Sam Adams Mighty Oak Ale

Once upon a time, the majority of beer was stored in wood barrels. Now it is mostly stored in stainless steel kegs or in bottles. Wood tends to house many and various critters since it is so porous. It is very hard to keep clean and prevent contamination of the beer. Now beers are generally only placed in wood barrels or vats to impart specific flavors. They are usually placed in the barrel for a several months or even years, and a lot of times they are barrels that were previously used for aging a number of liquors. Most of the barrel aged beers I’ve had have been aged in bourbon barrels. This tends to impart a very whiskeyish taste to the beer.

It’s hard to tell what kind of barrels were used for this Mighty Oak Ale, as I don’t think the Oakiness comes through too much. It poured an amber color, as would be expected from the Amber base beer. The aroma was an interesting interplay between the vanilla that is reportedly from the oak aging and the hoppiness. When you taste it you are instantly hit with a vanilla and malt sweetness. It almost seems overbalanced towards the sweet. There is some bitterness on the back-end, but not enough to balance out the sweetness in my opinion for a simple drinking beer.

I think that your best bet is to pair this with something spicy to contrast with the sweetness of the beer. I drank it with a Chipotle BBQ pork concoction I got from one of those frozen meals at the grocery store. I usually try to avoid the pre-packaged meals like the plague, but I’m sure I had some lazy excuse at the time of purchase.  At least it was one you made in oven and not in the microwave. It was actually a parchment paper pouch meal, where everything was baked together in the pouch. In addition to the pork, it had a so-called “tamale” which tasted exactly like corn bread, and not at all like a tamale, and a smattering of root veggies. Nevertheless, both the beer and the food where much improved when brought together. The amber base beer is always in good company with the BBQ flavors that where in this meal. In addition, what the meal lacked in complexity (being a frozen meal), was brought out by the beer. In addition, the little bit of spiciness cut through the sweetness of the beer, providing a nice balance.

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Happy Dark Lord Day

Dark Lord Day is the one day a year where the dark lord himself comes to Earth and sells his brew at the brewery of the brothers Floyds (3 Floyds Brewery). It is the only day of the year where you can get Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. This beer is suppose to be one of the best beers in the world, and since it limited to those who attend Dark Lord Day, it is also one of the rarest.

Two months ago I put out a call for brave souls to journey with me to 3 Floyds Brewery and obtain the rare Dark Lord Beer. Many people stood up to the call, but none where able to get past the first obstacle, acquiring a ticket. The tickets for this years event reportedly sold out within a minute. I will continue to try in the years to come, and one day I will be triumphant.

Brewday: Scott’s Sparkling Weisbier Part 3

This is the third part of this series. If you haven’t done so already, you might want to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Step 10: The Lowdown on the Cooldown

At the end of your boil time, you have to get the temperature down. If you try to pitch the yeast at too high of a temperature they may just die right off. If you get it down farther, those little beasties may survive, but they may be so stressed that they can’t finish the job, or they give off all sorts of flavors. Although, in a style like this, where so much of the flavor comes from the yeast, that might be a good idea.

To do this you have a few options. The most basic is to take your pot and put it in an ice bath. It is better than putting a bunch of ice around the pot, or even in a snow bank in the winter. Water has a higher thermo-conductivity than air, and it will be able to take heat away quicker than the air.

My jerry-rigged hose connection.

A step above that are various types of wort chillers.  The simplest one is a bunch of copper tubing coiled up, placed in the pot, and cool water run through the chiller. This is what I have. You can make your own pretty easy with some soft copper tubing, or you can by one at your local homebrew shop. One thing I found my first few brew sessions is that your tap water only gets so cold. In high summer it is almost 80 degrees, and if your tap water is 80 degrees, then this wort chiller isn’t going to bring the temperature down lower than this. You might have to combine the wort chiller with an ice bath at the end, or you can run some of the hosing to the work chiller through an ice bath to lower the temperature of the cooling water.

It still always seems to cool slowly.

This works faster than a simple ice bath because it uses both conduction and convection. I talked about how water has a higher thermo-conductivity than air above, and this wort chiller takes care of this. It also uses convection, which is the movement. A fluid in movement, will change temperature faster than a fluid that isn’t moving. It’s the same reason a convection oven cooks foods faster than a traditional oven. Another trick that takes use of convection is stirring. Stirring the wort with any of the above methods will cool the wort faster than just letting it sit motionless. Just make sure to only use a sanitized stir spoon, as the wort is chilling, and heat will no longer kill off the nasties.

As you can see, I didn't have very much ice.

Whatever method you use, try to get your wort to the temperature that you are going to ferment at. Generally for Ales this is between 60-65 degrees. The room in my basement I use, seems to stay at 65 degrees year round, so it is perfect for me. Most people should probably just find the coolest room in their home and not worry about it. If you want to get more advanced, there are all sorts of fermenter temperature controls that you can make or buy.

Step 11: The Final Step

Now you have your wort to fermentation temperature. You need to aerate it. It is the only time in the fermentors life that you want to slosh the wort around. When you pitch your yeast, the first thing the little beasties do is reproduce. To reproduce, the yeast requires a lot of oxygen. This will give them a good population to start fermentation which will start after the oxygen is used up. Your job is to get as much air into the wort as possible. Some people use fish tank aerators, but unless you have about 20 gallons of wort, and it can’t easily be lifted, I don’t think you need one. Simply pour the wort from the pot into your fermentation bucket (through a sieve) as vigorously as you can without splashing everywhere. You might even want to pour it back and forth between the pot and the fermentor a few times. This probably won’t be too feasible if you are using a carboy. Then you can tip the fermentor slightly onto its edge and rock it back and forth a few times. If you do this, your yeast should have plenty of air. Then top off the fermentor to about 5.5 gallons. You can do this with previously boiled water, but if your water tastes good, it will usually be alright.

Watching for splashing.

This might be a good time to measure your original gravity. You can either do this with a hydrometer, or if you want to spend the $40 a refractometer. The gravity is the amount of sugar in your wort. A gravity of 1.00 is water (i.e. no sugar). After fermentation you can take the final gravity. Most ordinary strength beers will have an original gravity around 1.050 and a final gravity around 1.01-1.02. Since yeast turns sugar into alcohol and CO2, and does it more or less at a standard rate, given an original gravity and a final gravity, you can get a good guess at the alcohol by volume.

I actually did not want to spend this money, but I got it for a birthday present last year.

To find the gravity using a hydrometer, you put your hydrometer in the sample holder. You fill up your holder with your wort/beer until the hydrometer floats, spin to remove bubbles, and read the number on the side. Since most hydrometers are calibrated for a certain temperature (usually 60 degrees). You need to use the calibration formula on your hydrometer for whatever temperature you wort is at. Now that you just read my instructions on using a hydrometer, take them with a grain of salt. From the readings I was getting for original gravity, I was either failing to use both the refractometer and the hydrometer, or I screwed up my recipe somewhere, because I got an original gravity of about 1.081, when it should have been between closer to 1.060. I hope it turns out alright.

The fill line is very hard to see sometimes.

Now it’s time to pitch your yeast. This does not mean you should throw it into the fermentor. Take the yeast package and dip it in the sanitizer. Open it, and pour it into the wort. If yours has a nutrient pack inside (which of course you previously smacked open), make sure it doesn’t fall in the wort. If you have a starter, just pour it in.

A cool dark place.

Put the cover or plug on the fermentor and put the fermentor in the location it is going to rest for the next few weeks. Take your airlock, and fill it to the line with sanitizer solution, vodka, or some other liquid that won’t mold and place it in the hole in the cover or the plug. Within a few days, your airlock should be bubbling nicely, and soon you will have beer!

We have fermentation!

Brewday: Scott’s Sparkling Weisbier Part 2

We are now going to get to the real brewing of the wort. This is the second part of this series. Make sure you check out part 1 if you haven’t done so already.

Step Seven: Give me Some Heat!

Now its time to start the brewing. Fill up your pot. If your pot is only 3 gallons, I wouldn’t add more than 2 gallons of water, and you still need to watch very closely for boilovers. This is a 5 gallon pot, and I like to add about 3 gallons of water.  I still occasionally have to watch for boilovers, but I’m not generally too worried about it.

Easy to see where I have the water up to with the condensation on the side of the pot.

Put the pot on your biggest burner, and turn it up as high as you can get it. It still seems like it takes forever to boil, but be patient, there is beer at the end.

I love this power boil setting. It unfortunately tends to make this burner a lot less useful for everything besides boiling water, even on the lowest settings.

Once your water got to about 150° F you could add your specialty grains, and hold them there for half an hour, but that’s another post.

I should have used a spatula. It is very sticky.

You can add the extract when you start to heat the water or after the water heats up. Just remember, the longer the extract is over the fire, the more it will caramelize. This will result in a slightly darker beer. John Palmer’s book How to Brew suggests not to put all of your extract into the kettle right away. In addition to darkening the beer, all sorts of flavors that could potentially stick out in a lighter brew are created. This effect is reduced in a smaller gravity brew.  If you are doing a lighter brew like this, you therefore, might want to save a portion of the extract until just a few minutes left. This allows you to still be able to sterilize the extract. Whatever you decide, you should take the pot off of the burner while adding the extract to cut the chance of burning it before it is completely mixed in. Once mixed, this is called the wort.

Step Eight: The forgotten Step

Sorry to say that this step was probably one of my earliest steps. It is really a parallel step to everything else. As long as you do it early enough so that the yeast has enough time to propagate (usually a few hours), you could do it any time. This is a Wyeast Weihenstephan Weizen 3068 smack pack. It is Wyeast’s most traditional German yeast strain. This yeast produces a “beautiful and delicate balance of banana esters and clove phenolics.” Next to the cloudy character, this is exactly what I think of when I think of a German weissbier.  You could create a starter for your yeast, but the website for this strain warns that overpitching (or using too much yeasts) can results in the near complete loss in banana character, and a starter just multiplies the yeast. It is strain on the yeast that creates the esters and phenolics. Therefore, I just smacked the pack, and hoped I didn’t do too much. How do you smack one of these packs. Well first, you find the little nutrient pack inside, and hold it to the corner. Then simply follow the diagram below.

1)

Line it up.

2)

Wind up.

3)

Smack!

Step Nine: 60 Minute Countdown

As long as you have properly cleaned and sanitized everything, what you do during the next 60 minutes will greatly affect the final taste of your beer. It is time for your first hop addition. This hop addition will basically add only to the bitterness level of the beer. All of the volatile oils that you can smell and taste from hops are boiled away. The bitterness comes from alpha acids that have been isomerized into your beer. The most effective way to isomerize an alpha acid is to vigorously boil the hop. The longer you vigorously boil a hop, the more alpha acids will be isomerized. Different hop varieties have different alpha acids levels. A cascade might have an alpha acid level of about 4%, while Nugget might have an alpha acid level of about 13%. The Opals I was using had a pretty high alpha acid level of 8.4%. It also varies between years and farms, so double-check the package before you complete your recipe.

Dividing the hops editions up beforehand, makes it so you aren't running behind.


I had 3 hop additions for this beer. The later hope addition, the less volatile aromas can boil away, and the less alpha acids are isomerized. This means you get less bitterness, but more aroma and flavor from the hops. Having three additions increases the complexity.

These were my hop additions:

60 Minutes Remaining: 0.25 oz Opal, .10 oz Nugget (I didn’t have enough Opal to hit my target IBUs, so I added some of the Nugget I already had).

30 Minutes Remaining: 0.50 oz Opal

5 Minute Remaining: 0.25 oz Nugget

Watch for boilovers.

When adding hops, especially the first hop addition, your water is really going to want to boil over. Just keep on stirring and turn down the heat if needed. You might also want to keep a little spray bottle on hand. I have heard that spritzing with water helps keep the foaming in hand. Another trick is to put a few copper pennies in the pot. One thing you shouldn’t do is cover your pot completely to try to prevent boilover. There are sulfur compounds the wort develops while boiling, that you would prefer to not condensate on the lid and drop back into the pot.

Step Ten: The Lowdown on the Cooldown

It’s getting a little hot in here, so we’re going to bring the temperature down in Part 3.

Brewday: Scott’s Sparkling Weisbier Part 1

Is brewing your own beer worth it? Is it worth the work, is it worth the investment, is it worth the thought, is it worth the patience. About two decades ago if you wanted a decent beer in this country then it was basically your only choice. The present climate is not the same. When I go to my local grocery store, I constantly see new beers from breweries I’ve never heard of. Why brew your own when you have such a selection of craft brews to choose from. Once you’ve brewed a beer and tasted your results, then I think you’ll know the answer to my question.

Step One: Grab a Homebrew

This is the most important step, and without it your beer just isn’t going to be all it could be.

OK, it's not beer, but it was 8:30am on a Sunday morning. The coffee was brewed at home, so it counts.

Step Two: Gain Some Knowledge

Reading this post and this blog in general is definitely a good start. Then you might want to read a few other blogs done by homebrewers like:

http://aleevangelist.wordpress.com/

http://morganriverbrewery.wordpress.com/

http://craftbeerathens.wordpress.com/

or go to http://www.homebrewtalk.com/ and get some advice from a lot of experienced homebrewers.

The best option might be to buy a book. From what I can tell, people usually start out with one of two books: The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charles Papazian or in my case, How to Brew by John Palmer. The best part about Palmer’s book is if you go to his website, he has the complete first edition up for free.

I even put little flags in the important sections of the book in case I ever had a quick question in the middle of a brew session.

Step Three: Gather the Equipment

Once you have the knowledge and the internal fuel (and took a shower), it is time to gather the equipment. At the very least you are going to need the biggest pot you have, a long stirring spoon, an airlock and a bucket, carboy or other large container to ferment in. The pot should be able to hold 3 gallons of liquid at the least, though 5 would be better. You can probably pick up a 5 gallon plastic bucket with the lid at your local hardware store, just make sure it hasn’t been used for anything else before. If you do get one made specifically for beer, it will probably have the little hole in the lid for the airlock already drilled. If you go the carboy route, make sure you either get a glass carboy, or a plastic carboy specifically made for fermentation like the Better Bottle, as the regular water cooler carboys are two permiable to air. The airlock is more of a specialty item that you can either order off the internet , or you can find at your local homebrew shop.

Look at that dirty floor, good thing I'm going to wash all this stuff real good.

Step Four: Gather the Ingredients

This is where you make sure you have everything. I’m basically using the recipe I mentioned in my earlier post Scott’s Sparkling Weisbier. The difference of course are the hops. I was at my Local Homebrew shop, the Brew and Grow gathering up ingredients. I was in front of the hop refrigerator looking to see if they had any Tettnang, but low and behold they where all gone. One of the very helpful employees helped me find an alternative. They were also out of Hallertau. He conversed with somebody else and they suggested I try either Saaz, which is most famous in Bohemian Lagers like Pislner Urquell or Opal. I’ve never heard of it before, but the label said it was perfect for German Wheat beers, and what is the point of homebrewing if you aren’t going to experiment. He then offered us cups of the shops homebrew. One thing about a local homebrew shop, they always are brewing beer that they want to share with the public. Now that’s something you aren’t going to get from an internet retailer.

A digital scale makes measuring a lot easier since, besides the water, all the measurements are by weight.

Step Five: Clean and Sanitize

Make sure you clean everything, and sanitize anything that will touch the wort after it has cooled down. This includes the fermentor, lid, airlock, thermometer, etc.  To clean it is best to use a mild nonscented detergent or a percarbonate like Oxyclean or Powdered Brewery Wash by Five Star Chemicals, which as the name suggests is made specifically for brewing equipment.

Significantly easier to rinse than the dish detergent I have.

You probably already have bleach under your sink, so you can mix up a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water and let it soak for 20 minutes to sanitize all equipment that will touch the wart after the boil. You apparently don’t need to rinse this, but John Palmer suggests that despite this claim, you probably want to avoid possible chlorine flavors. Something better would be using a non-rinse sanitizer like Star San by Five Star Chemicals. It requires only 30 seconds instead of 20 minutes, and definitely doesn’t require rinsing.

I've definitely gotten good use out of this.

A nice trick is to fill up your fermenting bucket with water and mix in the cleanser of your choice and wash all your equipment at once.

If you have a hydrometer, make sure to wash the hydrometer alone, or it will break. It is guaranteed.

Lay down some paper towel to lay the equipment on to dry.

I think I need some more paper towels.

A quick note for those with dishwashers. Your dishwasher generally gets hot enough to sanitize, but not all of your equipment is dishwasher safe, so choose wisely.

Step Six: Mis En Place (Everything in place)

Mis En Place is term chefs use to denote that they have all their ingredients and equipment ready and in a place in which they can be easily be retrieved  at the correct time in the cooking process. This is no less important in brewing since once you get to boil (or even before if using specialty grains), everything is on the clock, and not being able to find your second addition of hops for 20 minutes is going to change the the taste of your beer from what you were aiming for.

This is very sticky stuff.

This is where a digital scale comes in handy. Otherwise you have to try to take a ratio of your total amount in the package.

This stuff could fly everywhere if you pour too quickly.

Even break your hops into the 60 minute, 30 minute, and 5 minute additions (your additions may vary).

Mise en place

Step Seven: Give me Some Heat!

This will have to wait until part 2, but what a part it will be.

Fire it up!

A Lapel Pin: A New Level of Beer Fanciness

Look at the nice Lapel Pin that the Cicerone Certification Program sent me. I surely wasn’t expecting one. Another reason to get to the next level (could get an even fancier pin). I’m not sure when I’ll actually have an occasion to wear this, but it is pretty cool.

I did brew the Weisbier last Sunday, and I know I haven’t posted anything about it. Don’t worry, I took a lot of pictures, so it might even be a two parter. It’s just that I’ve had Bronchitis and have felt like death the last few days. The posts will come soon.

The Verdict on Kuyken’s Coffee Stout

It’s been a few weeks since I bottled Kuyken’s Coffee stout and I still haven’t shared anything about it. I cannot let this oversight go on any longer. To be honest I haven’t said anything about it because the first couple of bottles seemed to have something off about them. It had a sharp taste that certainly didn’t go with the rest of the beer. It seemed like the beer   had been contaminated somewhere along the line, and some nasty bacteria provided its own flavoring before it died from alcohol poisoning. It wasn’t entirely undrinkable, but I couldn’t really get over that off-putting flavor. A few weeks have passed and I brought some bottles over to my parents for Easter last week. There was no sign of any off flavor at all. It was saved. I had another one a few days later and it was just as tasty. That’s the great thing about bottle conditioning, in that the beer usually improves with age (up to a point).

Aroma

It mostly smells like coffee with some sweeter chocolaty notes.

Appearance

It is very dark brown to black. It has an off white or light caramel head, with good head retention.

Taste

It is pretty sweet towards chocolate malt, with lots of smooth coffee flavor. It is less bitter than what you would usually expect from a stout. It has the sweatness hit you up front with the small amount of bitter on the back. The lack of bitterness was my brother’s main complain.

Mouthfeel

It has a heavy mouthfeel, but very smooth with a ligther amount of carbonation.

Overall Impression

It is a little sweater than you would expect from a stout, but this probably has to do with the addition of coffee cold extraction coffee. It would go great with a brownie or something fruitier like a Raspberry Tart.