Jun 30 2009

American Wheat Ale 2009 – Fritz the Cat – “GB”

This is another one of my quick emails to friends letting them know about my latest homebrewed beer and what to expect.  I scored an actual Gumballhead from a friend (Thanks, Matt) so, despite the humbling pain of the side by side comparision I expect to lose, I will have a compare-and-contrast blog post to come in the next few days.

Here is a link to the Gumballhead recipe and clone comparison page.

 This one is an American Wheat Ale.  I normally do some sort of wheat beer in the summer, but I’m a bit burnt out of the Bavarian-style hefeweizen, etc.  (Although I do love the style, I wasn’t in the mood for 5 gallons of a wheat ale with hints of banana and clove.) 

I few years ago I tried a beer by Three Floyds called Gumballhead which was a hoppy, American wheat beer.  It was refreshing, full of hops and very different from any other beer I had had from that style group.  I decided to make my own version of that beer.

That sounds good until you realize that I had that beer only once years ago.  So this is kinda like drawing a picture of that girl from the one night stand from that mythical trip to Niagara Falls in high school.  I’m pretty sure Gumballhead is driven by the use of Amarillo hops, which is considered a “supercharged cascade hop”.  It is an American hop with a good bit of citrus character, but leaning more towards the orange than the grapefruit side for me.  It can be a bit floral, too.

So I whipped up this batch of wheat ale and the grain bill was 50% wheat, 40% Golden Promise pale malt and 10% Caravienne malt (a caramel malt which should give you a slight toasted flavor in small quantities).  Despite the fact that wheat beers can thicken up and harden like paper mache, the mash and sparge went perfectly.  I also used all amarillo hops in this, although I’m not a huge fan of using amarillo as a bittering hop.  It is not the best hop for the job, and it is cheaper to go with another variety that is higher in alpha acids.  But I decided to make this an “Amarillo Wheat”, whatever that means, and so I stuck with one horse through this.

So far, so good.  It is had been refreshing and aromatic.  But I’ll let you make up your own mind and you tell me what you smell and taste.  (Feedback is good).


Jun 26 2009

Victory Wild Devil Ale Review

I was pretty excited to hear about Victory Brewing Company’s  WildDevil Ale.  Victory makes a lot of great beers, and what they did with this one was brew up a batch of their HopDevil, a hophead’s dream of an IPA, and then ferment it out with 100% brettanomyces.  This sounded like a very interesting idea and a bold experiment.


I bought two big bottles of WildDevil and brought one to a party to share, and stowed one away for myself to review when I could give it my undivided attention.  When I tried it at the party, and shared it with friends, it was a letdown.  It was getting towards the end of the evening, after a good bit of Oberon and some of my homebrewed lambic, but it can across as strangely both dull and prickly.  I was hoping that tasting it under optimum conditions would change my opinion. 

No such luck. 

It was in a 750-ml bomber that was corked and caged.  The bottling date was April 22, 2009, and I poured it into a tulip glass.

Victory Wild Devil -

The beer was a glossy, stained wood brown with bold orange highlights.  The head was thick, but wispy sea foam in composition (not the color).  Each bubble was apparent and separate, and did not meld together into a creamy top.

The nose of this was a perfumey sourness, with citrus and lemon zest.  A mild brett character slid through occasionally.

The taste was all over the place.  There was little of the barnyard character, but it was mired in an unfortunate amount of dryness that drags the off-flavors to the forefront.  There was a soapiness delivered on a dry aspirin platter than made this one hard to get through.  Sometimes a beer is undrinkable, or you just want to call it a day and walk away.  This one wasn’t quite that bad, but every time I put it down, it was easily forgotten.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to drink it, but rather than there was nothing in it to make me want more.  It was an absent-minded chore to get through this bottle.

I cannot recommend this one, and I’ve having a hard time believing that laying this one down for a few months will help improve it. 

The mouthfeel made the Victory WildDevil unsessionable (because I have to make up at least two or three words in every review).  It is nice experiment gone awry.  A potentially cute girl with lots of pointy elbows.  Spooning a porcupine.  But I digress.

I look forward to Victory’s next brett experiment.  I believe in you, but let’s put this one behind us.


Jun 22 2009

Homebrewed Coconut Curry Hefeweizen Review

I like to occasionally brew beers with usual ingredients.  I’ve done ancho pepper ambers, chai milk stouts and I’ve done an oyster stout, with raw oysters added during the last 10 minutes of the boil, to name a few.  They’ve all been interesting and one batch away from being tweaked into something very good.  Even with that track record, I think I scared a few people when I announced that I was going to make a Coconut Curry Hefeweizen. 

In my defense, it wasn’t my original idea.  Charlie Papazain had a recipe for this in The Homebrewer’s Companion, which I bought back in 1997.  I saw that recipe, with those absurd ingredients, and it has been isomerizing in the back of my head for 12 years.  Finally, I was crazy enough to try to make it, and the ingredients came together in a way that made it feel like a beer of destiny.  I had friend in Thailand who sent me Kaffir leaves, and I hit up the Indian supermarket for the stranger spices.  The recipe was scaled down from a 5 gallon to a 3 gallon batch, and I divided the spice into a quarter of what it should have been.  (If there is anything I’ve learned from spiced beers, divide what you think you need in half and then only use half of that.  You are better off with ¼ of what you think you need and then making a spiced tea at bottling than having a beer that tastes like potpourri.)

The brew day went well, but the taste and aroma of the spices were overwhelming at the end of fermentation.  That left me with a decision: dump it or brew an unspiced batch and blend the two.   I did another 3 gallons of hefe and then blended the two.   A previous blog post covers the scheming up of the Coconut Curry Hefeweizen.

Well, how did it turn out?  I have to man up and take the good brews with the bad, right?

Coconut Curry Hefe -

The head on the Coconut Curry Hefeweizen is big and airy.  Not dense or creamy at all, and it dissipates quickly.  The color is that of aged oranges with patches of brown in the deeper parts of the glass.  Despite the amount of floating junk that went into the wort (lime leaves, unsweetened coconut flakes, etc.), it remains as clear as a normal hefeweizen.  Perhaps a bit clearer, but that is faint praise.

The nose is a big fist of ginger and fenugreek.  The lime leaves creep into the background with gentle citrus and herbal notes, but they are completely overshadowed by the ginger.  The body is thin as a result of the honey I add to the boil.

The taste of this beer is pleasant.  At first.  There is an obvious curry flavor that is interesting, but not multi-dimensional.  There are earthy notes with a subdued maltiness and well-balanced bitterness.  But then the cayenne pepper kicks in and seizes around your neck with a slight burning.  That is where this one surprises and overwhelms you a little.  That heat greatly reduces the drinkability of the brew and doesn’t give you a reprieve if you are matching it with spicy foods.  The coconut, which you would think would balance this, is non-existant.

All and all, it is not as bad as I expected after brewing the first 3 gallons, but it still has some balance issues.  If I brewed this again, and I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon, I would greatly reduce the amount of fresh grated ginger and I might omit the cayenne completely.  I would use more coconut, too, and add it a little later in the boil. 

When I took this to a homebrew club meeting the other night, it faired pretty well.  There were a few brewers who hated it and thought it was undrinkable (which I completely get), but the majority thought it was not bad and really interesting.  But I think we homebrewers also award each other points for originality and ballsiness.  This one might have skated by on those alone.

The Coconut Curry Hefeweizen was a failed experiment, but not a bad beer.  If you have a question about the recipe, send me a note.  (I won’t post it to the site since, although I made some tweaks, it is still Charlie’s recipe and in one of his books.)  After tasing the final product, this one has been named “Bombay the Hard Way.”

Bombay the Hard Way

What is the next weird beer?  I don’t know.  I’ve been threatening an Old Bay Lager, but that is just a joke among friends.

Or is it?


Jun 15 2009

Sour Beers and the Long Feedback Loop

Making beer is like anything else in the world.  You have to do it a lot to get really good at it.  Sure, you can make some fantastic beers right from the start, and your skills evolve even faster if you have the right resources and people to mentor you along.  But being able to make something special on a consistent basis takes a lot of trial and error, and getting used to the quirks of your home brewery.

I brew fairly often and I always aim to brew over 60 gallons a year.  (That is more than most brewers I personally know, but far, far less than the real homebrew addicts.)  Brewing a least once a month is relaxing, cathartic, and it keeps me from getting rusty.  The biggest benefit is getting things very right and very wrong, and learning from them.  If I brew a BJCP style that I’m not really happy with, I make it again.  Maybe not the next month, but usually soon after. 

Given my latest addiction to brewing sour ales, my new dilemma is figuring out how to speed up the feedback loop on beers that take several years to make.  I have a Flanders Red (Stupid Sexy Flanders) Ale that I brewed at the end of May, and it is fermenting away.  I’m pretty excited about trying it out, but it really isn’t going to be ready until May of 2011.  That is a long time to wait for that sort of feedback.  

Was I right to pitch a neutral yeast first?  Should I have just pitched the Roeselare blend from the start?  Did I use an oak with the right degree of toast?  Was the malt bill right?  Were there enough remaining sugars for the brettanomyces to dig into?

And what do I do with the sour beers that I brew in the meantime?  Do I try different methods and ingredients in those batches to contrast?  Because I might have gotten it accidentally “right” the last batch….

So far, I’ve been lucky with the lambics and Berliner Weisses I’ve made, but they can certainly be improved upon.  I have the feeling that I might be splitting some of these batches, in the future, to help accelerate the learnings about these wonderful beers that aren’t all that wonderful for the impatient brewer.