Jun 22 2016

British Pale Mild – Reckoner

Although my wheelhouse has traditionally been hoppy or sour beers, I am always up for a challenge. Or an absurd dare.

Three Notch’d Brewing had an Art of Craft challenge during American Craft Beer Week last year, and they asked homebrewers to brew English IPAs, the best of which would be made at the brewery. Timing and interest did not lead me brew last year, but this year’s challenge intrigued me.

Art of Craft at Three Notch'd Brewing Company

Art of Craft at Three Notch’d Brewing Company

The style for this year’s Art of Craft was a British Pale Mild, which one of those styles that most of us don’t get to try unless we travel a great distance and get lucky, or we brew it ourselves. The mild style, which almost always refers to the dark version, is a rare one that is relatively unknown to most beer drinkers, and the pale mild is even more rare.

This beer is like a unicorn. With wings. A pegacorn.

The reason why the brewmaster, Dave, chose this obscure style was because it poses some technical and quality hurdles. This low alcohol (3.4-4.1% ABV) beer leaves you nowhere to hide flaws or imbalances. In the GABF Beer Style Categories description below, fruity-esters aromas/flavors and hop aroma/flavor/bitterness all low to very low.

56. English-Style Mild Ale

A. Subcategory: English-Style Pale Mild Ale

English Pale Milds are light amber to medium amber. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Fruity-ester aroma is very low to medium low. Hop aroma is very low or low. Malt flavor dominates the flavor profile. Hop flavor is very low to low. Hop bitterness is very low to low. Very low diacetyl flavors may be appropriate in this low-alcohol beer. Fruity-ester flavor is very low to medium low. Body is low to low-medium.

Original Gravity (Plato): 1.030-1.036 (7.6-9.0 Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (Plato): 1.004-1.008 (1.0-2.1 Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 2.7%-3.2% (3.4%-4.1%) • Bitterness (IBU): 10-20 • Color SRM (EBC): 6-9 (12-18 EBC) 

 

This is supposed to be a malty beer where the body is “low to low medium.”

No, I’m not going to mislead you and pretend that I’m a British beer expert or that I favor British beers in general. But I undertook this challenge because it isn’t a strength of mine, and here is how I went about it.

In retrospect, the process was the easy part. I knew I wanted to make a minor water adjustment to harden the water and I did that with a touch of gypsum in the mash. And I knew I wanted to mash in the 154F range to leave behind some body to this beer, and then to ferment it cool around 68F.

WLP002, English Ale yeast, was an obvious choice for fermenting this British style while leaving some residual sweetness. (Although I always find the yeast’s clumpy cottage cheese look disconcerting, at best.) The hops were simply British pellets (UK Challenger and EKG) that I needed to create low bitterness and a low hop perception.

The thing to (over)think was the SRMs. In order to keep the color pale and below 9 SRM, it limited my ability to use deeply flavorful malts as they would darken the beer out of style. The base grain I split between Maris Otter, for a slight nuttiness, and Golden Promise, for a touch of sweetness. And although I rarely use it anymore, I also used some carapils which is dextrine malt which brings some unfermentable sugars that improve foam, head retention and mouthfeel.

In trying to add more flavor, I also used a British Carastan malt to add some toast, caramel and toffee flavors, and some Crystal 120 for another level of caramel, burnt sugar and raisin. In the end, I think the high Lovibond color of the Crystal 120 kept me from adding enough of that malt to make a flavor difference. In doing this over, I would have probably doubled the Carastan up closer to a pound to make that malt more prominent without concern that the color would increase significantly, as well.

The brew day was uneventful, and the wort came out pretty light. I honestly think I still had a few SRMs to give.

Pale Rack to Carboy

Pale Rack from the Keggle to the Carboy

When kegging the beer with a friend, the beer had no noticeable flaws but seemed a bit mild. Yes, I know the style is “mild”, but the malt flavors were restrained. This made the beer easy to drink, but less flavorful than I had wanted.

 

Final Color - Pre-Carb

Final Color Before Carbonating

The Art of Craft event was a fun one and I forget how fun it can be to share beer with a crowd of wildly varying degrees of knowledge about beer.

Art of Craft Event at Three Notch'd

The Art of Craft Event at Three Notch’d

In the end, I did not win, but the goal for me was to stretch beyond my comfort zone and try something new. I got great feedback from the crowd, and it is easy to forget how nice it is to share something you love with strangers. This recipe might be a jumping off point for you if you decide to challenge yourself to outrageous acts of mildness.

Since this was a difficult challenge, a reckoning of sorts, I called it Reckoner. And because it is one of my favorite Radiohead songs, as well.

In addition, if you have made this style yourself, leave a comment on your recipe and approach.

Recipe:

Reckoner – Pale Mild 2016
4/16/16

OG: 1.032
FG: 1.007
3.3% ABV

3.0 lbs Maris Otter
3.0 lbs Golden Promise
1 lb Carapils
4 oz Crystal 120L
8 oz Carastan 30L

1 tsp Gypsum mash

Mash 154F

0.50 oz UK Challenger (6.1% AA) 60 min
0.35 oz East Kent Goldings (5.7% AA) 15 min

1 Tab Whirlfloc
Yeast Nutrient
Yeast Energizer

WLP002 English Ale yeast (1000 ml starter made)

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Jan 16 2013

Barlow Brewing 2012 Homebrew Year in Review

At the end of each year (2009, 2010, and 2011), I go through the stats of my homebrewing adventures and try to identify some trends and larger takeaways.

I used to set a goal of brewing 60 gallons a year, which only equates to brewing a 5 gallon batch each month. I don’t know what I shoot for anymore. I try to brew once a month, but when I brew more than once a month if gives me an excuse to skip other months. This year I brewed 91.5 gallons so, somehow, it all worked out.

Looking back at 2012, the three trends that defined that brewing year were: the return of sours, 100% brett beers, and barrel fills.

 

The Return of Sours

I never really ran out of sours, but I was surprised to do the math and figure out that I only brewed 5 gallons of sour beer in 2011. Given how long it takes for sours to age into awesomeness, I did not set myself up for a good 2012.

So I immediately went to work on sours and brewed 23 gallons before the year was done. I did a Berliner Weisse and a Flanders Red for a barrel fill, but sour I most enjoyed making was for a friend’s wedding. I got less than 10 months notice to brew it, so I had to do a little voodoo and blending to make that one come together. But I was happy with the uniqueness of that soured porter on cherries and pinot noir oak.

 Old Lambic Hops

Old Lambic Hops

 

100% Brettanomyces Beers

I’d been wanting to make a 100% brettanomyces beer for quite a while and, inspired by Crooked Stave’s beers,  I finally around to it last year. In fact, I made three of them. I brewed an American IPA with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, and then I brewed a saison and a dubbel with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois, which is supposed to be the strain from Drie Fonteinen.

Brett strikes fear into the hearts of many homebrewers, but it is relatively easy to work with if your sanitation habits are strong and have separate tubing and racking equipment from your normal batches. Brett ferments just as quickly and cleanly as saccharomyces cerevisiae and finishes around the same place in terms of final gravity. You just need to pitch your yeast at lager rates and to tweak your recipes to favor more proteins for a fuller mouthfeel in the final beer.

I’ll be posting the recipes and stories about those brett beers in the coming months (as I catch up on my blog). I don’t know how many 100% brett beers I will do this year, but I loved the interplay between brett and hops in the experiments, and I feel like I know much, much more about these mysterious wild strains that I did before. But there is still much more to learn.

You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett

100% Brett AIPA 

 

Barrel Fills

My homebrew club acquired a bourbon barrel last year and we planned to fill the barrel once, and then we would drain in sometime in 2013.

We ended up filling the barrel almost three times in 2012.

The first fill of the barrel was with an imperial porter and we let that go for a few months. That was getting smoother and picking up nice vanilla notes….until it turned sour. We never figured out if we didn’t prep the barrel well enough, or if one of the club member’s portions gave the barrel an aggressive lactobacillus culture. (My conscience is clear because I bottled some of the surplus beer from my batch, that didn’t go into the barrel, and it earned a silver medal in a BJCP competition for a robust porter.)

We drained that barrel and then decided to go with a sour beer, not that the barrel had given us much choice. We filled it up with a Flanders Red and beefed up the bugs with Roeselare and ECY Flemish blends. We were storing the barrel at one of the local homebrew stores and a few months after racking the beer into the barrel, the store had to do some renovations and we had to drain the barrel in December.

So we filled the barrel again, but not until early January of 2013, with a Batch 001 Beatification clone inspired by The Mad Fermentationist. I look forward to seeing how this beer evolves.

And hopefully we don’t have to drain this beer before 2014.

 Bourbon Barrel - Filling Crew

The CAMRA Homebrew Club Barrel Filling Crew 

 

What’s on Tap for 2013?

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m not going to do any here.

Having gone so far into the dark/sour/brett side in 2012, I can see myself making some more mainstream beers in 2013. I’d like to do a maibock and perhaps a dark lager. Maybe a kölsch.

But I’ll continue to play with whatever new ingredients I can get my hands on. My second batch of beer for 2013 was an American pale ale that I hopped with the hot, new Mosaic hop. (HBC369 – A descendent of Simoce and Nugget that brings pine, tropical fruit and blueberries to table).

I’ll keep playing with fruit, as well, as I’ve already added cranberries to part of the Flanders red batch that was temporarily aged in the barrel, and I’ve got 10 pounds of Gewürztraminer grapes to put on a batch, likely a Belgian pale ale, too.

Maybe this is the year I’ll act upon my crazy idea to make a Hendricks beer. And a Kvass.

I’d like to not get shut out in the National Homebrew Competition like I did last year, as well. (Just kidding.) (Actually no. No, I’m not.)

 

If you are into stats:

Weights and Measures
Gallons of Beer: 91.5
Gallons of Cider: 12
Pounds of Grain: 230
Pounds of Hops: 2.7

Averages
Average Batch Size: 6.1
Average ABV: 5.74%
Average OG: 1.057
Average FG: 1.013
Average Pounds of Grain per Batch: 12.37
Average Ounces of Hops per Batch: 2.69

By Category
Ales: 11
Lagers: 3

Brett Only: 3
Ciders: 2
Sours: 4

Medals and Ribbons
BJCP Competitions Entered: 3 (NHC, Dominion Cup, CASK Beer Blitz)
Medals Earned: 8 (4 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze)
National Homebrew Competition Ribbons: 0
National Homebrew Competition Medals: 0

Superlatives
Favorite Brew – 100% Brett IPA – You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett
Favorite Brew (Runner Up) – Berliner Weisse – Waterloo
Worst Brew – Southern English Brown
Favorite Name – You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett
Favorite Name (Runner Up) – Panty Lock Brakes
Biggest Trend – 100% Brett Beers

 

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Jan 17 2012

Barlow Brewing 2011 Homebrew Year in Review

At the end of each year (2009 and 2010), I go through the stats of my homebrewing adventures and try to identify some trends and larger takeaways. I brew a modest amount of beer each year, and usually set a goal of making 60 gallons, which only equates to brewing a 5 gallon batch each month. That goal, many years ago, was bold and reaching. Nowadays, it is a pretty low bar, but it keeps me on track.

Looking back at 2011, four trends define that brewing year: hiatuses, organic beers, the lack of sours, and some competition success.

 

The Hiatus(es)

I go in waves with homebrewing. If it was my job, I’d be happy to brew, cellar, or package every day. But as a hobby that needs to be squeezed into the cracks and spaces between family, work and daily life, there have to be breaks. I took three hiatuses this year and did not brew at all during the months of March, August, October and November.

I do not know if that model is more beneficial to my overall zeal for the hobby, or if I’m better off keeping to a steady schedule. I know that feel a bit more excited about a brewday after some time off, but I also feel sloppy and out of practice when I do brew, as well.

 

Organic Beers

Organic beers just kinda happened this year. After planning to experiment with Rakau hops, which were organic, I decided to go ahead and make that entire beer organic. Then, I was in the Bison/New Brew Thursday competition, which required that I brew an organic beer, too. And then, in retrospect, my cider, perry, and mead were organic creations, as well.

I’m repeating myself here, but I couldn’t detect the difference between a normal and an organic beer. The bottom line with organic, from a creative perspective, is that you reduce the number of ingredients you can work with to make a beer. I like the idea of organic brews but, for the foreseeable future, that will always be secondary to my desire to use the exact hops, malts and other ingredients I want to use to make the beer that I want to drink.

But my awareness has changed and I no longer think, if I ever did, that organic beers are inferior. And that is something in and of itself.

 

Sours

This one actually surprised me and freaked me out a little. Although I bottled, added dregs to, and won medals for sours, I only brewed 5 gallons of sour beer last year. Since it can literally take years for a sour ale to fully develop and become drinkable, this was huge hit to my pipeline.

Although I still have plenty of bottles of my fruit lambics and a few of my Flanders Reds, I quickly realized that the weekly work of maintaining brett and sour beers was important, and they can make you forget that you having nothing in the pipeline.

After that epiphany, I immediately brewed a Berliner weisse that I hope might be turning the corner by the time the weather gets warm.  But I’m screwed for sours for most of 2012. Perhaps that is a mark against the hiatus model, which would have had me, at least, making filler beers in the in-between months.

Crap.

 

Competitions

This was a good year for me for BJCP and other competitions.

My goal for 2010 was to try to get a beer into the final round of the National Homebrew, and I squeaked in a beer and a cider. For 2011, I was hoping that I could get a beer or two into the final round again, and perhaps get one of those to medal.

Fortunately, I had three beers make it to the final round of the NHC: my “Tobias Fünke” Flanders red, my “Fargin Eishole” eisbock, and “Slow Motion Walter, Fire Engine Guy”, which was an oak-agerd, smoked Baltic porter.

I thought my flanders red, which had gotten a 1st place ribbon in the first round of the NHC, had a good chance, but it was my eisbock that won a bronze medal in the final round of the National Homebrew Competition. That was amazingly cool, and it proves that anything can happen in the final round.

In other BJCP competitions, I won a Gold, a Silver and a Bronze in the Dominion Cup, and two Gold and two Bronze medals in the CASK competition. Both were poor outings for me, but I’ve got no one to blame for them except the brewer of those beers. Yes, me.

Outside of BCJP competitions, my brett saison won first place in The Bruery’s Batch 300 Contest for French/Belgian ales, but it did not win a the overall competition. And I made it to the final round of the Bison/New Brew Thursday Organic Homebrew Competition, but I did not win that final round.

I also won a qualifying and the final round of the Iron Brewer competition. That was a bunch of fun, and it is always nice to have an excuse to talk shit with HopfenTreader and Simply Beer, as well as drink great and experimental beers.

 

2012

What will be my big trend for 2012? I’m getting a late start on planning that one out. Obviously brewing a bunch of sours, and I’d like to make a few full-flavored session ales, as well. Short term, I need to look into brewing beers for this year’s National Competition, but I might be dead in the water there, too.

 

If you are into stats:

Weights and Measures
Gallons of Beer: 82
Gallons of Non-Beer: 14
Pounds of Grain: 172
Pounds of Hops: 3.06

Averages
Average Batch Size: 5.1
Average ABV: 6.5%
Average OG: 1.061
Average FG: 1.012
Average Pounds of Grain per Batch: 12.3
Average Ounces of Hops per Batch: 3.3

By Category
Ales: 14
Lagers: 2
Ciders: 1
Perrys: 1
Meads: 1
Sours: 1
Organic: 4 (2 beers, 1 cider, and 1 perry)

Medals and Ribbons
BJCP Competitions Entered: 3
Medals Earned: 10
National Homebrew Competition Ribbons: 3
National Homebrew Competition Medals: 1

Superlatives
Favorite BrewTriple Lindy / Churchill Downs (bourbon barreled Triple Lindy)
Favorite Brew (Runner Up) – Aardbei (Strawberry lambic)
Worst Brew – Piper Down 1 & 2
Favorite NameYou’ll Shoot Your Rye Out
Favorite Name (Runner Up) – Up on Cripple Kriek
Biggest Trend – Organic Beer

 

AHA NHC Ribbons

AHA NHC Medal

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Aug 26 2011

Bohemian Pilsner – Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

 

This beer did not turn out to be a Bohemian Pilsner.

So, now that you’ve been warned, let’s talk about my entry for the Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition. When the competition was announced, signing up for it was a no-brainer. Pilsner Urquell was running a contest in three cities (New York, Washington DC, and Chicago) to see which homebrewers could brew the best “Czech style” pilsner. The winner from each city would win a trip for two to Plzen to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery, as well as attend the International Bartender Awards in Prague.

Hey. I’m a homebrewer. I’ve been meaning to brew a Bohemian Pilsner. I only live 2 hours away from Washington DC. I’m into free trips to Europe. It made all the sense in the world.

But I didn’t think this was going to be a slam dunk. I have experience making lagers and brewing for competitions, but light lagers are a different species. And I had never done a triple decoction, which is a mashing process that this style is known for. But I figured this would be a fun experiment and I could lean on my friend, and local pils and Czech beer expert, Velky Al.

The formulation of the recipe was pretty simple as this one is almost 100% pilsner malt and definitely 100% Saaz hops. For the base malt, I used the Weyerman Bohemian Pilsner Malt, which is a lower Lovibond barley with a bit more complexity than the standard German pilsner malt. To round out the malt bill, I used 12 ounces of CaraPils, to improve head retention and give the beer a bigger mouthfeel, and a few ounces of acidulated malt to lower the pH of the mash and wort.

The matter of the triple decoction was the difficult part of the brewday. I imagine triple decoction was born out of necessity back when the grains were much less modified than they are today. By pulling out the thickest part of the mash and boiling it three different times, it darkens the color of the mash, makes the wort more fermentable and gives the beer a more complex malt character. So I followed all the steps and pulled off thick portions of the mash into a little pot and boiled them to raise the larger wort up the next step temperature.


Triple Decoction: One of the step heatings

A rare sighting of Assistant Brewmaster Jasper 

 

I can give you a flowery passage right here that describes how wondrous the triple decoction mash process was. How it brought me closer to the origins and magic of brewing. It did. But I don’t see myself doing this again anytime soon.

Go ahead; tell me that triple decoctions do something special to the beer. Tell me that this archaic process is not just for show. I believe you. I really do. But sometimes that is not enough when I look at the limited amount of time I have to brew. But I’ll save my thoughts around triple decoctions for another post…

So how did the beer turn out? Disappointing.


 

The picture above was of a sample of my beer (the one on the right) that I pulled off and carbonated while the rest of the batch was still lagering. The color was on. The clarity of the beer got much better after weeks of lagering, but not to the level of a commerical example of PU.

The taste of the beer? Well, there wasn’t much taste at all, and aroma was underwhelming, as well. Honestly, professional macro-brewers would be blown away by how clean and free of flaws this beer was. It was amazing. And amazingly boring to me. Al astutely thought it was closer to a Dortmunder Export, but I’ve made those in the past and I didn’t feel that that style was a perfect fit either. Since I knew I didn’t have the time to re-brew and lager, I dry-hopped the beer with an ounce of Saaz just to give it a little something…more.

As I knew from the start, this beer isn’t in the recipe. It is in the process. I think, now having one triple decoction brew under my belt, I could do better with that process in subsequent brewings. Also, I would probably do a less dramatic diacetyl rest. Urquell has a definite diacetyl flavor, which I dislike, and keeping some of that butteriness would make it closer to cloned and maintaining a cooler temp would likely keep the final gravity a few points higher.

I did not, unsurprisingly given my tasting of the final beer, place in the final six homebrewers in the D.C. competition. But, again, I felt it was a longshot in the first place.

The event was very cool and classy, and wonderfully hosted by Smith Commons. For more information on the event there’s a press release and Tom (@LugwrenchBrew), who accompanied me to the gig, wrote a post about the Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition, too.

It was educational, and I’m always down for a brew that throws me out of my comfort zone. And a Bohemian Pils is certainly that.

 

Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself- (Bohemian
Pilsner)

Starting Gravity: 1.056 (4/17/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.012 (5/18/11)
Final Gravity:  1.012 (6/24/11)
5.9% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 57.8%
Real Attenuation: 47.3%

Mash (See Below)
14 lb Weyerman Bohemian Pilsner Malt
12 oz CaraPils Malt
3 oz Acidulated Malt

Boil (80 min)
1.5 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (60 min)
2.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (30 min)
1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (10 min)
1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (10 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)

½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (50º F) 2 Weeks

2 packs Wyeast 2001
Urquell Lager – Starter Made

Secondary (33º F) 6 Weeks

1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (Dry Hop) (6/15/11) for 7 days

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