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.

June-bock

maibock lager beer

See? Lagering works!

What the hell is a Maibock? In short, it’s a 13th century dark-ish strong German lager. Lightly hopped with a sweet malt forward flavor, it’s brewed to celebrate the coming of spring and often associated with a goat, which translates to ein Bock, which relates to Einbeck, the first town this type of beer was brewed.

Not to be deterred by shortcomings on the Baltic Porter, I bought another lager kit from HomebrewSupply.com, determined to treat this yeast better. My wife was even kind enough to allow me to remove the bottom shelf and a drawer of the refrigerator to conduct long term lagering. Since I got a late start and wanted the bock to settle out long term, I named it June-bock.

The grain bill is too complex to describe in paragraph form:

  • Pilsen Light LME
  • Munich LME
  • Extra Light DME
  • Light Munich malt
  • Cara Pils
  • Caramel/Crystal 60L
  • Aromatic

Small amounts of Magnum and Hallertau hops were added, along with Irish moss for extra clarity and Wyeast #2206 Bavarian Lager yeast. I fermented at a consistent 50 degrees in my basement next to a growing collection of high powered cellared ales to keep ‘er company. The final ABV was 7%.

The pour is very, very clear from the long 6 week refrigerator-powered lager session, with a not-so-underwhelming foamy head. A thin foam topping persists throughout the experience. I get notes of toffee and slightly burnt caramel for aroma. A sweet character shines through in the flavor, becoming more well-rounded as the beer heats up. There is a slightly bitter aftertaste, perhaps a longer cold period would smooth that out.

I’m reluctant to part with this beer as I think it came out fantastic for my second lager beer attempt, but I can surely spare a few bottles for my brother and German beer loving father this Sunday. Prost!

Monday Eve II

It was a sweaty game of Trivial Pursuit.

It was a sweaty game of Trivial Pursuit.

Ahhh, Belgian beers. After reading Stan Hieronymus’s fantastic tome Brew Like a Monk, I was super-pumped to retry my Belgian Golden Strong Ale, created to be consumed at the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones. Armed with superior knowledge of how to handle Belgian yeasts and additional alcohol boosting sugars, I dove headfirst into the ester sea of fruity-sweet delight.

My recipe remained mostly the same: Pilsner malts and LME, light DME, but I replaced corn sugar with dark candi sugar (rocks). The Trappists use pure candi syrup and perhaps the third attempt will as well, if I can get something worthy. However, since I ordered a pound of sugar rocks before I knew that fact, for now the rocks will do. Hops and yeast are the same as before, Saaz and Styrian Golding, and a 2 liter starter of Wyeast #1386 Belgian Strong Ale yeast.

Since this was brewed in the cold March months of Vermont, I placed the fermenter directly in front of the primary heat source of our rental abode, which kept the fermentation temperature at a minimum of 70 degrees, a vast improvement in stability from the last brew. The results of this action were stunning: An orange peel aroma and orange-y ester flavor dominate the tasting experience, supported by a thick and hefty mouthfeel. The beer is quite effervescent with a persistent, frothy head, which are welcome side effects. Final statistics: OG 1.072, FG 1.012, 34 IBU’s, 23.63 SRM, and 8% ABV.

In summary, Monday Eve II has been a wonderful companion to the magnificent run of Game of Thrones Season 6 episodes, transporting the brain into the most tempestuous, violent, and compelling visual experience HBO can provide. I only hope it’s not all gone before the grand finale.

homebrewsupply.com’s Baltic Porter

A rich, foamy head.

A rich, foamy head.

This Baltic Porter was the first lager I’ve brewed, and it turned out harder than expected to manage. The recipe and ingredients of this extract based recipe came from homebrewsupply.com, with a complex grain bill consisting of:

  • Munich LME
  • Light DME
  • Caramunich Type 3
  • Chocolate
  • Special B
  • Black (Patent) Malt

Hops were an ounce each of Magnum and Saaz, and I created a 2 liter starter of Wyeast #2124 Bohemian Lager yeast. The hops from a kit were unsurprisingly much worse in  quality than the usual hops sourced from Winooski’s great Vermont Homebrew Supply store. I also had them crush the grains before sending, as this was the last beer brewed before I purchased a hand-crank grain mill.

The toughest part of this beer was getting the damn thing to ferment out. The optimum temperature of the yeast was a generous 45-68 degrees Fahrenheit, but down in the 50 degree cellar it just wouldn’t get going. To bring the FG down to 1.026, several raises and drops in temperature occurred over a four week period, to what I believe to be the beers determent.

It smells worse than it tastes, which might be a good thing. It’s not a bad aroma, but to describe best I can, it smells “old”, as in the negative version of “aged”. Once a sip is downed, the roast of the malt comes through and relieves the nostrils from their confusion. Additionally, for being 8.4% ABV, it doesn’t taste boozy, and drinks quite easy, as lagers often do. I’ll gift this to others readily as it’s fine enough to drink, though I’d like to give this style another shot in the future, or perhaps pivot to an Imperial Stout instead.

Solsagan IPA

solsagan ipaI try to make an IPA or Pale Ale at least every 3rd or 4th brewing attempt, due to the insane popularity of the style. Smelling the various hop pellets and sampling the sidecar brew day IPAs for “research” purposes provide good sensory development. Lately, I’ve experimented with heavy dry hopping to try and bring out the aromas of commercial examples.

Alas, I haven’t struck gold yet on a great IPA. They all seem to hint at something greater, leaving me wishing for less malt and more resin-y or tropical fruit flavors.

This beer is named for the Finntroll song and accompanying album, played during the boil session, to encourage the spirits of metal to fuse themselves within. Specialty grains used were Cara-malt 10L, Victory, Belgian Biscuit, supplemented with Light LME and DME. Galena, Centennial, Cascade, and Willamette construct the hop backbone, and a smack pack of #1056 American Ale yeast was added. Willamette and Cascade were used for dry hopping. It clocked in at ~7% ABV.

The beer pours a touch hazy with a large foamy head. A nice light amber color accompanies a nondescript aroma. As for flavor, different bottles have varied mightily. A few have reminded me of the rock candy sugar blast of Long Trail’s Space Juice, where several others seem like malty, just adequate thirst quenchers.

No matter, another attempt shouldn’t be too far away. The Belgian Strong is in the fermenter as of two hours ago, leaving plenty of time to gather ingredients for the next go.