Bottling the Tripel

belgian_tripel.JPGI like quick homebrews, such as 20-minute kits. I like kegging. Within 16-18 days, I have delicious beer with minimal effort.

However, I didn’t start this hobby just as a way to do the laziest possible brewing. As you may recall from my post much earlier this year, I made a Belgian Tripel the right way. OK, I guess it was just partial mash, but I do not have the equipment for full mash. Regardless, it took three hours of initial brewing. I racked the ale to the secondary at the beginning of May. Using this handy calculator like always, plus temperature correction, the alcohol content was already a whopping 7.6 percent!

Another thing about Belgians is that all that sugar needs time. Keg after the standard 14 days, and I’ll lose some of the complex flavors (plus lots of the sugar will be unfermented). So I waited. It’s been almost four full months in the secondary and it’s time to keg.

But…Belgians also bottle well. Their shelf life is very good, and the flavors are purported to be better from a bottle than from a keg. Sure, it will take another two months for carbonation, but the best things in life are worth the wait, right? So I’m bottling the whole batch. As I sanitize bottles, prepare rubber rings for the caps (I’m using swing-top Grolsch-style bottles), and prepare priming sugar, I’m reminded of why I keg. One container to sanitize means much less chance of contamination.

Right before adding the priming sugar, I took the final specific gravity reading and had a quick taste. The alcohol content has crept to 8.15%. The beer itself was superbly clear, as though it had been filtered, thanks to the long secondary time. Unfortunately, in order to ensure that not all of the priming sugar was at the top of the batch, I had to stir it a little. I will give it a couple of hours to resettle. (See my comment below)

The taste confirmed the fear I had when I tasted it upon racking to the secondary: it’s too hoppy. Maybe cooling plus carbonation will help, but I’m stymied by the hoppiness. If anything, I underhop my Belgians, boiling the hops only 30 minutes. Maybe some of the pellets are making it into the primary and having longer contact.

Don’t get me wrong; the beer is delicious. I just wanted it to be a little fuller in maltiness and lower in hops.

Nut Brown for LBFH

My brother keeps begging me to make a nut brown. So I did.

A beer-lover friend of mine wanted to start homebrewing again, so we decided to combine a brewing session with socializing. I packed my car and headed south to brew. We both chose 20-minute kits from my favorite supplier. The nut brown looked really easy! In fact, 20-minute kits are so horribly easy that everyone should brew. We brewed two batches in the amount of time it normally takes me to do a grain/extract batch.

One new thing to which he introduced me was the use of a hop bag- not only did it reduce the trub I had to keep out of the carboy, it allowed complete control over hop contact time; I could remove the hops all at once when the boil was over. Initial specific gravity: 1.046 (finally, a batch in the range!!) As always, I tasted the wort to see what the flavors were like before fermentation. Sweet, nutty, with a hoppiness that will balance perfectly with the alcohol to come.

I was totally exhausted from being on my feet to brew, even though I took breaks and sat on a stool. I’m going to the doctor this week to see what I can do to remedy the problem.

BTW, I racked and tested my Belgian earlier this week- SG is 1.018 already- that’s about 6.5% alcohol! Four months to go before it’s aged well enough for drinking. Uh oh…

Belgian Tripel- Kickin’ it Old School!

A couple of weeks ago, four of us went on a gustatory tour of the North Side. One of our stops was Kahn’s Fine Wines. True, visiting a wine store for me is leading a horse to water it can’t drink, but I was able to select a few bottles to cellar. But I digress…

During this stop, I bought not only a few bottles of wine but restocked our woefully low hard liquor selection (a pleasant, if not inexpensive, task). Then I see Carlton lug something huge into our rickety cart (note to Kahn’s: your food/wine is non pareil. Invest in some better carts): A KEG OF BEER.

That’s right. A KEG. The nerve of him! The nerve! I’m a BREWER!

…uh, a brewer that hasn’t brewed in, oh, over six months. So it’s been buying a bunch of bottles of beer. More packaging, more effort, more waste, less taste. I realized how valid his silent complaint was. So I’ve dusted off the beer kit and I brewed it last night: a Belgian Tripel from my favorite website, Midwest Supplies. I’ve been brewing Belgians since my very first beer kit. I tinker with other styles, but Belgians are a huge crowd-pleaser.

After a marathon 3-hour brewing session, I tested and tasted the wort. It was stickily sweet, thanks to four pounds of malt and 1.5 pounds of candi sugar. I could barely taste any other flavor through the cloying sweetness. I hope the beer isn’t too light once the alcohol content rises to 6%. The other problem is that my original gravity was only 1.070, with the kit’s target being 1.072-1.076. I have been dogged by low gravity before. It’s not my hydrometer- I usually end up right in the finished gravity target range. It’s as though I haven’t fully extracted the grains or I have over-diluted it somehow. However, I brought the wort to 155 degrees F for a full 30 minutes to extract the malt (this is NOT an all-grain kit). I also boil all five gallons, not just 2-3 gallons. I posted in my favorite brewing forum. Maybe I’ll hear an answer soon.

Beer, beer, everywhere…

…but not a drop to drink!

As of last night, I racked the last beer into the keg. There are twenty gallons of fresh, malty, yummy beer and the urge to tap them early is hard to stop! I will say that as I racked all four, I took a hyrdometer reading and tasted them to ensure no batches were ruined. Now, I probably COULD have had one tiny sip of each, but they were so good I had a tad more. None is carbonated yet so I was tasting warm, flat beer and it was still good!!!

The only disappointing brew was the Scottish ale. It has lost the raw oaky character and is now very smooth, but it tastes too watery. Like a Michelob Ultra Amber: not offensively bland but still but blah. All kegs except for the Oatmeal Stout are force carbonating at room temperature. I had a heated argument (with a non-brewer I might add) regarding whether beer should be stored cold. I think I'll post on the forums to see if anyone knows.

Oktoberfest Invitation

Well, if you are reading this, chances are you haven't received the printed invitation yet.  However, rest assured, you are indeed invited!  All you have to do is RSVP and instructions on finding the party will follow.  Either send an email to the address on the invitation, or submit a comment to this post (and yes, this posted picture does not have the email address.  I'm avoiding spam).  Either way, you are in the door!


Oktoberfest- more Brewing!

Today, I'm keeping holy the Sabbath by brewing beer.  I find it reflective and contemplative.  The sweet, malty, cereal aromas make me think of simpler times.  I still haven't made final decisions regarding what to brew, but these two have made the cut:

My first beer today is a Lemon Coriander Weiss.  Wheat beers are very popular among the anti-beer crowd, so I thought this would be good for the 'Fest.  It has very few specialty grains and a lot of liquid malt- 1 1/2 gallons!  I discarded the package of pre-ground coriander and ground my own.  I didn't know how olde the grind was and worried it would taste like dust, as most preground spices can.  I was right.  After I finished the grind, I opened the spice grinder and was met with the tart, sweet aroma of lemons and young herbs.  This flavor should go nicely with the tartness of the wheat beer.  I noticed that the flock from the specialty grains is coagulating in the brew as it boils.  I have only brewed 20-minute boil kits of wheat beers before, so this is new to me.  I don't know if it's normal or not.  Initial gravity: 1.056 (yes I finally caved and bought a hydrometer to measure alcohol content).

Second to be brewed is Hex Nut Brown.  I picked it because it's my brother's favorite of my brews.  Of course, I was boiling it when I started writing this post, and it boiled over.  Darn!  It's amusing because I have a 10-gallon pot to brew five gallons…and just last night I was joking it's the only pot in the kitchen that I don't boil over.  Anyway, the toasty grains smell delicious.  Intial gravity: 1.049

I hope never to brew two in one day again.  My day is shot.  I sanitized two carboys, lots of tubing, my new wine thief, hydrometer, and various pot fittings.  I've stirred, mashed, malted, heated, stirred, boiled, cooled, and pitched…twice.  I'm tired.  This reminds me why I only do the partial-mash kits.  "Real" homebrewers don't use any malt extracts; they create it all from the raw grain.  The kits are a little less expensive, but I just don't see myself doing it.  It takes several hours longer to mash all that grain.  I think I'd have to move up to ten gallon batches to make it worth the time, and then I'd need all-new equipment for sparging, fermenting, et cetera.  Plus, I love to try new kits so making huge batches wouldn't suit my desire to try tons of stuff.

OK, time to go watch a movie.

Oktoberfest Musings

I racked the Scottish ale Saturday morning and tasted the first bit from the siphon in a small wine glass.  While I like the two beers (a hefeweiss and a bourbon barrel ale) I have on tap right now, this beer is more delicious than either of them.  It is quite cloudy so I need to be sure to clear the yeast before kegging.

I have picked my Oktoberfest beers!  In addition to the Scottish Ale I ordered and made a week ago, I will be brewing Hex Nut Brown with American Ale yeast, Belgian Tripel with Belgian yeast, and last year’s taste test winner, Oatmeal Stout.  That means the only “new” brew will be the Scottish, as I’ve brewed all three of these at previous Oktoberfests.  But will the guests care it’s not new?  Doubtful that they remember, much less care!  I hope not.  I do have a lemon coriander Weiss that might also make the cut.

I chose these three because that will mean that all four beers this year will have distinctively different yeast.  I think in the future I’d like to mimic the “vertical tasting” concept done with wine: the same grape and vineyard is tasted through several vintages.  I’d like to make several of the same type of beer with different yeast, or have four with all the same yeast, or something else so that the beers can be better compared. 

This year will be a mesclun just like always.  Now, what food to serve: traditional or no?  Usually, I go with sauerbraten, wursts, and a variety of breads and whole-grain mustards straight from Germany.  No matter how much I make or buy, I almost never have leftovers.  I’m thinking that with the distinctively non-German beers I might instead have four stations of complimentary food pairings. 

Scottish Ale: A delicious meal in itself. So malty and sweet…can’t think of good pairings

Lemon Coriander Weiss: salsa, guacamole

Hex Nut Brown: white bean dip, fried mashed potatoes

Belgian Tripel: grilled fruit, baklava

Oatmeal Stout: Chocolate cake, cheesecake, macadamia-crusted something

The nice thing about all of these (except the fried potatoes) is that they can easily be made ahead.  Even the mashed potatoes can be made and rolled ahead, then quickly fried.  The other difficulty is it looks like most of the dishes are sweet, not savory, and I’m not a big sweets fan.

Well, now I’m just yammering with no point.  I need to order the beers and start brewing!

Scottish Ale

It is probably began the first time I had a "MacNiven's Milkshake" AKA Belhaven.  I really like Scottish ales.  The have a creamy texture and low hoppines that are warm rather than crisp, mellow rather than lively.  It's a nice switch from the hoppy beers I often prefer.  When I want to chill and have a luxurious conversation, I reach for a Scottish ale.

So tonight I brewed my first one.  The recipe called for not only malted grains, but a wide variety: regular grains, toasty, coffee-roasted grains, brown sugar, and maltodextrin.  Despite the "malt" in the name, it is neither malted nor milk.  Maltodextrin is a polymer of dextrose.  I don't know why the variety of sugars, but I don't think it can hurt!!

The kit also included oak chips.  I have used oak chips with good success in a bourbon barrel ale; in that case, they were soaked in (obviously) bourbon and tossed into the secondary fermenter.  This recipe calls for boiling in water, discarding the water, then putting the chips in the secondary.  I do not know what the purpose is but I'm guessing that Scottish ales are fermented in oak.

Does anyone know the origin of this?  Help me. 

Coconut Rum (For Me Grog)

I was bottling my homemade coconut rum (from Midwest Supplies) last night, and this tastes wonderful. I’m going to be making some homemade grog from it, plus it’s great on the rocks or in a smoothie.

The process is long and involved and requires much more attention during the fermentation. Add sugar to water, boil, cool, add yeast. THEN, rack after three days, monitor fermentation, add packets A and B, wait another day, add packet C, blah, blah, blah, until finally I’m on packet F. Six extra steps! I think I’m too lazy to do it again, even though the end result is delicious.

However, it’s not as clean and bright of a tropical flavor as I would like, and despite following all of the directions, it’s still cloudy. I did multiple rackings and filtrations to rid it of the carbon haze, but no luck.

So, as a chemist in my right mind, I’m thinking that it would help if I distilled that stuff before adding the coconut flavoring. I am woefully aware of the laws of our country that forbid distillation of alcohol by the private individual. But why? I brew my own beer all of the time. It certainly isn’t a safety issue, so what is it?

I would think that even the religions that prohibit alcohol use would be delighted if this were legal. Well, not delighted, but not unhappy either… every beer I brew of my own is money the alcohol industry doesn’t gain. As a political conservative, it appeals to my desire not to pay the large “sin??? taxes levied on certain industries.

So what’s the deal? And, in a country where counties fight to STAY dry counties, is it a hopeless case for me to lobby?

I’m annoyed.
Taste: [rate 3.5]
Ease: [rate 0.5]