Falconer Beer

In the Middle Ages (or medieval period) from the 5th to 15th century, most people had to make their own alcohol from the hard wrought production of their small farm. Small barley plots were meticulously kept, while wild hops were gathered and dried for flavoring. Once all raw ingredients were harvested, home malting and brewing became family ceremonies, demanding the focused attention of all.

To give homage to this ancient brewing tradition with my first all-grain attempt, I bought a 50 lb bag of Crisp Pale Ale malt, a small amount of amber malt, and 2 oz of Falconer’s Flight hops to grind, mash, boil, ferment, and serve a simple medieval beer worthy of a hard day’s reward.

My first problem was using the mill properly. There was too great a gap, resulting in a less than ideal extract. However, things finished fine, and the beer had a nice bright foam upon first uncapping. The predominant flavor I perceived was burnt English muffin, which persevered throughout the batch’s aging. There was an odd juicy earth brightness from the somewhat high alpha %, but that’s since faded. No matter, an unoffensive tasting, 5% ABV medieval ale was made available to all honored guests. (But, most ended up with me.)

Butternut Squash Me, Bro

Clean fermentation, dirty glass.

Clean fermentation, dirty glass.

My brother is a wonderful person. I saw far too little of him this past summer, being a lake apart. However, I was overjoyed when he expressed interest in brewing a collaboration before venturing off south for the fallwinterspring. I let him pick whatever style he wanted for my 30th batch of beer, to which he responded:

“A bûtternût sqûâsh sâîsôn!”

So that’s what we made.

Marahute generously went to the supply store to pick up LME, Maris Otter Pale, Crystal 60L malt and torrified wheat, along with Northern Brewer and Glacier hops. The target was a 4.8% ABV 32 IBU spiced squash ale fermented with French Saison yeast. I balked a bit when he tossed the yet-to-be roasted squash in olive oil before adding to the boil, but that’s what spontaneous experimentation is all about, right? Solid amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon were also added to the boil with pinches of ground coriander and clove.

The highly attenuative yeast did its work wonderfully, fermenting the wort all the way down to 1.008 (2 Plato) from 1.053 (13 Plato), producing a brilliantly clear, balanced, aromatic, yet slightly funky taste that has to be described as a glorious success. If you know my parents and have access to their mudroom, 12+ 22oz bottles still remain for the taking. Just make sure to leave some for my bro, who still hasn’t tried it yet.

Windsor Ale

windsor-aleI first learned about grains of paradise when viewing advertisements for Samuel Adams’ Summer Ale, and thought it was some sort of citrus spicing. Little did I know that this pepper rival was used:

“to give false strength to wines, beer, spirits, and vinegar” – Joseph Meyer, 1918

I had bought a bunch for my medieval cooking phase and had some left over to attempt a recipe for Windsor Ale from circa 1829. This recipe not only included GOP, but also honey, hops, coriander seed, orange peel, licorice root, ginger, and caraway seed. Not to be deterred by a cacophony of medieval herbs/spices, I acquired the ingredients from the local co-op, ordered 3 ounces of whole leaf Fuggles hops, London Ale yeast, and a shit-ton of pale malt extract to give this beer a wild shot in the dark.

Trouble started when the yeast pack failed to vigorously swell. Pitching the yeast and hoping for the best, foam failed to manifest itself atop the potent-smelling wort. Desperately, I quickly mixed two packets of year-and-a-half old wine yeast in some hot water and threw it in the mix, because any fermentation is better than no fermentation.

As a result, I (finally) learned a valuable lesson in over-carbonation. I bottled this ale far too soon, resulting in an enormous maelstrom of foamy discharge upon cracking the cap of each 22oz bottle. My apologies, Ellen. I should have let it sit for a longer period of time, expecting the wine yeast to work much slower, consistently measure the gravity, not have added priming sugar, et. cetera.

However, I thought the taste was promising, if not typical for modern commercial craft beer palates. Complex sweet and spicy flavors explode from the thick, viscous liquid, mostly, I believe, from the residual honey sugars. I’ll for sure try something like this again, albeit with more patience.

Oatmeal IPA

Oatmeal IPAI was listening to Craft Beer Radio’s recordings of the Savor conference in Washington DC last month and heard the concept of an oatmeal IPA during a salon led by “Dr.” Bill Sysak. I wanted to try a completely random recipe using ~10% of flaked oats to see what would happen, and the following paragraphs contain the results.

Even though the name was already taken, I decided to call this recipe Stay on Target due to the use of Target hops and the somewhat meandering collection of recipe components. Maris Otter malt and Golden Light LME contribute some extra caramel-y richness, and CTZ, Target, and Glacier hops bring the IBU’s to ~67. Unfortunately, the supply store didn’t have a suitable American Ale yeast (everyone seemed to be brewing that weekend) so I hoped for good results from Wyeast #1275 Thames Valley Ale.

The resulting beer is brilliantly clear with an appealing orange-bronze color. A juicy aroma is clearly present, though I need more practice to identify the specific fruit. Taste is spicy from the oats with a distinct bitter bite that isn’t too overwhelming. Though, the synergy of ingredients seems lacking in some way. I thought the oats and hops would make the resulting beer pour quite foamy with good head retention, which wasn’t the case. An interesting experiment to say the least, and something I’ll need to tweak a bit in the future to get everything working.

Extra Special Bitter

Bitter (beer). Extra special = premium or strong

Bitter (beer). Extra special = premium or strong

The English Bitter style of beer has a long, important history in humanities’ infatuation with fermented beverages. It’s essentially the same idea as a pale ale, but crafted with British malts, just enough UK hops to balance the sweetness without dominating the experience, and, ideally, a British ale yeast. These beers are malt forward, emphasizing a bread-y and/or caramel flavor, and can vary from ~3.0% ABV to 5% or above for stronger examples.

I chose 2 lbs of Maris Otter malt as the feature, a staple base malt of British beer brewers. Crystal 60L and Cara-malt 10L malts were added for additional character, and a bucket full of Light Golden LME comprised the rest of the fermentables.

A simple hop schedule of 1 oz additions were utilized; Challenger at the start of a 60 minute boil, East Kent Goldings at 30 minutes remaining, and Fuggle with 10 minutes left. A smack pack of Wyeast #1968 London ESB ale yeast was added as is, with no starter. 29 IBUS with a 10 SRM rating, and though the calculated ABV was 5.92%, I ended up with a more favorable and warming 6.4% final ABV percentage.

The beer is not translucent by any means, but suggests clarity is possible. It pours with a very slight foamy head, and I get a faint sweet white-bread aroma when sniffing. When first sampling just two weeks after bottling, the ESB was overwhelmingly bitter, and I thought it a poor effort. However, a month’s worth of time has been kind, as an intense caramel sweetness has overtaken as the primary flavor, with the hop bitterness softly pushing the malt character to the forefront.

I’ve received pretty positive feedback so far for a beer that commercially (at least in Vermont) is not the most common style sold in stores. I predict that as more people get their IPA fill and find less danky/tropical hop explosions available, a reversion to styles such as this will be a welcome change.