Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Does This Beer Taste Off To You?

During the homebrewing journey you will encounter many different flavours, some expected and welcomed with open arms, and others completely unwanted that could result in your hard work being poured down the drain. You go to great efforts to avoid some of these nasty flavours, so it’s no surprise you could be unfamiliar with some of them, but they are flavours every brewer should be aware of.

Which one gets you out of the Matrix?
Thankfully for us, a company by the name of AROXA have a solution. How about tainting a perfectly good (but bland) beer with these unpleasant flavours for the purpose of research? Their UNO kit gives brewers and beer judges alike the opportunity to taste ten of the most common flavours that they might encounter when tasting beers. We had discussed this kit numerous times at previous homebrew meets, but it wasn't until Ale is Good posted a excellent blog post about the very same kit that we actually got our arses into gear and put an order in.

What we received was a superbly packaged item which was more akin to a next-gen gadget! What you get is a ‘pod’ containing 10 colourful pills, each with an accompanying cue card detailing how best it should be consumed, how the flavour and aroma occurs and the variety of beers you might expect to find it in. All we needed to supply was an inert beer and all eyes were on good old Bud, but we ended up with something probably even more bland than that - Coors Light. We certainly got some funny looks from the other patrons in Red Willow when we started cracking open the cans, even more so when we started dumping the contents of brightly coloured pills into it! Curiosity got the best of one person who wandered over to inquire what we were doing - don’t panic, it’s all in the aid of science! 

In attendance was myself, Mike, Graham, Tom and Bruce.

H2S - "like boiled or rotten eggs"
To kick off proceedings we picked the closest card to hand. As soon as we added the pill's contents to the first portion of the beer there was an immediate air of egg sarnies wafting across the table, enough to put you off  even trying it, but that’s not in the spirit of the exercise! There was a slight musty taste to the beer, but it wasn't totally unpleasant, definitely had more in aroma than in flavour.

Cue Card Blurb...
Present in all beers. Concentrations vary considerably from beer to beer. Off-flavour in most beer styles. Signature flavour character in Burton ale.

Diacetyl - "like butter, or butter popcorn"
With a sniff of the beery jug there was a definite smell of buttered popcorn, which wasn't all that bad. In the mouth there was a slick buttery feel that totally flattened any taste the Coors had to offer (if it had any to begin with!). I've encountered this flavour first hand with an off bottle from a fellow homebrew club member, but this was definitely more pronounced. 

Cue Card Blurb...
Desirable flavour in some ales, stouts and lagers, eg Pilsner. Off-flavour in other lager beers. Considerable efforts are made by breweries to lightly control this flavour character.

Isoamyl Acetate - "like bananas or pear drops"
This one wasn't completely unpalatable, due to it being a flavour that is expected in the Hefeweizen beer style (see Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse). It had a strong smell of foam banana sweets, which isn't a surprise as Isoamyl Acetate is what banana flavouring is made from. Some of the group caught hints of pear drops, which the cue card also mentioned, but that favour alluded me. We pretty much agreed that this one actually improved the beer. As a comparison the bar manager of Red Willow, Pete, got us a sample of their own Witless to see how it tasted in a proper beer...obviously was superb!

Cue Card Blurb...
Present in all beers. Concentrations vary considerably from beer to beer. Key flavour impact character in some lagers and ales. Signature flavour character in German-style wheat beer.

Musty - "like corked wine or a damp cellar"
I think from all the samples we tasted, this was the most revolting. As soon as we added the compound to the beer, an awful stench of damp cellars hit our nasal passages. Bruce said it reminded him of scout huts, so God knows what repressed memories this thing had unearthed! The smell was almost overwhelming, to the point where human instinct was telling us not to drink it! We pushed on and took a swig with noses pinched. Not only did it smell musty, but it tasted quite musty too and left a dry lump in my throat. Some of the guys got a hint of chlorine coming through which, once highlighted, we could all taste. 

Cue Card Blurb...
Taint in beer. Associated with a high degree of consumer rejection, even at low levels. Often described by consumers as ‘chemical’ or ‘contaminated’.

DMS - "like sweetcorn or tomato sauce"
Did someone just open a tin of Green Giant sweetcorn? Initially there wasn't a lot to taste other than the Coors (in which there’s not much flavour), but then it snuck up on the taste buds, nasty lingering sweetcorn-like flavours, which almost had Mike gagging. I think we each only had a couple of sips before it was tipped into the dump jug. 

Cue Card Blurb...
Desirable flavour in some pale lager beers and ales. Off-flavour in other beers. Excessive levels are indicative of growth of contaminant bacteria during fermentation.

Metallic - "like ink or blood"
At this point we started blind tasting to see if we could guess the flavours. This was an obvious one, there was a strong iron flavour, but it didn't really smell of anything. When we checked the cue card it advised us to rub a bit of the beer on the back of our hands and give it a sniff, sure enough it smelled quite strongly of a metal works.

Cue Card Blurb...
Taint and occasionally off-flavour in beer. Primarily affects the beer mouthfeel, but occasionally beer odour can also be affected. Metallic odours can also be produced by lipid oxidation. 

Phenolic - "like cloves or wheat beer"
To me this one had a strong scent of smokey bacon crisps, which for some reason always reminds me of cider (particularly Strongbow)! In the mouth this wasn't all that bad, it gave the Coors a Saison-like tone which was actually quite palatable. Mike had recently brewed a beer that had this exact flavour, which although it was obvious that it had been infected by some wild yeast, it was still a decent tipple. 

Cue Card Blurb...
Key flavour impact character in some ales and stouts. Off-flavour in lager beers when it is associated with a moderate degree of consumer rejection. Signature flavour character in German-style wheat beer. 

Hop Oil
There was nothing on the nose with this one, but it basically tasted of a crappy lager, even more so than just the Coors alone! Furthermore it had a slight stale tone, like drinking the dregs of a lager that had been left out in the sun for a few was a taste we were all familiar with. 

Cue Card Blurb...
Positive flavour character imparted to specialty ales by addition of hop oil. Different hop varieties in combination with different beers give rise to a variety of hop flavour characteristics

Considering the accompanying cue card had the icon of a skunk on it and advised to smell the beer at arms length, we all thought this one didn't actually smell so bad. There was a slight scent of sulphur, but nothing as overwhelming as some of the other flavours on offer. It tasted pretty similar to the previous sample, but this one actually did simulate a beer left out in the sun.

Cue Card Blurb...
Off-flavour associated with  beer packaged in clear or green glass exposured to light . Consumers are very tolerant of this off-flavour. Many successful beers contain this flavour at  point of consumption. 

And eventually we get to our final flavour, which by at this point we’re all gagging for something hoppy and tasty! This one didn't really taste or smell of anything too unpleasant, just of a standard lager. There was nothing else to report really.

Cue Card Blurb...
Off-flavour in beer associated with ageing. Formation of this flavour is more pronounced when precautions have not been taken in relation to minimising process oxidation. 

. . .

The aftermath...
With the tasting session done we all dashed off to bar to get a beer with a wanted flavour. Whilst almost everyone went with Quantum’s excellent NZ Pale, I went for a Arbor Ale’s 2014 - a black IPA which, according to Ratebeer, is over 1200 IBUs…whaaaa?! I wanted hoppy and got it in spades! Despite the strong hop flavours, I could still taste some of the nights nasty offerings.

In conclusion, we were all expecting the off flavours to be quite bold, but instead we found subtle nuances that our taste buds really needed to hone in on. Due to varying palates, a few of us couldn't initially pinpoint the off flavour and that's where it helped doing the tasting in a group so we could explain the flavours in various ways and highlight them to other members. 

All-in-all, the kit was a fantastic exercise and certainly well worth the money, especially if you can round up ten people to split the costs. What was interesting is that I was expecting a lot of the flavours to be indicative of a spoiled brew, but not all the flavours you would want to totally avoid, depending on what you’re actually brewing.

If you’re serious about brewing then it’s definitely worth checking out!

Monday, 7 April 2014

BIAB #5 - CitrAmarillo

I know I keep banging on about it with every pending #brewday, but I really wanted to go for something simple for my next beer, but this time I've actually managed it...well I've come close! Having recently attended a meet-the-brewer event at Red Willow Bar with the Kernel Brewery's Evin O'Riordain, he revealed that for every one of their pale ales they use nothing but good old Maris Otter. Furthermore, as part of the night's line-up we sampled Kernel's Citra, which is an absolutely supreme beer. Without realising it at the time, fate had decided what I was brewing next - a pale ale with a Maris Otter base malt and ample amounts of Citra!

A single malt, single hop brew? Nah! Of course I couldn't just leave it at that, so whilst filling my basket at the Malt Miller, I also threw in a vac-pack of Amarillo, to be used for bittering along with the Citra, as well as to bulk out the late hop additions.

Then, whilst I was building the recipe in Brew Mate, I realised I still had a small batch of Willamette left in the pantry and figured it would be a shame to let it go to waste. Shane at Cheshire Brewhouse had told me that Willamette is a great hop to bring out the flavours of other hops, but the plan was to dry hop this with a smidgen of Citra, whether or not this will have the same affect on the aroma, only time will tell.

With the brewday on, it was time to put some of my newly upgraded kit to the test. I had recently purchased a foil-lined camping mat to carve up and use as insulation for my FV. With the foil leftovers I decided to insulate my stockpot too, seeing as I'd been struggling with getting up to a boil. During the hour long mash the temperature only dropped a single degree, so it was obviously  worked a treat. As for the boil, that took a mere 30 minutes, a big improvement on the two hours it had taken on previous brewdays.

With the chiller in the wort doing it's thing, I set about making a yeast starter. I'd never made a starter before, instead previously opting to pitch dry as directed by the US-05 instructions. However, Thornbridge Dom had discussed the process at a recent Macc Homebrew meetup, so with his expert knowledge instilled in me, I grabbed a small scoop of wort (at 27°C) and pitched half a packet of US-05. 30 minutes later the yeast had been worked it's magic and I pitched the resultant jug of happy organisms into the cooled wort. The gravity was a little short of what I was expecting, but at 1.044 it was still on track to be around 4.5%. 

Now I get to use the my new piece of kit - the temperature controller! After what seemed like an eternity of non-brewage, I eventually got this bad boy built, mostly taking the lead from pdntc’s helpful guide. It was time to put this thing through its paces. I set the temp to 20°C and kept a beady eye on it. However, due to a combination of the new insulation and the yeast starter headstart, the wort didn’t drop from around the 21 degree mark for the first couple of days. Once it did kick in, it worked a treat, keeping the FV within half of a degree of it's setting. If you haven't already got one, I would seriously look into getting one built!

When it came to bottling I followed some useful tips passed on by Shane at Cheshire Brewhouse. A couple of days before it was ready to be bottled, I switched off the heating, allowing it to cool down (it did only drop around 4°C mind), and thus dropping out any crud that may have still been suspended in the beer. Then a couple of hours before dispensing, I whacked the heat back on to bring the brew back up to the 20 degree mark, so that the residual yeast was ready when it was introduced to the half teaspoon of priming sugar I had dropped into each bottle. This looks to have worked a treat as the PET bottles are firming up nicely just a couple of days after bottling. So not long to wait before I get to sample it!

 Name Type EBC Percentage  Amount
Maris Otter MaltGrain7.996.77 %3 Kg
Flaked OatsAdjunct23.23 %100 g

 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Amarillo8.6%15 gBoil60 mins
Citra11.1%10 gBoil60 mins
Amarillo8.6%10 gBoil5 mins
Citra11.1%15 gBoil5 mins
Citra11.1%5 gDry Hop0 mins
Willamette7.1%18 gDry Hop0 mins

 Name Amount Use Time
Irish Moss0.5 gBoil10 mins

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Need More Input Part 2...

The Homebrewers Guide to Vintage Beer - Ron Pattinson (Quarry Books)

This book is a bit of a strange one when you first set eyes on it. It’s a hardback, but the content inside is spiral-bound which I feel makes it appear a little cheap. Thankfully, the information printed on the pages is pure gold. 

The book’s author - Ron Patterson, is the blogger behind Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and is now regarded as a bit of a beer historian. The premise for this book was to unearth beer recipes from the bygone years by trawling through the dusty archives of numerous long-standing British breweries, giving us a glimpse of how some of the beer styles that we love and enjoy today have evolved over the last few hundred years. It was interesting to read how the ABV of certain styles changed as methods, ingredients, laws and even the drinker's tastes changed over the years.

The book covers the brewing methods and equipment used way back when and includes over 100 hundred recipes. Thankfully these recipes, whilst keeping as true to the original as possible, have been translated into modern brewing methods...I mean who has a slate Yorkshire square fermentation vessel in their garage nowadays? 

There's two recipes to a page with the bare bones of information you'd need to pull off the brew, which an experienced homebrewer should have no trouble executing. The book has even garnered a bit of attention from well known brewers such as De Molen and Pretty Things, who have expressed interest in brewing some of the ye olde beers that adorn it's pages, and even Kernel’s excellent Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 is based on a recipe in this very book. Even if you don’t attempt any of the recipes, the book is a seriously interesting read.

The Brewer's Apprentice - Greg Koch & Matt Allyn (Quarry Books)

In this book, Stone Brewery’s Greg Koch and beer geek Matt Allyn talk to various master brewers from all around the world, giving a great insight into how some of the more superlative examples of various beer styles are brewed. It also investigates various brewing methods that other homebrew books barely touch on, such as barrel aging, lambics, brewing with fruit and big beers. The brewing doesn’t just stop at beers, as there are even chapters about ciders and meads. I found the interviews to be very natural, as though you're actually chatting with these guys in the pub tapping them for their invaluable experience, and some of the tales are truly inspirational (Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada springs to mind). It’s a thoroughly good read, that lead me on to buying the next book…

The Craft of Stone Brewing Co. - Greg Koch & Steve Wagner (Ten Speed Press)

This book chronicles the history of Stone Brewing, from it's humble beginnings to the mega brewery it is today, all told from the perspective of the people involved. 

One thing that is evident throughout the whole book is Greg's, and all others involved in the brewery's success, unwillingness to budge on integrity and their vision. They had plenty of opportunities to make a quick buck, but they stuck to their guns and just continued down the path of making the great beers that they had a taste for until the rest of the world caught up with them. 

The book details how many of Stone's famed beers came into existence, which makes for an interesting read in itself, but there's loads more! It includes a beer and food tasting guide, recipes straight from the kitchen at Stone's World Bistro and even homebrew recipes of their own beers...a couple of which I've already earmarked for future brews. Bring it on! I was so inspired by this book that I went out and bought a bottle of Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, a black IPA which is currently rated 100/100 on RateBeer, which was as expected, superbly sublime!