Monday, August 23, 2010

The Blessing of the Beer, Assumption Feast 2010

Finally, we had the traditional Blessing of the Beer, from the Rituale Romanum at our annual Feast of the Assumption Mass, procession, and picnic. Every year at our apostolate we celebrate this great feast of our Lady with a special Mass, followed by a Eucharistic procession and then a huge feast. I supply the beer. This year the line-up consisted of three brews by yours truly. The first was a Southern English Brown and the recipe I used was taken from Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, which is truly a great resource. All of the recipes I've brewed from that book have been marvelous and this caramelly English Brown was no exception. Then I had a Honey Blond Ale, brewed from a recipe I got over at the TastyBrew forum, posted by a guy who goes by the online moniker of CLB (now chaselakebeer). Look at this thread and scroll down to the second recipe he posted. I changed the hops in this one (I used East Kent Goldings for bittering and Hallertau for flavor and aroma), but I've brewed it twice and it's really a crowd-pleaser. I made 10 gallons and fermented one half with American ale yeast (US-05 dry yeast) and the other half with a Belgian yeast (T-58 dry yeast) and called it a Belgian Blonde. The only difference between the beers is the yeast and they are radically different. I like them both, but the nod actually goes to the regular Honey Blond half with the neutral yeast. Very yummy. This is a super beer for those who aren't really into beer, lean toward the CoorsBudMiller end of the spectrum, and are hesitant to try new beers. But believe me, even if you're really into special beers this is a nice one.

I don't know if the traditional blessing makes the beer taste any better, but it was enjoyed by all and that is a great satisfaction. If you are ever in the vicinity of southwestern Wisconsin near the Feast of the Assumption (August 15, ya know), then by all means come out and join us for the great time to honor our Lady and have a wonderful time together.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tower of London Porter, Recipe

As promised (well, a little later than promised), here's the recipe for the Tower of London Porter which won Best of Show at the Between the Bluffs Beer, Cheese, and Wine Festival 2010.

I have mentioned before on this blog that Fuller's London Porter is one of my all-time favorite beers. Just fabulous. So I have wanted for a while to try a homebrewed version of it. I found one on the 'Net, ostensibly adapted from the recipe provided by the Real Ale Almanac, by Roger Protz.

I actually brewed 11 gallons of this, but the recipe below is proportioned for the more common 5.5 gallon batch (accounting for some loss in the kettle and the fermenter, with 5 full gallons in the keg):

8 lbs. British 2-row pale malt (I used Crisp Maris Otter)
1 1/2 lbs. Brown malt (this is the essential ingredient for this beer)
1 1/4 lbs. 40L crystal malt
4 oz. Chocolate malt

1 1/2 oz. Fuggles hops, 4.5% aa at 60 minutes
1/2 oz. Fuggles hops, 4.5% aa at 15 minutes

Starting gravity is 1.056. Bittering is 30 IBUs.
Mash at 154 deg F for one hour.

I split this batch into two fermenters. I pitched Safale S04 dry yeast into one half. Into the other half I pitched some WYeast 1968 London ESB slurry I had saved from a previous batch. The S04 half took off right away. I don't know what happened, but after three days the London ESB half showed no activity, so I pitched a packet of Munton and Fison dry yeast. Then it took off within a few hours. I thought this part of the batch was going to suffer from the lengthy lag time before fermentation started, but it turned out that this was the award-winning beer. I really think that the WYeast 1968 did contribute to the final flavor and I think it's the right yeast for this recipe.

The final beer was lucious--rich caramel, slightly roasted, and with a subtle smokey flavor which really surprised me since there is no smoked malt in the recipe.

I will definitely be brewing this again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Between the Bluffs 2010, Best of Show!

I have been brewing for about ten years and have had to work very hard to make good beer. My early batches were—not to put too fine a point on it—horrible. Several of them were literally fed to the pigs. I had to study and practice, finding out what I was doing wrong, correcting it, trying again, failing, correcting, trying again.

Some batches started out okay, but turned nasty within a few weeks (I was oxidating the beer as I bottled it, by not siphoning carefully enough.) Others got infected through careless sanitation. Others—especially those featuring Cascades hops—had a distinctively soapy taste. This, I finally determined by way of a professional water analysis, was caused by my extremely hard well water. And even when I had things more or less figured out using malt extract and switched to all-grain brewing, I encountered harsh bittering in my pale ales, which was also caused by the very hard water.

Several of my friends thought for sure I would give up. But it just seemed to me that making beer was not rocket science, that others were successful and that there was no reason why I could not be successful as well. So I kept at it, correcting one problem at a time.

I have gotten to the point where I can pretty consistently make beer that I enjoy and that my friends tell me they enjoy (and some of them would indeed tell me straight up if it wasn't good.) But there's nothing like a homebrew competition, judged by certified judges, to see if your own perceptions are accurate.

I recently entered four brews in the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, WI to compete against a total of 80 other entries. And one of them, which I called Tower of London Porter, won first place in the Dark Ales and went on to win Best of Show out of the other first place category winners.

I won a very nice prize package, including brewing grains and malted milk balls from Briess Malting Company, two beautiful stained glass picture frames from a local artisan, a giant planter, two VIP tickets to next year's event (a $100 value), and a very (ahem) interesting crown and sceptre as La Crosse brewmaster. But mostly, I took great satisfaction in having my beer evaluated and appreciated in such a venue.

So thanks to the judges, my fellow brewers, and to the intrepid martyrs who were held in that dark Tower, to whom this brew was dedicated. Sancti Ioannes Fisher et Thoma More, orate pro nobis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Now That's Penance!

A friend to whom I sent some of my Holyday Brown and Icicle IPA sent me an e-mail reminding me of former days, when some of my fermented beverages didn't work out quite so well:

Thanks for the nice ale. Last Saturday after a long week, I consumed the IPA you made. You’re in the big leagues now. The hop taste had a bit of a pine flavor, my favorite. I haven’t tasted the brown yet. All of a sudden Lent came; that great time of suffering with no ale. (what a wimp I am) . . . .

I hope you will try your hand at Russian Imperial Stout one of these years. I’m aware of how difficult good brew making is. I know you're busy enough. Don’t worry about a few early mistakes like the Palm's vintage apple wine that had a clear vinegar start with a hint of chlorine after taste. My Dad never knew the difference. I tolerated it too, during Lent a few years ago.

Hoo boy, apple wine with a vinegar start and chlorine finish. Now that's a Lenten sacrifice!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Catholic Church Did What?

A while ago a reader alerted me to a strange sentence in the Wikipedia article on "Lager". Now by way of background, speaking very generally beer is divided into two broad categories: ales and lagers. Ales are fermented with what are known as "top fermenting" yeasts, which ferment at warmer temperatures and generally exhibit at least a certain amount of yeast-induced flavor characteristics. Lagers are fermented cooler, using different, "bottom fermenting" yeast strains which throw fewer flavor compounds; thus lager beers are considered "cleaner" tasting. Lager beers are also typically aged at very cold temperatures for a time to further smooth out the beer.

The need for mechanical refrigeration to achieve these colder temperatures, at least for year-round brewing, meant that commercial production of lagers became widespread only in the late ninteenth century. "By the 1870s breweries had become the largest users of commercial refrigeration units, though some still relied on harvested ice" ("Refrigeration").

Back to the Wikipedia article on Lager, a reader asked me about this curious sentence: "As a new variety of beer, its production faced opposition from established brewers as well as the Catholic Church" (my emphasis).

Huh? Why the heck would the Catholic Church be opposed to the brewing of lager beers? Well, there's no knowing exactly why the original author put that in, but I suspect that this is just an example of free-floating anti-Catholic bias out there—we all know that the Catholic Church is the great enemy of free scientific inquiry and technological progress. Right? Don't we?
(Well, lots of people might "know" it, but that doesn't make it so. For the other side of that coin, see How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, at least for starters.)

Thanks to the editing feature on Wikipedia, the sentence now reads: "As a new variety of beer, its production faced opposition from established brewers." Because the Catholic Church doesn't have a dog in this hunt. Drink all the lagers you want—pilsner, bock, doppelbock, schwartzbier, long as they're not just the "tinted waters" that pass for beer here in the United States. (You know, we really should see if we can get our beer-loving German Pope to oppose those, just on principle.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Making and Giving Beer for Christmas

This year my family decided to try and moderate the consumerism of the Christmas season by making as many of our gifts as possible. It was a joy to tally up the list of fun and creative things made: rosary hangers, packets of handmade stationary, stilts, windchimes, doll dresses, a kitchen apron for our youngest, and more.

Back in November I valiantly did my part by brewing two batches of beer, an American brown ale which I called Holyday Brown and an American IPA called Icicle IPA. I've sent out some bottles of each (and there are some of you who have not yet received your bottles, but Epiphany is not here yet, you know, so I still have some time!) The Holyday Brown, in particular, has gotten some nice comments and I thought I'd share out the recipe for you homebrewers. Think about this as a nice Christmas gift for next year. For my part, I'm contemplating a vanilla bourbon porter and perhaps a nice Belgian dark strong ale to bring some holyday cheer in 2010. Now, here are the details for Holyday Brown (I brewed an 11 gallon batch, so modify amounts accordingly):

18 lbs. American 2-row malt
2 lbs. Munich malt
1 lb. honey malt
1 lb. pale chocolate malt
1 lb. Special B malt
1/4 lb. black patent malt

I mashed warm, at 157 deg F, in order to try and get a nice, thick mouthfeel....which I did! I bittered this with 1 oz. of Magnum hops (13.5% AA) for 60 minutes and then added 2 oz. of Northern Brewer (8% AA) 15 minutes from the end of boil for flavor, for a total of 36 IBU. I used US-05 American ale yeast and fermented at around 62 deg F for three weeks, then kegged. Original gravity was 1.061 and it finished at 1.020.

This is a malty, viscous brew, very dark brown with a rough-and-ready hoppiness from the Northern Brewer hops, plenty of dried fruit and caramel, and just a wee hint of roastiness on the finish. If I would change anything, I might back off just a bit on the bittering hops, but overall it's a pretty nice beer. It reminds me of Summit's Winter Ale, which is a fine beer itself.

Now, let's talk about the rest of the year. I have lots of homebrewing adventures planned and am also hoping to update this blog a bit more frequently. Given the present state of our nation's economy I want to do a series on the "Economics of Homebrewing". Over the Christmas vacation I finished reading Brew Like a Monk, by Stan Hieronymus and hope to do a review of that book on Belgian-style beers. And per reader requests, I hope to delve more into the Catholic roots of brewing as well as highlighting various patron saints of brewing.

Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year and Blessed Epiphany!