Best in Show Brown Porter

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite style of beer is my response is always, "a brown ale". Quite simply the toasted and lightly roasted malt flavors balanced with a light hop flavor is what I crave to drink everyday. Looking back at my blog over the last (almost) three years I've brewed eight different brown ales using everything from buckwheat and wild rice to ancho chilies and chicory.  The first batch of home brew I ever brewed (September 8th 2006) was an English Brown Ale kit, five years later this post represents my 163rd batch of home brew on my journey to understanding the art and science of brewing. This brown ale sits at the intersection of brown and porter.

For the Tap Vermont tasting I presented this beer as, "An English inspired brown ale brewed with an array of specialty malts creates a garnet, russet colored ale with a biscuit, toffee, and chocolate flavor and aroma. Brewed with a new hop variety, Delta, an American grown descendant of traditional English hop varieties that lends an earthy backdrop for this toasty, malty, Mild."

Briess Pale Malt
TF Brown Malt
Aromatic Malt
Flaked Barley
TF Crystal 45
TF Pale Chocolate

mash 154*f

Super Galena    :60   pellet   
Delta                :10   pellet

12.7*P (1.051sg)
Safale US-05

#1- Roast and toasted malts up front. A little over the top. No hop aroma. No DMS. No diacetyl. Low fruity esters. No alcohol.
#2- Heavy roasted malts with toasted malts. No hop aroma.

#1- Dark amber. Clear. Dense tan head with good retention.
#2- Good color with persistent head. Off white to tan in color.

#1- Chocolate malt. No hop flavor. Low bitterness leaves a malty barely sweet finish, well balanced for a Brown Porter. Some caramel, bit of toast. No DMS. No diacetyl.
#2- Chocolate malt appears to dominate with caramel malts balancing out the chocolate. Medium to low bitterness with low hop flavor.

#1- Medium body and mouthfeel
#2- Appropriate body to style with no alcohol. No astringency. Carbonation is great.

Overall Impression
#1- Very drinkable well made example of a Brown Porter. Roast/toasted malts a bit high in aroma otherwise no problems. Just a hint of added bitterness and some hop flavor would add to depth of character.
#2- A well made brown porter. Balanced nicely with the malts. Drinkable, maybe increase hop flavor a tad but otherwise well made.

#1- Grand Master IV  39/50
#2- Non-BJCP           37/50

Overall 38/50---Excellent (38-44)

1st Place in category winning Best in Style also
Winning Best in Show at the Delaware State Fair Home Brew Competition

Needless to say I was ecstatic, elated and down right excited with the results. Next batch I'll up the ten minute hop addition to bring more "depth of character" as one judge said. The two hundred and fifty dollar prize is nice but the real joy is in my creation being blind tasted and judged to be the most delicious beer on that particular day (over 200+ beers entered). A priceless pat on the back for the work I've put in over the last five years burning the candle on both ends brewing ridiculous amounts of research and development batches at home while brewing professionally by day. 

The judges thought my Saison was...meh

The previous post in the To Style Series I discuss how I entered an Oatmeal Stout in two similar categories (dry stout and oatmeal stout) with surprising results. Well, I did the same thing with this next batch of beer. I brewed a 'Saison' and entered it as such in category 16c but I also entered it as a Belgian Pale Ale into category 16b. It's been an educational experience thus far doing this To Style Series of batches/posts, outlining recipes, posting feedback from judges, and critically thinking about how to improve subsequent batch's of beer.

This beer was also served at the first tasting for my brewery in planning as "Vernal Equinox: A farmhouse inspired ale traditionally brewed in the Francophone region of Belgium This style is quickly becoming a favorite of American Craft beer drinkers and brewers. This beer is brewed with barley, rye. wheat, and oats creating a bready background. With whole leaf east kent golding hops providing balanced bitterness and flavor, rounded out with whole leaf Czech saaz hops for aroma. The unique saison yeast lends a peppery, fruity, almost tropical fruit aroma and flavor. A complex, aromatic, thirst quencher."

Best Malz Pilsner      47%
Rye Malt                  20%
Wheat Malt              14%
Flaked Oats              8%
Munich Malt              7%
Cara Pils                   3%
Acidulated Malt         1%

mash 154*f

EKG     1 oz.     first wort   whole leaf
EKG     1 oz.      :60           whole leaf
Saaz      2 oz.    whirlpool   whole leaf

13.2*P (1.053sg)
Wyeast 3711 French Saison

Entered in Category 16c Saison
#1- Orange peel? Feel like maybe a wit crossover.
#2- Fruity - lemon and spicy phenols and and citrus

#1- Great color, clarity appropriate for style
#2- Straw color with slightly hazy clarity. Nice small bubbles. White head on side of glass.

#1- Slight astringent hop flavor
#2- Soft malt with hoppy and slight sour, astringent finish. Bitterness is high.

#1- Carbonation high but works
#2- Light to medium body, with good carbonation. Crisp.

Overall Impression
#1- Balance could have been better between malt/phenol/spice.
#2- Good drinkable beer with no perceived faults except bitter hops make the finish astringent.

#1- Professional Brewer  27/50
#2- Certified                   27/50

Overall 27/50---Good (21-29)

Same beer entered as a Belgian Pale Ale in category 16b with same judges
#1- Nice aroma - spicy undertones with a malt background.
#2- Malty, fruity with spicy background. More malt/biscuit as it warms.

#1- Color is too light for style. Wish it was a little more copper to red to golden.
#2- Pale straw color. Hazy. Nice Head

#1- Malt is enjoyable but bitterness is strong on finish.
#2- Fruity and spicy. Light malt flavor with a spicy/phenolic finish. High hop bitterness.

#1- Could be maltier
#2- Medium to light body

Overall Impression
#1- Not too bad a beer. A little darker next time with higher mash temp?
#2- Good drinkable beer. Like a mix/blend of wit and pale. Soft, drinkable beer - just not fully to style. 

#1- Professional Brewer   30/50
#2- Certified                    28/50

Overall 29/50---Good (21-29)

The hop rate is calculated to only 30 ibu's so I'm a little surprised the judges reacted to the "noble hop" bitterness that way. This beer went over very well at the tasting with some naming it as their favorite of the nine featured. I've really fallen in love with creating Saison inspired beers brewing thirteen different Saison's over the last two and a half years. Using spices, fruit, and hops to put interesting twists on the classic Saison. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with how this beer performed. Guess I'll dial back the first wort and sixty minute hop additions to lower the bitterness. The yeast character is continuing to develop in the bottle and the bitterness is mellowing with time as I enjoyed a bottle last night.

Still trying to crack this Oatmeal Stout egg?

Stouts, especially Oatmeal stout are mysterious, full bodied, roasty, deliciousness. With this next batch for the To Style Series I brewed an Oatmeal Stout that I entered into two stout sub categories, Oatmeal Stout 13c and Dry Stout 13a. The results were a bit surprising.

Oatmeal Stout
Briess Two Row         53%
Flaked Oats               14%
Oat Malt                     7%
TF Roasted Barley      7%
TF Chocolate Malt      7%
TF Crystal 45              7%
Melanoidin Malt           5%

mash 152*f

Super Galena  :60    .5 oz.
Delta              :10      1 oz.

15.4*P (1.061sg)
Safale US-05

Entered in category 13 c Oatmeal Stout
#1-Some coffee. Mild Roast character. Low hop aroma. Mild fruity ester. No diacetyl. Clean
#2-Roasty, Coffee, Sweet Malt.

#1-Black color, ruby highlights, clear. Light brown head with moderate retention.
#2-Dark Brown/Black color. Good head/carb

#1-A high level of roast character. Finish is dry from high roast level. Some malt sweetness in background. Moderate hop bitterness. Balance is toward roast but malty sweetness is not far behind.
#2-Roasty but to the point of being burnt, astringent. Don't get too much oat, silky, smooth flavor per the style

#1-Medium body. Light astringency from roast malt.
#2-Medium body. Sweet but not too creamy.

Overall Impression
#1-A very roasty yet sweet example of an Oatmeal Stout. Clean fermentation character. Try reducing roast malt addition and increasing body to bring this beer more in style. Needs more creaminess.
#2-ok, drinkable beer. A bit too much roast which leaves more of a burnt flavor vs. a silky chocolate coffee sweetness. Watch use of black malt, try de-husked dark malts instead. Mash at 152-154*f

#1-Certified  29/50
#2-Certified  25/50

Overall 27/50---Good (21-29)

Same beer entered as a Dry Stout in category 13a with the same judges.
#1-Some roasty coffee aroma, light malt sweetness, slight fruity esters. No diacetyl. No hop aroma.
#2-Big roasty, coffee rich nose. Slightly burnt.

#1-Black color, clear with garnet highlights. Low tan head with with low retention.
#2-Black color, opaque, tight bubble tan head with medium retention.

#1-Moderate to high roasted malt character. Slightly burnt but not astringent. Dry, unsweetened chocolate. Clean fermentation quality. Some light fruit esters. Finished somewhat sweet with a roasty balance.
#2-Roasty malty but not as strong as the aroma was. Slightly bitter with chocolate aftertaste. Hop/malt background noticed. Smooth

#1-Medium to light body with low carbonation. Slight roast malt astringency but not overwhelming.
#2-Medium to light body. Dry finish but not too harsh.

Overall Impression
#1-A roasty, sweet, light bodied example of a dry stout. Could use a little more body. Try mashing higher. Clean well attenuated. Good job.
#2-Nice, drinkable beer. Big aroma with smooth balance with roast and malt. Might benefit from more roasty, coffee flavor.

#1-Certified 33/50
#2-Certified 33/50

Overall 33/50---Very Good (30-37)

Clearly if I want this recipe to be an oatmeal stout I must create more body. First step for next batch will be to raise the mash temperature up to 154-156*f from 152*f. I've been experimenting with Oatmeal stouts at home the last couple of years with some success but still missing the elusive full body character present in some of the best examples. At this point I think it's more than just a higher finishing gravity and it's not necessarily just oats in any form (flaked, malted, steel cut) that gives the necessary body. My next batch of Oatmeal stout will also contain some flaked barley and bumping up the melanoidin malt addition to help give the tongue something to hold onto. It also appears the roast character needs to be dialed back a little bit and/or I need to look into making water adjustments. I find it interesting that this beer scored higher as a dry stout than the oatmeal stout style I was aiming for. I think this illustrates the subtle differences in processes and ingredients that can separate styles.

Strawberry Cream Ale

Continuing the "To Style Series" with an entry for category 20 Fruit Beer. Last summer I brewed a "Farm Fresh Series" featuring locally grown and procured fruits and vegetables from my local farmers market. It was a lot of fun not knowing what I would find each weekend to brew with at the farmers market. Strolling through the season I ended up brewing a Strawberry Cream ale in May. A Tart Cherry Porter and a Blueberry Belgian ale in June and a Mixed Berry Saison in July. As summer was coming to close I brewed a Smoked Pumpkin Porter (with smoked pumpkins and not smoked malt) at the end of August. I really enjoyed coming up with the recipes for each batch based upon accentuating the farm fresh ingredients. I was also experimenting with adding fruit into primary fermentor, where most brewing text recommends adding the fruit to secondary or at bottling. For me, I enjoy my sugars fermented and adding fruit into secondary or later in the process just creates a fruit beer that is too sweet. Adding the fruit to primary fermentor didn't drive off all the delicate fruit flavors. I felt the yeast being in contact with the fruit during fermentation helped to marry the flavors of the fruit and the base beer style and created a properly attenuated beer.

For the Tap Vermont tasting I presented this Strawberry Cream ale as follows, "Strawberry Split: An experimental batch using farm fresh strawberries from my local farmer's market. A traditional style Cream ale brewed with barley malt, flaked maize, and honey malt. The beer is barely hopped allowing the flavor and aroma of fresh strawberries to shine through, and it has fruit in it, so, it's good for you". This beer of course went over very well with the women in attendance but even the guys liked it because it's still a crisp, dry beer with out being overpowered by fruit flavor. 

Strawberry Cream Ale
Briess Two Row    
Flaked Maize       14%
Honey Malt           4%

mash 154*f

Celeia   first wort    .3 oz.

13.2*P (1.053sg)
7 lbs. of Fresh Strawberries
3 sliced Bananas
White Labs WLP009 Australian Ale Yeast

#1-Strawberries up front with some banana on the back note. Quite sweet smelling
#2-Initial aroma of strawberry and banana. Light hay, straw, and meal malt. No hops or fruity esters. Clean
#3-Strawberry is the dominant aroma but banana does emerge. Very light malt character, to be expected from a cream ale.

#1-Crystal clear amber orange, not much head.
#2-Clear. Orange with light ruby notes. Small, fizzy head. Short to no retention
#3-Brilliantly clear. Pours low head fades fast. Light copper with reddish hue

#1-Slightly tart banana like malt followed quickly by a wave of strawberry. Slight dryness and tartness in the finish.
#2-Hay, straw, and meal malt with lightly tart strawberries. Faint banana flavor. Light to no hop flavor or bitterness. Fully fermented with no residual sugar. Dry finish
#3-Clean, crisp with a dry finish. Nice strawberry fruit flavor balancing light malt and low hop character. Banana is very subtle and if not cited may not have noticed.

#1-Medium bodied, medium carbonation
#2-Light body. Medium-low carbonation. No warmth. Medium Creaminess.
#3-Light body with medium carbonation and overall crisp.

Overall Impression
#1-I enjoyed this. Needs a bit more maltiness from the beer to really bring some complexity. Strawberry and banana were well balanced but needs a little more to bring it together.
#2-Nice beer. This could be better with more mouthfeel, and a persistent head.
#3-Very refreshing. Fruity & crisp a nice balance between strawberry and a light cream ale. Unfortunately banana got lost. Still, a well made beer.

#1-Recognized 32/50
#2-Certified     31/50
#3-Certified     32/50

Overall 31.6/50---Very Good (30-37)

3rd Place in Category

After brewing the same seasonal beer twice in a row I really feel I'm starting to dial in this seasonal one off. The head retention issue is most likely from the pectins present in the fruit. I could use a pectic enzyme to breakdown the pectins that destroy the head but I'll probably try adding Weyermann Carafoam next time. Also, I add the bananas not for flavor per say but as a strawberry flavor enhancer and to add a creaminess to the body. This is a trick I learned from a friend, former co-worker and master mead maker Jon Talkington of Brimming Horn Meadery where the banana adds body and boosts other fruity flavors present in the liquid whether it be mead, wine, beer, melomel , or cyser's. Thus I didn't mention bananas at the Tap Vermont tasting. I've found if something is in a batch and it's not a dominate flavor then it's better to just not mention it's presence.  Keep it as a your brewer secret ingredient adding complexity and a depth to a batch. One judges comment in flavor section sums it up as, "Banana is very subtle and if not cited may not have noticed". Next up in the To Style Series is an Oatmeal Stout that I entered as a Dry Stout and an Oatmeal Stout with interesting feedback.

Robust Smoked Porter

Next up in the to style series was a beer brewed for the other smoked beer style category 22b. With this category you can basically brew any base style and add smoked malt. Judges are looking for a balance of smoke in the base style and how the smoke blends into the balance of the style. Now I enjoy the smokiest of beers ie: Schlenkerla where many of the beers have nearly one hundred percent smoked malt but many people don't enjoy drinking liquid bacon cooked in a campfire. This robust porter was brewed with only a modest amount of smoked malt accounting for 25% of the overall grist bill.

For the Tap Vermont tasting I presented this robust smoked porter as, "Test Batch #161- This robust porter brewed with traditional German smoked malt creates a background of, bacon. Before the advent of in-direct fire malting techniques all beer had a smokey character. Brewed with English barley malt, pale chocolate malt, crystal malt, and flaked barley this 19th century London inspired ale transports you to another time." People enjoyed this beer but didn't love it. Many had never had a smoked ale before and enjoyed the barbecue flavors blending with the roastiness of the robust porter.

     Robust Smoked Porter
Briess Two Row
Best Smoked Malt      25%
TF Roasted Barley      8%
TF Pale Chocolate       8%
TF Crystal 45              7%
Flaked Barley              7%

mash 152*f

Super Galena  :75   .7oz pellet
Delta              :5      1 oz pellet

15.2*P (1.061sg)
Safale US-05

#1-Very Roasty - coffee, dark chocolate followed by a noticeable but not excessive smokyness
#2-Heavy chocolate & roasted malt; smoke is present, layers in nose, no diacetyl

#1-Black nearly opaque, mahogany hues, thick tan head with good retention, legs, and lace work
#2-Black, opaque beer with nice clingy brown tan head

#1-Lots of roast malt flavor, coffee, and dark chocolate. Lingering hop flavor in finish and aftertaste.
#2-Very rich chocolate initially, then complemented by smokyness; hops hard to distinguish from overwhelming chocolate flavor. Heavily malt flavored with little yeast character; no diacetyl

#1-thin body, moderate carbonation level. Some warming from alcohol
#2-Creamy and full bodied beer with no astringency. Slight alcohol warmth.

Overall Impression
#1-Well made beer, the smoke is not excessive. The roast malt is a tad strong for me maybe reduce roast slightly or replace with chocolate or de-bittered black malt. Raise mash temp.
#2-Interesting beer, I enjoyed it. Beer would benefit from less extreme chocolate slant, unless you were looking to develop a chocolate porter. Probably needs a cooler mash temp to loosen that body some.

#1-Professional Brewer  31/50
#2-Recognized               31/50

Overall 31/50---Very Good (30-37)

2nd Place in Category 22

Blonde Ale

This is going to be the first post in a series about brewing "to style" beers that were entered into the Delaware State Fair's inaugural home brew competition. The purpose of this was to challenge myself, my recipes, and my understanding of flavor development contributed from the myriad of yeast, barley, and hop choices available to the contemporary brewer to re-create classic beer styles.

First off, I have mixed feelings about brewing "to style". A large part of me honors the past, the unique circumstances in which all beer styles were created. Whether being ingredients available, water profiles, gruit taxes (increasing hops popularity in brewing), or yeast strains present (ales in England, lagers in Germany, phenolic Belgian strains for example) all styles are steeped in history, tradition, and dogma. Ultimately though people were generally just trying to create a delicious libation with what was available and what we have available today is global by comparison, but back to brewing to style.

For this brewing exercise I relied more than usual on the BJCP style guidelines since it was a sanctioned event. The guidelines are cliff notes for styles, with ingredient lists, stats (og, ibu, etc) and commercial examples listed. Also, most of the beers in this to style series we're also poured at my first brewery in planning (Tap Vermont) tasting party that I hosted in July in Vermont so I'll include those descriptions as well as the judges comments and scores.

Blonde Ale
Briess Two Row
Wheat Malt     22%
Flaked Barley   8%
Cara Pils           6%

mash 151*f

Willamette :60   1 oz. whole leaf
Willamette :0     1 oz. whole leaf
Centennial :0     .2 oz pellet

13.4*P (1.053sg)
Safale US-05

It was left in primary two weeks longer than I'm comfortable (total 4 weeks) is my only concession going in.

#1-fruity, green apple, hop aroma low, malt aroma subtle, no diacetyl, phenolic, plastic
#2-fruitiness (cherry, bubblegum) seems to overpower whatever malt character is present. Strong green apple. Smells like a fruit roll up, no hops.

#1-light burnt/rusty range, hazy, thin white head, good retention
#2-light copper with thin white head that sticks around. Decent clarity

#1-grainy malt, a little caramel, hops are low. Both bitterness and flavors are low, balance is toward malt, finish is very dry, fruity aftertaste, light fruit esters present, green apple and plastic phenolic signs of under attenuation
#2-Malt sweetness, with orange citrus followed by a sweet finish with a low level of hop bitterness. Green apple not nearly as present in aroma. Very fruity.

#1-medium body, medium attenuation, low warming, low to medium creaminess, medium astringency, drying
#2-medium body, medium carbonation, no alcohol warmth or astringency

Overall Impression
#1-Seems underattenuated - yeast derived acetaldehyde present and phenolic - could lower fermentation temperature. Also make sure to use a starter and make sure more yeast is healthy. Get a quickly starting fermentation and make sure to complete before bottling. Just to be sure check sanitation procedure. Good try
#2-Too sweet to be an "easy drinking" beer. Be sure to pitch plenty of healthy/viable yeast, watch fermentation temperature and if all grain adjust mash temp. Up hop bitterness/dryness and lower sweetness to increase drinkability.

#1-Recognized-  25/50
#2-Certified-      29/50
Overall 27/50---Good (21-29)

Alright, so what's to learn from this entry to make the next batch better. First changes will be to lower the mash temperature to 149*f to create a more fermentable wort. Next the fermentation temperature needs to be kept lower, if someone says it "smells like a fruit roll up" it's too warm a ferment and not a to style character in a Blonde ale. I do suspect that the green apple and plastic phenolics one judge kept picking up is from leaving the beer in primary for too long causing flavors from yeast autolysis to enter the beer. It also appears I need to increase the hop presence in the finish. The color was also a little darker than it should be for a Blonde ale, the carapils malt I used is 10*Lovibond, so that's the culprit. This was my first shot at a blonde ale. I think a few minor adjustments will get this beer to score over 30, whatever that means.

This beer went over well at the tasting party. Some people scored it as their favorite of the nine that were served. I called it Dirty Blonde and the description was as follows: "Refreshingly crisp golden ale, brewed with barley & wheat malt. Lightly hopped with whole leaf Willamette for bittering and flavor with a touch of Centennial for aroma. Flavors of toasted bread and floral hop aroma create a balance for this easy drinking ale." 
An inspiration for this series was Peter Kennedy's post More Homebrew Lessons Learned.. Where his beer entries performed less than favorable and I think it took some cajones to post about it. One sentence struck me as positive critical thinking when he said, "Maybe it is time to go back to basics and reset".

Berliner Weisse (Lactobacillus)

A couple of weeks after brewing a no-boil Berliner Weisse using White Labs Berliner Blend WLP630 I brewed another no boil batch this time giving an isolated Lactobacillus strain a head start and then finishing with a clean ale strain a couple weeks later. These are my first couple batches of Berliner Weisse and I'm trying to understand how I can create the flavors I've found in the great commercial and home brewed Berliner Weisse's I've been able to sample. 

So far each batch is very different. To my surprise the White Labs blend is outperforming the isolated Lactobacillus batch in terms of lactic acid production (tartness). The Lactobacillus head start batch tastes more like a very low alcohol wheat beer with a light tang, while the white labs blend batch is puckering and smells like baby diapers. Blended 50/50 they balance each other out. Which I may do at bottling depending how these age. Aged only five months at this point I'll check back in another.

Brewed with Wheat Malt, Torrified Wheat, Unmalted Wheat, Pale Two Row. First wort hopped with Delta.