the spoiled batch I had a bunch of port soaked hungarian oak cubes lying around that I wanted to put to good use. I used a mix of the port for my raisin reduction for the winter dubbel (recipe) and decided to add 1.4 oz to the second keg of Saision #5, (recipe) brewed with a healthy dose of Columbus, Citra and Styrian Golding hops.

Four months ago I added 1.4 oz of port soaked oak cubes to the keg.  It is worth noting that these cubes had been sitting in the port wine for nearly 3 months prior to being added to the keg, and the total weight includes the saturation of port.  If I had to estimate it looked like roughly .75 oz of dry oak cubes.  The port adds a much more subtal layering of fruity sweetness that melds well with the subdued citrus hop notes of the aged saision.

My initial reaction is that I prefer the more subdued port accent notes found in this saision, as compared to the dominant role the port plays in the winter dubbel flavor profile.  It also blends well and provides a nice contrast to the spicy belgian yeast aromatics that have really began to come into their own after a few months in the keg. My major takeaway from my recent experience using port and oak in homebrews is that like many things in brewing less is more and port additions are best used as subtle accents to add additional flavor complexities, as opposed to being the lead flavor which can cause the beer to taste cloying.

Originally brewed on 9/15/2012 and kegged on 10/4/12 with 1.4 oz Port Soaked Hungarian Oak cubes.


Port Oak Aged Saison #5 Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Beer pours a deep burnt orange almost crystal clear. A towering two finger pillowy off white head lingers long after the initial pour.

Smell:  Subtle notes of port, vanilla, sweet orange. Moderate belgian phenols shine through the initial nose.

Taste: A mix of mild citrus, vanilla, and tannins on the initial sip. A sweet fruitiness is present making the beer taste less dry than the un-oaked version. Finishes smooth with port and oak flavors giving way to a clean finish of pepper and floral hops aromas.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation crisp and strong. The extended aging on the oak has taken off the hop bitterness and alchohol flavors present in the un-oaked version providing a much more balanced beer.

Drinkability & Notes:  As you can see from the flavor wheel this beer balances a moderate array of flavors nicely. The sweet port notes foil the spicy belgian phenols , while the oak has taken the bitter hop edge off as compared to the original un-oaked version putting its bitterness levels squarely within the style guidelines of a Saision. Overall the beer has a lot of moving parts that over time have come into balance nicely and led to a really enjoyable, highly complex saison. As much as I want to push my homebrewing in a multitude of new directions, Iv’e got to say after tasting this beer this probably won’t be the last time I age beer on port soaked oak.


Midnight Wit

February 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

As the doldrums of winter press on in the Northeast and I start to dream of the days when it will be warm enough to brew again, I thought I would crack into my recipe vault in search of some spring time seasonals for those of you lucky enough to either brew inside or live somewhere nice and warm.  Over the past two years or so dark versions of the popular beer styles have gained increased popularity especially the Black or Cascadian IPA and more recently the Black Lager.  Midnight Wit is my take on this concept, with the key to the recipe being the use of Weyermann’s Dehusked Carafa II during the last 10 minutes of the mash to get you the dark black color without any roasty astringent flavors.  Such flavors would clash with the fresh citrus and Belgian yeast aromatics that come to define the style.

As my memory serves this beer was extremely enjoyable and very close in flavor profile to a Hoegaarden minus the color of course.  It was while drinking this beer that I for the first time realized the effect color can have on perceived notion of taste and mouthfeel.  The light bodied wit beer appeared to taste heavy on the first sip, only after taking a few additional sips did I realize that it was in fact light and dry, and that the dark color had left my mind expecting a heavier fuller beer.  Nonetheless for those of you lucky enough to be brewing in preparation for spring I would encourage you to consider this recipe for a unique twist on a classic seasonal favorite.

Midnight Wit

Batch Size: 11 Gallons
Original Gravity: 1.052
Final Gravity: 1.011
ABV: 5.3%
IBU: 16.1
Color: 19.3 SRM
Boil Time: 60 Min

30.6% American 2-Row
30.6% Belgian Pilsner
28.5% Wheat Malt
5.1% Carafa II (Added during the last 10 minutes of mash)
2.6% Flaked Oats
2.6% Flaked Wheat

2 Oz Hallertaur Mittelfrueh (4% AA) at 60 min
1 Tbsp Irish Moss at 15 min
2 Oz Styrian Goldings (2.6% AA) at 5 min
.75 Oz Orange Peel, Bitter at 5 min
2 Oz Coriander Seed at 5 min

3 L Starter of Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier

Mash at 150 for 60 minutes raise to 168 for a 10 minute mashout.

Midnight Wit

Where’s the Beer? 2013 Planned Breweries Map

February 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm

It’s no secret that craft beer’s popularity is increasing rapidly, so much so that Aneheiser Bush purchased the most expensive commercial slot at this year’s Super Bowl, to introduce its new “premium beer” Black Crown, to the nation.  They were not alone, as we also heard from Beck’s Beer with their new product offering Beck’s Saphir, another premium beer brewed with saphir hops.  According to the Brewers Association overall U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 1.3% by volume in 2011 while craft beer sales were up 13% by volume and 15% by sales during the same period.  The trends clearly point to a rise in craft beer in terms of both sales and volume, a fact which the big brewers can clearly no longer ignore.

More importantly, much of this growth has been fueled by the rise of the small independent microbreweries, regional craft brewers, and brewpubs.  According to the Brewers Association as of July 1st, 2012 there were 922 microbreweries and 81 regional craft beer breweries operating in the United States.  When the 1,072 brewpubs are considered this brings the total number of craft breweries to 2,075 in operation nationwide. Below is a map of existing breweries per million people according to the most recent data available by the Brewers Association. (Please note the data was rounded to the nearest million and includes all known breweries including non-craft)


Looking at the map, the the first thing that jumps out is the lack of breweries in the deep south.  None of these states have more than 4 breweries per million people, compare that to the brewery rich Pacific Northwest or New England which have no less than 10 breweries for every million.  There are many potential reasons for this, one might be stricter alcohol laws, particularly as they relate to ABV percentages, another might be a preference towards spirits over beer.  It is important to understand the existing brewery landscape to fully grasp the growth that is being planned for the beer industry in this country.

One way to measure the growth of the brewing industry is to take a look at planned breweries by state.  The brewers association defines a brewery in planning as “any party expressing interest in opening a brewery.”  While the definition itself raises potential concerns as to the data’s accuracy for the sake of this post lets assume the large majority of the breweries in planning will follow through with their interest and eventually open.

When examining the available data it appears that brewery growth rates have gone parabolic, as an estimated 1,273 breweries are currently in the planning stage.  Compare that with the 2,126 breweries currently in operation as of July 1st 2012.  Thats a growth rate of an astronomical 60 percent!  Below is a map showing the distribution of the planned breweries across the nation as of 2/12/13. (Please note the Brewers Association’s “Find US Brewery” directory is updated daily)


Notable trends:

The void of breweries per capita in the deep south appears to be on its way out, and fast. With the exception of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama the southern states that previously had 4 or less breweries per million have a significant number of breweries in the planning stage.  Texas, Florida, and Georgia are leading the way with Louisiana and South Carolina also having elevated numbers of breweries in planning.  Is supply catching up with demand?  It certainly appears that it might be.

The rich get richer.  The Pacific Northwest, California, and Colorado are states amongst the top in the number of planned breweries.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time, as there is no doubt these areas have robust craft beer cultures.  With so many new breweries in the planning stages in these areas it appears that a bubble of sorts maybe forming and undoubtedly the point of market saturation maybe drawing near.  These offer a catch 22 to prospective breweries as I would assume they have high demand for premium craft beer, yet they also have some of the highest levels of competition for the finite craft beer consumer dollar.

Lack of growth in the Plains region.  I found it interesting more breweries weren’t being planned in this region with all the talk of America’s new found energy reserves in the Great Plains and the subsequent migration to these states.  I have read of cities and towns in the Dakotas being overwhelmed by the influx of people. To me this area would seem to be ripe for future development of multiple breweries to meet the demand that if it isn’t already there soon will be.

Minimal growth in New England and the Mountain West.  Both of these areas ranked towards the high end of existing breweries per capita.  It appears these markets may have reached their saturation point as the growth rates are far less than other areas in the country.  It will be interesting to watch these areas to see if growth will pick up in future years or if it will continue to slow and if these per capita rates will be the same in which growth in other states begins to slow as well.

Planned growth in Kentucky and West Virginia continue to lag the nation.  Both states ranked towards the bottom of existing breweries per million people and both ranked in the lowest rank for planned breweries. It appears that as strong as the craft beer movement is, it may have a harder time gaining traction in Bourbon Country.

Winter Dubbel Tasting Notes

February 4, 2013 at 8:48 pm

As I discussed in my All Grain Primer, I tend to brew beers that are fairly true to style, or within the box as some might say.  I do this because after all my years brewing I have gotten to the point were I can usually take an idea or a flavor profile from a commercial beer, formulate a recipe, and most of the time come pretty close to nailing it on the first batch.  This is not to say that all my beers are perfect, but at the same time I rarely have a problem drinking through my 10 gallon batches.

One of my goals last year was to push myself to try and brew more experimental batches that incorporate unique ingredients or non-traditional combinations.  In my experience, adding such ingredients tends to make it much more difficult to nail down a recipe on the first try, often times this is due to using unfamiliar ingredients and/or spices.  The key to brewing palatable experimental beers is to use moderation with the non-traditional ingredients and/or spices, as too much can easily ruin a batch.  Last year I brewed 18 batches, two of which were experimental, the Belgian Table Ale with Tamarind and the Winter Dubbel, and while its not the greatest percentage its a start.

For the Winter Dubbel, I wanted to build on a recipe I brewed two years ago that used raisins, and add to it with the addition of port wine and some pre-brew cooking.  Instead of simply adding the raisins to the boil, for this batch I first caramelized them, then completed a port reduction, and finally added that puree to the boil.  In addition to the raisin port puree, I added some Weyermann Abbey Malt and corn sugar, to a traditional Belgian Dubbel grist consisting of Pilsner, CaraMunich III, and Special B.

After finally getting around to tapping a keg of this beer a few weeks ago, I must say that the combination has the potential to create a really unique take on a Belgian Dubbel.  With that being said the addition of the raisin port puree is definitely the dominant flavor of the beer, and I would reduce the amount slightly if I brew this beer again.  While this recipe is off to a good start, for it to become a truly greet beer a few more iterations will be necessary to really nail down the exact amount of raisins and port to get the proper balance.  With that being said lets take a look at the tasting notes.

Winter Dubbel Tasting Notes:


Appearance: Pours a muddy brown, shows as a dark copper when held to the light.  One finger thick off white head lingers for a while, leaving some lacing on the glass.  My beers are usually clear after sitting in the keg for a couple months prior to serving.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this batch, but I’m thinking an increase in proteins or other substance from the raisin puree might be the culprit for the cloudiness.

Smell: Sweetness, port, fruit, and raisins are the dominant aromas. Subtle notes of honey, carmel, and vanilla are also present.

Taste: The initial sip is somewhat chewy with a moderate carb bite.  Sweet malt and raisins notes transition to a strong port finish.  Hops flavors are hard to decipher but bitterness is adequate to balance all the sweetness of the port.  Long lasting flavor of port on the finish, while noticeable no overwhelming alcohol flavors are present.

Mouthfeel: Moderately carbonated, semi sweet-

Drinkability & Notes: I really like the addition of the raisin port puree to the traditional Belgian Dubbel, however the port aftertaste is intense and tends to overpower the beer as a whole.  When brewing this recipe again I would reduce the amount of port used in the reduction, or drop the reduction entirely and add a small amount of port to the fermentor.  The amount of port I started with in my reduction might have been just too much leading to such amplified flavors in the final beer.  These are the challenges homebrewers face when brewing these out of the box beers, as the increase in ingredients enters more variables in the brewday.

One alternative I’m going to try on the second keg is  a moderate dry hop, in an effort to take off some of the port edge.  As currently brewed the beer drinks somewhat sweet, after two to three beers I’m completely satisfied and looking to move on to something else.  All in all I think the flavor components are in place, and with some effort this has the potential to be a truly unique spin on the classic Belgian Dubbel recipe.


How Much is too Much?

January 27, 2013 at 10:01 am

Early last month  word broke that the famed trappist brewery Westvleterteren would be releasing a limited quantity of Westvleterteren XII, considered by many to be the best beer in the world, to help offset the cost of recent renovations at their abbey.  Stateside, craft beer lovers mouths salivated at the chance to taste this pinnacle of beer excellence for the first time, without booking a flight to  Belgium. A limited amount of gift boxes, consisting of six 11.2 oz bottles and two glasses, were sold in a handful of states for $85.00.

Unfortunately the extremely limited quantities, distribution to select states, and price were not the only challenges craft beer lovers faced when attempting to aquire this beer.  They also had to compete with profiteers looking to purchase as many gift boxes as possible, not to enjoy, but to put up on Ebay in search of maximum profit. Shortly after all the Westvleterteren XII disappeared from the retail shelves it began popping up on the internet for such exorbitant  prices as $100 dollars a bottle, $420 dollars for the gift box, or $25 dollars for the cardboard “gift box” itself.  Those prices might be considered cheap to some, as its not unheard of to see beers being listed on online auction sites at prices in the five figures!

Nothing says you’ve arrived like a good old fashion black market.  Such is the case with the relatively new phenomena the craft beer industry is currently experiencing.  The black market for craft beer is not limited to the recent release of the Westvleterteren XII, in fact many other American brewers have found their limited release beers on online auction sites as well.  The brewers at Russian River, Three Floyd’s, and Stone to name a few, have all recently had to deal with the fact that their hand crafted beers are being resold at extremely high prices, in the name of profit, not the enjoyment of the beer itself.

This resale of beer, a perishable commodity, has left these and many other brewers who find their labor of love being resold on the black market deeply concerned and angry.  Price aside, a few days old growler filled from a tap at a limited release party, shipped god knows how many miles and in what condition is not the sensory experience these brewers had in mind for the consumption of their beer.   In response, some brewers have put a limit on the amount of limited release beers a patron can purchase at a time, while others have imposed even stricter rules by limiting consumption to on premise tasting rooms or select bars with no bottles to go.

While I personally don’t agree with the reselling of these beers I’m also not naive enough to think that this problem is going  away anytime soon.  Like most things in life, if there is demand out there for these and other extremely rare beers, you can bet there will be individuals out their looking to fill it for a tidy profit.  This got me to thinking how much I would personally spend for a limited release beer, and after thinking about it for a bit the most I would pay for a beer would be $25 a bottle. While I love beer and respect the incredibly complex flavors that can be achieved with these extremely limited one off batches, anything more than that I simply cannot justify.  When prices begin to exceed that I start to think of a nice bottle of whiskey or bourbon that I can enjoy over a longer period of time rather than a beer I would drink in a matter of minutes.

Thinking about this got me to wondering what other craft beer lovers would be willing to pay for a limited release beer from one of the premiere breweries.  If you feel so inclined to participate in my not so scientific poll below, let me know how much you would be willing to pay .  While I understand the price will fluctuate for some depending on the quantity of beer for sale, for the sake of this poll lets assume a single bottle of beer, whether it be a 11.2 oz  Westvleterteren XII or a 22 oz bomber of Dark Lord Imperial Stout.

[poll id="3"]


Tasting Beer Video

January 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

One thing many beer related blogs have in common, including this one is they often times review various beers and provide tasting notes.  I find tasting notes to be fun yet challenging.  The exercise challenges not only your senses but your vocabulary.  To me the most successful tasting notes provide in depth descriptions of the beer without being overly wordy.  I came across this video this past weekend, and while it doesn’t provide any groundbreaking new information, there are a few good bits of info in there making it worth a few minutes this Monday morning.