Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Two beers for today's roundup! Both inspired by Belgium (well... the second one was technically Dutch, but from my perspective here in North America, that's like the difference between southern Ontario and south-western Ontario.)

Unforced Error

The first was a shot at a nice, malty, tasty Belgian Dubbel. No problem, right? My brewing partner, Andrew, got ambitious. Who was I to argue? He cooked up some Belgian candi sugar, using a process like this. What he got was pretty gorgeous:

Three pounds of invert sugar, cooked for three hours.

Well, with colour like that, we figured we should build the beer around it without too much malt to help. Then, two things happened. One, we overshot our gravity with unexpectedly high efficiency from our mash-- resulting in a wort that would reach 9% alcohol after fermentation, instead of the targeted 7%. Two, we got much less flavour and colour contribution than we expected.

What we got, actually, was a beer with a ton of clove notes and a pretty clean profile. What we got was a Tripel.

They have a term for this in baseball, when you accidentally turn a double into a triple. They call it an Unforced Error.


"Ra Ra" (working name)

Next on deck (ooh, another baseball reference) was an attempt to clone, or at least get close to, a wonderfully rich, flavourful, no-roast imperial stout by De Molen brewery in the Netherlands, called Rasputin.

Much better beers than the facial expression would express.

The exported Rasputin has an interesting history in the US, being referred to as "Disputin" for a while due to a trademark dispute. What it is, though, is a fantastic, potent imperial stout that bears a very winey, rummy flavour instead of being full of roastiness. And lately I've found roasty beers to be about as appealing as licking a campfire.

And I didn't even realize what I wanted to brew until I tasted a (somewhat past its prime) stout by Russ of Biergotter, and I was reminded of how a stout doesn't have to be all Black Patent and Roasted Barley.

This recipe is an attempt to get close to my memory of Rasputin, which I've had at the brewery in the Netherlands, in the wonderful Gollem's Proeflokaal in Amsterdam, and at Volo in Toronto who sometimes import De Molen. Rasputin is one of my very favourite beers and if I can get close to it, it will be a huge victory.

Gollem's, with a tram casually rolling on by because Europe.

All I know about Rasputin is that it is "pale malt, chocolate and crystal malts" and "premiant and saaz hops". That's not much to go on, but I constructed a recipe designed to load the beer up on rich dark-fruit and malt flavour. The Saaz hops I could do, Premiant I couldn't, but I don't think that matters so much. The yeast is an Abbaye belgian yeast, brought up in a starter to give it a fighting chance in a 1.095 gravity wort.

Brew day wasn't perfect, we undershot our gravity quite badly, but drawing off extra volume and then boiling aggressively ended up giving 4.8 gallons at 1.095, instead of 5.5 at 1.097. Close enough, trading a few bottles of end product for a higher gravity. It occurs to me I had the same problem with Bombe, but after 2 years, I didn't remember the lessons of my last imperial stout. Oh well.

The name for this one is, well, probably temporary. Like Unforced Error, its identity will be revealed in time.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Brew Roundup

Long time no post. So let's round up the last year or so of brewing activity. Brew details first, with the recipes posted below the cut.

This past year has seen a shift in my brewing pattern. I've got some recipes that I'm fine-tuning now. I'm also brewing a little less frequently, but with more ten-gallon batches in the mix. This has been helpful from a life-balance perspective, without sacrificing on the kegerator-pours-beer-when-I-pull-the-tap front.

Ten Gallon Hat Brown

This brown ale has seen some iteration from its previous incarnation. I recreated it with some tweaks in August 2014, and then tuned it further as the inaugural 2015 brew in March. The latest iteration dials back on the Fawcett amber and rounds out the malt profile with some Melanoidin (my new malty friend) and some Honey malt. I also went to Hallertauer hops, not for any specific reason but because of availability.

The end result is rich and complex, with a sweet chocolate-cake finish, but doesn't lose its drinkability. It may be the best beer I've ever brewed, and people seem to like it. It's a favourite of Erin's, and other friends have remarked positively about it.

The recipe included at the bottom is from the third edition. TGH will be back again this fall, I'm sure.

Smoke & Sting Porter


It's funny, I don't really remember this one so well anymore. But looking at Untappd, it seems like we all liked it. My tasting comments: "Really hit the target with this one. Smoke character is perfectly balanced. Get a nice roasted note too. Not too heavy either. Happy!"

The most memorable thing about this one is that on brew day, it got a little something extra in the pot: a wasp. I might have to brew this again, see what all the fuss was about. Maybe this time I'll add two wasps.

Campaign Rye Pale Ale


In what was a very busy fall, I took a leap of faith and brewed 10 gallons of a style I'd barely tried before. The result was epic. Campaign got us through the winter by being a fantastically well-balanced, drinkable, tasty beer.

Brewing it was a challenge, though. The mash profile was flawed, because it exceeded my mash tun's volume constraints, so I had to adjust on the fly. On top of that, the rye-heavy mash stuck during initial runoff, and I had to re-set it and sparge very slowly.

It also got a couple of random 2-ounce hop packages that I had hanging around. Ahtanum for aroma hops, and Glacier for dry hop. But the Glacier went in "hop tubes" that are designed to fit in a carboy, and that was a complete bust: the pellets expanded and turned into hop concrete. Very poor utilization.

Still, the end result was extremely good. My latest beer (below) is a RPA that is modeled on Campaign, though with enough ingredient substitutions that I'm giving it a different name.

Speaking of names: Campaign got its name by being brewed during the heat of the 2014 municipal election campaign. It was an incredibly busy stretch for me. And fortunately, the good guys won.

Santa's Sweet Stout

I set out with the mission of creating a "sweet" or milk stout, with cocoa nibs, to make it a "chocolate milk stout". If I recall correctly, half of this batch went to Andrew. I bottled my half.

This wasn't a bad beer, but it didn't really hit the mark. It was meant to be sweet and chocolatey, and it ended up being fairly dry without the cocoa nibs contributing much of notice. Which is a shame, because nibs are expensive. I had to hunt around to find some, eventually locating them at a baking goods store.

No Crystal IPA

This past April, it was definitely time to brew an IPA-- it has been too long! An experimental beer, this was a 5 gallon batch only, which I regret.

The name makes reference to the fact that no crystal malts were used. This came out of a conversation with Culum of Together We're Bitter, after I tasted his very delicious IPA. He has this thing against crystal, and formulated his IPA to not need any. At an IPA growler tasting event, his was light and drinkable, while everyone else's was some degree or another of chewy.

So I decided to give it a try. I followed Culum's lead by using some honey malt for balancing sweetness. I also used all Mosaic hops for the beer, which gave it a tropical juicy character.

Somehow I stumbled on a really nice balance. I got to recently try Block Three's Mo Money Mo Problems Mosaic-hopped IPA, which was good, but... I liked mine better.

I will likely try and replicate this beer. Maybe change up the hops a little.

Southern Exposure Cream Ale

This one was fun.

I wanted to brew an "authentic" cream ale. So I came up with a recipe with 3 pounds o' grits as part of the malt bill, as a corn adjunct. But you can't just toss grits in. You have to gelatinize them first.

So I basically boiled the grits along with some malt. The malt is needed to provide a little enzymatic action to break down the gooiest of the starches from the porridge-like mass of grits.

Given the approach, I decided to do a protein rest and some decoction mashing. It turned out to be quite a challenge, as I ended up having to do three decoctions after the adding the boiled grits to the mash.

The end result is just on tap today, and is pretty drinkable. It will probably improve after sitting in the keg fridge for a while. I would have liked to cold-condition it earlier, though. The best I managed was a few weeks of cool-basement-floor conditioning.

Dusty Roads Rye Pale Ale

Another crack at the RPA style, modeled after the Campaign RPA.

This was brewed today, with the lessons of the previous RPA in mind. Lautering was still a challenge, but nothing stuck this time.

The ingredients are different enough (I'm low on Vienna and had to do a bunch of hop substitutions) that I decided to rechristen this beer. Currently, our street is a big mess of construction, and I had to take the careful step of closing the garage door to prevent billowing dust from falling in the brew pot as I chilled it.

Speaking of chilling, that was pretty tough too! Our temporary water supply runs above ground for a few hundred feet in a nice blue plastic pipe. That meant the temperature was a fair bit higher than usual, which affects my ability to chill a wort using an immersion coil.

Still, no major problems. Should be a good beer in a few weeks!