Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beer Review: A Tale of Two (Irish) Stouts

So I am Irish, so of course I like my stouts. The majority of my adult drinking life was dedicated to pints of Guinness, however since I have broadened my beer horizons I have been able to put Guinness on the back burner and sample the myriad of other stouts and porters, both Irish and foreign that are available. I have also brewed my own porter. Today I decided to try two Irish stouts and give my impressions on them.

First up is Oyster Stout, brewed by the Porterhouse Brewing Company from Dublin. This beer has oysters added to the brewing process, this adds what the label describes as a discernible yet unidentifiable note. I will be sampling the 330ml bottle, ABV 5.2%. So lets try it out.

It pours a jet black with a good tan head that dissipates quickly, but you are left with a thin line of creamy head. The aroma is of rich roasted malt, no oysters apparent on the nose! The beer is full bodied with a very smooth creamy mounthfeel, a low level of carbonation allows all the flavours to come nicely to the fore. The roasted malt dominates the taste however there is a nice balance of hop flavour. You also get the nice astringency in the aftertaste from the black malt. Funnily enough there is a perculiar character to the flavour that I cannot put my finger on, this must be the 'discernible yet unidentifiable note' added by the oysters. Good ingredient information is provided on the label:

Grain: Pale Malt, Roast Barley, Black Malt, Flaked Barley.
Hops: Galena, Nugget, East Kent Goldings

Certainly a beer worth trying to emulate as a homebrew, however I would not try and tackle the oyster addition!

Overall a very nice Irish stout, the flavouring is well balanced and everything comes through in a nice subtle way. I have had this beer both on draught and in bottle and I would highly recommend both.

The second stout for today is also by the Porterhouse Brewing Company from Dublin, this is their Wrasslers XXXX Full Stout. The label carries a warning to tell the drinker that this is a traditional stout, dry with lots of roast malt flavour and hop bitterness. This is a 330ml bottle, 5.7%, bottle conditioned and unpasteurized.

The beer certainly looks quite different to their Oyster Stout, it pours with a dark tan head, which also quickly dissipates, leaving a very thin layer of head. The aroma is surprinsingly very subtle, you can certainly get the roasted malt, however the surprising element is how the aroma hops are to the fore(Goldings according to the bottle), overall a lovely balanced aroma. The mouthfeel is also quite different to the Oyster Stout, it is only medium bodied, with a higher level of carbonation and also a sharper taste. The flavour is of roasted malts and bittering hops. The key to the flavour of this beer is to let it sit on the palate a moment before swallowing, you then get a real sense of the combination of malts and hops. It is a quite complex beer and I am afraid that being served straight from my fridge it is probably a little cold, allow this to warn up a bit and it would be a even better. Should you wish to try and emulate this beer at home, good ingredients information is provided for the homebrewer:

Grain: Pale malt, Roast Barley, Black malt, Flaked Barley
Hops: Galena, Nugget, East Kent Goldings

Overall a very nice stout, possibly not as smooth and velvety as the Oyster Stout, but certainly one that deserves appreciation. My only critique would be that I feel that the level of carbonation achieved through bottle conditioning is a little to high. But this is certainly a very good Irish stout that you should seek out. I have heard, although I have not tried it myself, that the draught version of this beer is fantastic.

These two stouts are IMHO vastly superior to Guinness in terms of their complexity and flavour, however I still enjoy draught Guinness and will continue to do so. What these beers show is that there is still diversity in Irish brewed beer, unfortunatley at the moment it seems that you need to look a bit harder to find it. I would guess that the vast majority of the Irish stout drinkers have never heard of Wrasslers, never mind a stout brewed with oysters.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Beer Review, American Lagers

In this hot sunny weather there is no better time to have a nice lager. However over the years the term lager has come to mean something very different than it originally meant. Brands like Heineken, Budweiser and Coors now dominate the bottled lager market. Their beer tends to be very light, very fizzy and served very cold, this combination leads to a very dull, watery tasting beer. However there is still some great lagers to be found if you look a bit harder. Here are two such American lagers that I would highly recommend:

Brooklyn Lager 5.2%, Bottle (Brewed by the Brookyn Brewery, New York)

Brewed by the Brooklyn Brewery in New York this is a wonderful American Amber Lager. American Pale ales are renowned for their heavy hop flavour however this American lager is very much about the  malts. Pours a lovely gold colour with a frothy head that dissipates to a thin white head. The aroma is all above the lovely malts with a nice hint of floral hops in the background. Nice and lightly bodied with a good level of carbonation and a lovely smooth creamy mounthfeel. This is a lovely smooth thirst quenching lager. A truly fantastic beer and available at a very good price. This should be the type of lager that everybody drinks. This will no doubt become a staple of my shopping list and my beer fridge.
Thanks to the fantastic Brookyn Brewery website, lots of information is provided that will allow you to brew this beer at home:

Malts: American Two Row Malts
Hops: Hallertaur Mittelfrueh, Vanguard and Cascade
ABV: 5.2%
Original Gravity: 1053 (13.2 Plato)
Sam Adams Boston Lager 4.8%, Bottle (Brewed by Samuel Adams, Boston) 
Brewed by Samuel Adams of Boston this is another fantastic example of an American Lager. Brewed using a decoction mash this beer once again is all about the malts. Pours a lovely dark golden colour, nice head with a high degree of lacing. The aroma is perfectly balanced between the sweet malts and the beautiful noble hops (Halletaur Mittelfruch and Tettnang Tettnanger). Medium bodied with a nice creamy mounthfeel. This is a really well balanced beer with a nice hop charater complimented by a lovely sweet maltiness. This really is a stunning example of a lager and should be what all 'lagers' should aspire to. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Extract #7: Recipe - Hippity Hop Pale Ale

Decided to brew a quick extract brew while I am still working on "perfecting" my AG process. I love American pale ales and this is very typical of that style, a little bit of crystal to add a little colour and some caramel flavour, some carapils for body and then loads of citrussy American hops to provide the flavour and aroma. Based on a sneaky taste of the OG sample this is going to be all about those American hops.

Hippity Hop Pale Ale

10-A American Pale Ale
Author: Mark

BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
Size: 17.28 L
Efficiency: 75.0%
Attenuation: 75.0%
Original Gravity: 1.048 (1.045 - 1.060)
Terminal Gravity: 1.012 (1.010 - 1.015)
Color: 21.32 (9.85 - 27.58)
Alcohol: 4.7% (4.5% - 6.2%)
Bitterness: 39.6 (30.0 - 45.0)


1000.0 g Dry Light Extract
1000.0 g Dry Light Extract

103.0 g Crystal 120EBC
125.0 g Carapils®/Carafoam®
250.0 g Crystal 60 EBC

19.0 g Chinook (11.3%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min
19.0 g Cascade (5.4%) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
1.0 tsp Irish Moss - added during boil, boiled 15 min
16.0 g Cascade (5.4%) - added during boil, boiled 1 min
16.0 g Amarillo (9.5%) - added during boil, boiled 1.0 min

1.0 ea Fermentis US-05 Safale US-05

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Felt tonight like a nice refreshing Weissbier. I have tasted Weihenstephaner's heffeweissbier dunkel (that's a tongue twister) before, however I wasn't blown away by it. So having seen this beer in Tesco a couple of weeks ago I thought I would pick up a bottle to see what it was like.

Hefe Weissbier 5.4%, Bottle (Brewed by Weihenstephaner, Freising, Germany)

Pours a light, hazy golden colour with a substantial white cream head. The aroma is that of a classic Weissbier, strong banana aroma dominates courtesy of the yeast, really nice balanced aroma for this style. Medium bodied with a relatively low level of carbonation. Taste is not as nice as the appearance and aroma would suggest. Not sure if I can quite put my finger on it but it just lacks something, maybe it is a lack of complexity. A nice refreshing beer, however I do not think it is on a par with Hofbrau or Unertl's Weissbiers. Nothing particularly wrong with this beer, it just doesn't stand out. Probably not one that I would purchase again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rebellion Cask Ale

So due to the unfortunate eruption of an Icelandic volcano with a name too hard to pronounce never mind spell, I found myself in the position of being stuck in the UK for three nights as oppposed to the originally planned one. However I decided to make the most of my time and seek out some nice Engish cask ale.

First up on Wednesday night was two beers from the Rebellion Beer Company This company is based near Marlow on the banks of the Thames. The brewery was established in 1999 and currently has a capacity of 36,000 pints per week and seems to only deliver to local pubs and restaurants.

The first beer was a session IPA that was only 3.7% ABV, this was a really nice beer, not too dissimilar to what I would imagine Galway Hooker would taste like on Cask, it was nice thirst quenching drink with a good solid bitter backbone. I followed this on with a pint of their Rebellion Budget Blues Ale. This beer appears to be part of a series of one-off beers that Rebellion are producing in 2010, they are brewing one per month and the series is called the Recession and Recovery Range. This is descirbed on their website as Red and Hoppy with a strength of 4.3%. This was a really enjoyable red ale, it would be more balanced towards bitter rather than an Irish red ale that would be more about the sweet malts. Really enjoyed this beer and would think that this is maybe one of the series that should be added to the permanent rotation.

I really enjoyed these two beers, and they really showed me what a cask beer is all about, served at the right temperature through a beer engine that is well looked after, you can enjoy a quality pint of beer the way it was supposed to be enjoyed.

For the rest of the week I was stuck down in London, however I did still manage to enjoy some nice Young's Gold and a few pints of Greene King. Overall a very enjoyable few days of beer tasting, I must remeber to be over in the UK the next time an Icelandic volcano decides to erupt.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

AG #1: NUTS Brown Ale - First Taste Test

Well just over three and a half weeks ago I brewed my first ever all grain brew and today I got around to my first taste test. The beer (NUTS! Brown Ale) was in primary for 11 days, it was then transferred to secondary for 6 days and then transferred to a corny keg. The corny keg cold conditioned for 3 days and then was force carbonated for 3 1/2 days. The results overall are not bad for a first attempt.

Appearance - The colour is a little darker than I would have liked, I was aiming for 39 EBC's and it probably came out a bit darker than that. A great tan head forms and laces the side of the glass. For future versions I will probably scale back the chocolate malt slighty to bring the colour down. 

Aroma - The aroma is all about the malts, chocolate and crystal combine quite pleasantly, again I would consider scaling back on the chocolate for the next version.

Feel - Great mountfeel to this beer, medium bodied with a nice creamy texture. Very pleased with this aspect of the beer.

Taste - So how does it taste? Actually pretty good. A very smooth well balanced beer (if I do say so myself) once again the only negative I can discern is possibly the chocolate malt is a little too much to the fore, as a result it leaves a slightly cloying taste at the back of the throat. Also there is a very slight medicinal/metallic aftertaste that I think is due to the fact that I did not do any water treatment for this brew. However overall I am very happy with this and I am looking forward to seing how it develops as it is still quite young.

Summary - Overall very happy with this as a first attempt, hoping to get my second AG in the fermenter next Sunday.

Bring on the Bock!

Had the pleasure of sampling these two Bock's recently, this was my first taste of Bock beer and as you can see from the reviews below I really like this style. Will try to root out some more versions (any suggestions grateful) and I will certainly be trying to brew a bock myself in the near future.

Anchor Bock
Bock Beer 5.5%, Bottle (Brewed by Anchor Brewing Company)

Pours very dark, looks like a porter with a persistant tan head. Complex malt aroma with a nice balance of wheat and malt, hard to pick out the hops. Highly carbonated but with a smooth full bodied character. Absolutely beautiful burnt caramel flavour, a revelation! Bring on the bock. A beautiful beer totally unexpected but one I really like and will try to brew myself, as well as one that I would definitely highly recommend.

Unertl Weissbier Bock
Weissbier Bock 6.7%, Bottle (Brewed by WeissBrau Unertl)
Pours a muddy brown colour with a large fluffy tan head. Aroma similar to a traditional weissbier with a strong smell of ripe banannas. Medium to full bodied with a lovely velvety texture, carbonation not as strong as I would have expected. Beautifully smooth tasting beer, the strength is hidden by the velvetty texture and it really is what you would want from this style, nice warming feeling from the alcohol level comes through on the end. If this is representative of German bocks I need to delve more into this style. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Extract v's All Grain

I recently watched this video by Canadian extract brewer Craig, the topic of the video is the debate about which brewing method is better, extract or all grain (Craig comes from the extract camp), I also came across a question posed on IrishCraftBrewer from an extract brewer asking if the uplift in quality achieved by going all grain was worth the investment in time and money. As I have only recently switched to all grain and I am eagerly awaiting the taste test of my first brew using this method, this debate is one in which I have a keen interest.

When I started brewing the first method I used was to produce beer based on a can of malt extract (see pic), you simply added water and sugar and let it ferment, before bottling. I found the two brews I made using this method dreadful and ended up pouring most of these bottles down the sink. However I do understand that if you use a good quality kit and substitute the sugar for spraymalt that you can get a really nice beer. However having been unimpressed with my first two brews I decided to go the route of trying extract (with steeping grains) to see if I would get a lift in quality that would make it all worthwhile. The results, from my very first extract batch, were a revelation. I made an American Pale Ale and I really enjoyed it, so much so that I made three different versions of the same recipe, refining it as I went. In total I made six extract brews before deciding that I wanted to make the jump to trying all grain. All of the extract brews I made were really good quality and so my thinking was that if I could get even a small increase in quality by going all grain then the resulting brews would be worth the additional time and effort that all grain requires. However from reading different opinions on the subject I have come to realise that there are a number of ways in which the quality of your brew can be improved and it is not just about making a bee-line for all grain.

Firstly, it is the yeast that makes the beer, not the brewer. What is meant by this phrase is that a lot of experienced brewers will tell you that if you treat the yeast right and have a good fermentation process then this will give you the biggest leap forward in beer quality, regardless of whether you are brewing with a kit, using extract or all grain. So how do you make sure the yeast and fermentation are right.

1) Use liquid yeasts and make a starter
2) Use a fermentation fridge so that you can accurately set your fermentation temperature
3) If possible do a full wort boil

In my case I could have gone the liquid yeast route, however due to the fact that my main area of interest at the moment is american amber and pale ales I do not feel that the addition of liquid yeasts will make a huge difference, at the moment I use dried yeast (Safale US-04 and US-05) and I am very happy with them. If I am going to look at different styles such as Weizen, Bock, Wit etc, then I think that liquid yeasts would certainly add to the quality. In terms of the fermentation fridge, at this moment this is simply not an option for me due to space constraints. I have managed to negotiate a brew closet in the house and at the moment that is filled with all of my brew equipment plus a kegerator  (see pic below) and so there is no room for a second fridge. In terms of carring out a full wort boil (i.e. boiling the full volume of wort and not topping up the fermentor with water), I now have the capability to do this after building a boiler. Due to the fact that I now have the boiler I may try a full wort boil extract brew to compare the results with all grain, as previously when I did extract brews I would typically be topping up with 5-7 litres to make a 20 litre brew.

I have to say in reflection that my decision to move to all grain is probably more to do with my new found love of brewing as opposed to a simple desire to improve the quality of my brews. As mentioned I was pretty happy with my extract brews and I expect that my first few all grain brews will probably no stack up against these in terms of quality, however it is the process for me that is the most interesting part.

Extract brewing is pretty straightforward and if this is what appeals to you then stick with it and if you want to improve the quality of your beer then see points 1, 2 and 3 above. However if you are interested in getting a deeper understanding of the brewing process, in mash temperatures and complex sugars, in complex recipes and processes then look into all grain brewing, as in doing this you will, like me, turn a casual hobby into an obsessive one.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beer Review: Galway Hooker

Irish Pale Ale 4.4%, Draught (Brewed by Galway Hooker)

Rich golden colour with a fluffy persistent white head. Hops come through strongly in the aroma overpowering any malt present. High level of carbonation but with a clean smooth aftertaste. Nicer than I remember it, nice refreshing clean taste with a good level of hop bitterness. A good refreshing session beer that I would recommend trying.

Beer Review: Castle Red

A couple of beer reviews today based on a couple of hours spent in the Bull and Castle this afternoon. There were loads of beers to choose from but I decided to sample the Castle Red and Galway Hooker.

Irish Red Ale 4.3%, Draught (Brewed by the Franciscan Well Brewery, Cork)

Rich dark red colour with a strong off white head. Sweet malt dominates the aroma, really enticing aroma. Very smooth mouthfeel, nice low level of carbonation. The body is extremely light. Refreshing fruit dominates the taste, you would nearly think it was non-alcoholic. Overall a very nice light refreshing summer session beer, body is maybe a little too light, but overall very enjoyable. Would that I would recommend for a sunny afternoon or as a session beer.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

NUTS! Brown Ale - Kegging

Today I finally got around to transfering my NUTS! Brown Ale that I brewed on St Patricks day from secondary to keg. It had spent 10 days in primary and then a further 6 days in Secondary. It had a final gravity of 1012 which meant an ABV of 4.58%. Recipe can be found here

Here are a few pics:

Racking using my auto-siphon:

Transfer nearly complete, approximately 16 litres went into the corny keg:

Close up of the beer in the line, looks very clear and the colour is what I wanted for my brown ale:

Corny keg was then transferred to my keggerator where it will cold condition for 3-4 days before I start to force carbonate. To achieve a carbonation level of around 2.2 I will typically force carb at 14-15 psi for 3 days.

It should be ready for the first taste test next weekend.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beer Review: Dogfish Head 60 Minute

Continually hopped India Pale Ale 6%, Bottle (brewed by Dogfish Brewery, Delaware)

Lovely golden Amber appearance with a consistent off white head. Very unusual spicy aroma with hints of orange peel. Medium to full bodied with a nice level of carbonation. Stunning taste, beautiful full bodied malt with a great spicy hoppiness. Lovely deep complex citrus hops come through on the end. A fantastic beer, one of the best, and if you can get your hands on some I would highly recommend it.  

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Beer Review: Flensburger Weizen

Weizen 5.1%
Dark golden colour, very clear with a nice fluffy head. Nice strong wheat malt aroma dominates. Yeast aroma to the fore but not sweet bannana that you would expect with the style. Highly carbonated and medium bodied, not very smooth. A little cloying and the yeast characteristic is more spicy than sweet. Not for me, plenty of nicer weissbiers on the market, maybe this is a type of weizen that is different to standard weissbiers but I don't like it. Would not recommend this beer, instead look for Franziskaner or Unertl.