Tasting – Naked Porter a la Dry Dock

One of my recent brew sessions was to try to reproduce one of my favorite beers.  My local craft brewery makes a vanilla porter but every once in a while, they make a batch “naked”, that is, without vanilla.  Both Wife and I love that beer.  The Dry Dock is very friendly to homebrewers, even making their recipes available to us (but as brewer Tim tells me, there’s always something they don’t tell).  So I made the beer.

The end result is not a true clone but very, very good.  I have a bit of a problem with dark beers and this one is very dark:  There’s a strange flavor in the background I can’t get rid of.  I think it may be the chocolate malt I’m using but I’m not sure.  Maybe as a test I could brew the Naked Porter and leave the chocolate malt out.  There’ll be more than enough carafa in the mix to darken and flavor it.  Most of my darks have this note to some degree and it seems to fade somewhat with time so I know it’s not a process issue.  But the Dry Dock doesn’t have it.  And I can’t get rid of it.

In a couple weeks I’ll be doing sensory training – off flavors.  Maybe I’ll find it then.

Brew Day – 3 gal Baltic Porter

My one-gallon Baltic Porter turned out good enough to scale it up a bit.  So what better to do on a Snowpocalypse day in Dever (we got a bit over a foot of snow, I’ve seen 40 inches out of a single storm.  This was piddly stuff).  I brewed.  Got a late start on planning so instead of growing up a starter – a single vial or packet of yeast would have been far too little for this beer – I used dry yeast.  Basic spex on the beer:

OG:  1.094 (Pred) 1.090 (Actual)
IBU:  38
FG (Pred) 1.028, but I bet I get better out of it.
Single infusion mash, no water treatment, 90 minute boil, Magnum as bittering hops, Saaz for flavor.

A word on dried yeast.  I normally use vials and starters but since I decided to brew too late to make one and a beer this big definitely needs one, I chose to use dry yeast, specifically Danstar’s West Coast Ale Yeast.  Some believe it’s okay to sprinkle the stuff on the top of aerated/oxygenated wort and just forget about it.  This works but it also kills off about half your cells.  Danstar specifically recommends rehydration but when using dried yeast, I always rehydrate it.  Here’s how:

Boil about 4 ounces of water per packet of yeast, cover it with aluminum foil and let it cool to 92 – 95 degrees.  Sprinke the yeast over the top of the water and let it rehydrate for fifteen minutes.  With a sanitized tool, stir the yeast to form a creamy slurry then add to your prepared wort.  The yeast will perform better thanks to this little pick-me-up, they’ll hit the wort ready to go and do their best for you.

A note on Carbonation

Carbonating a beer today, I realized something about priming sugar calculation.  I’ve been using the priming sugar calculator at Brewer’s Friend and like all, it asks for the temperature of the beer.

Beer, as it ferments, produces carbon dioxide.  In fact, fermented beer is a saturated carbon dioxide solution.  As beer warms, carbon dioxide becomes less soluble and is driven off, a fact that explains why sometimes the airlock on a finished beer will start to bubble again if a beer is allowed to warm.  If the beer warms then cools, if the cooling is not extensive, it may not take up the carbon dioxide into solution again or it may dissolve air instead.  Either way, the warmed beer doesn’t have as much CO2 in solution as it had before warming.

The priming sugar calculator calculates based on two values, the amount of CO2 predicted to be in solution at the given temperature and the amount of additional CO2 produced by the yeast.  The yeast are going to produce about the same amount of gas regardless, it’s the dissolved CO2 that’s the critical variable.  If the beer has been warmed, then cooled, and you base your calculations on the cooler temperature, you may under-carbonate your beer.

More importantly, knowing how the calculators work, I let my lagers warm to room temperature, then calculate priming sugar additions and bottle.  I don’t get overcarbonated lagers any more.

A Discovery

First, an apology.  I haven’t posted because….  No excuses I haven’t posted.  Thanks for all the views!

Two discoveries, actually.  The first, bottling goes much faster when someone is helping you.  I bottled a batch of Naked Porter, so-called because my favorite craft brewery, the Dry Dock in Aurora, Colorado, generally brews it with vanilla.  Every once in a while they leave out the vanilla and it makes a great, very flavorful porter.  Because the Dry Dock started out as a homebrew store, they’re very accomodating of homebrewers and will share their recipes (although Tim, one of the brewers there, assures me they won’t give you everything).  So I brewed it.  Aside from the discovery that the wife helping package speeds up the process by much more than a factor of two, it led me to the second discovery, why I’m not generally fond of my ales.

My house faces generally south-southeast and has a walk-out basement, home of course to Applied Zymurgy Brewing.  Most days this winter the sun has come up under a cloud deck but on a few I walked into the basement and noticed how bright the sunlight shining in was.  Now I’m no fool:  My carboys were never in a place where they could be hit by direct sun!  But I’ve noticed that my lagers held their flavor in secondary much better than my ales.  The flavor seems to diminish and there’s a strange note in the background.  Today it hit me what that was.  It wasn’t what I’d call “skunk” or rubber and it wasn’t overpowering but there.  Due to the light reflected off the bright white insulating surfaces on the basement walls, my ales were skunking.

I intend to test the hypothesis by brewing a batch, splitting the secondary, shielding one half from the strong light and letting the other half stand.  I’ll publish the results of the test, likely brew after next since I’m getting a strong desire for an IPA. Discovery is a joy to me, testing this idea may or may not result in better beer but the test itself will be fun.

Ski season progresses, most everything slows down when there’s snow in the high country and lifts running to help exploit it.  So there, my reason for slower than usual publication of this blog. 

A Thought On Bottling vs. Kegging

Last night I was reading in the Brewing Elements series, “Water”, that the acceptable oxygen levels in commercially packaged beers were about 50 parts per billion.  Yes, you read the denominator right, billion.  This is to prevent staling of the finished product.  While their supply chain is considerably longer than mine, it got me thinking about the difference between kegging with forced carbonation and bottling.  If you naturally condition in the keg you should be able to consider it bottling for this purpose.

With forced carbonation, you may or may not be driving off all the oxygen.  Henry’s Law states that the partial pressures of gas in solution add up to the pressure on the solution so when forcing carbon dioxide into your beer under pressure, you may not be forcing oxygen out since the pressure is high enough it could allow both gasses to remain.  If oxygen is not forced out, you’re exposing your beer to oxidization and all the nasty flavors that brings, sherry and wet cardboard.  At Homebrewer’s Night I’ve tasted oxidized beers but have never thought to ask if the brewer filled the bottles from kegs so I’m simply guessing here.  But my bottle conditioned beers have never had that distinctive oxidation flavor and I’ve kept some of them upwards of 18 months.

I’m guessing that here, too, yeast is your friend.  It’s alive and respiring down there in the bottom of that bottle, scavenging oxygen from its environment every chance it gets.  So I’m thinking the yeast keep the oxygen level below that which can cause staling.  Of course I don’t have equipment lying around to test this but simply logically, when it comes to oxygen in the beer, the advantage goes to bottle conditioning.

Experimental Results – Avangard Pilsner

A while back I started an experiment in splitting batches and using different yeasts.  I did a Classic American Pilsner, 75% barley, 25% corn.  I then split the batches and handled each as identically as possible, the only difference was the yeasts.  In one batch I pitched American Lager yeast, in the other Urquell yeast.  And I noticed some differences.

The American Lager yeast took longer to clear, likely less floculant than the Urquell strain.  Even now, carbonated, the Urquell variation is much brighter than the other.  The big difference is the taste.  The American Lager strain produced a good beer, no doubt, nicely malty but it did something wierd to the Saaz hops.  I’m not sure how to describe it but the results are slightly harsh.  The Urquell strain gave me exactly what I wanted, a bright beer with classic Bohemian Pilsner flavor.  It’s a Pilsner Urquell with a slight sweet corn flavor, very tasty!  While I like it this way, I’ll likely do a batch with pure barley and see what comes out.  Results of the experiment:  There is a discernable difference between the yeasts in flavor, brightness, effect on hop flavor and even color.

Conclusion:  Yeast selection is important, particularly when the beer is very light.  But make no mistake, both variations are very flavorful beers!

Updates and Plans

It’s been over a week since the last post and both of its subjects are percolating along nicely.  Both wine and beer are still bubbling away in primary.  I finally got my first taste of the Avangard pilsner tonight, the American Lager version.  Very nice!  I like the malt, it gave a sweet, malty brew, much heavier than a standard American pilsner but very drinkable.  I thought I might have detected a hint of astringency but am not sure:  I’ve detected it in two other beers that were without astringency as well, making me think it’s something to do with my palate and the cold I’ve been fighting the last week. I need to chill one of the Urquell bottles and see if I like them as well.

The “Naked Porter” came out nicely as well, nearly the match of the original.  I need to bottle it but am in no rush, it’s just getting better in the carboy as the edges slowly fall away, leaving the highly flavored, aromatic roasty-toasty porter I so love when the Dry Dock has it.  Aging cures a lot of faults in a beer, rounds off rough edges, makes a mediocre brew better.  I must remember that….

I got closer than I thought on the Lemongrass Ginger Wheat.  I want to do another batch, extract this time, to dial in the spices and up the carbonation to a more moderate level.  Three priming tabs just weren’t enough.  But even that bit of bubbles brings out the lemongrass aroma, citronella, much nicer than lemon zest so I’ll up the lemongrass a bit and add more ginger later in the boil to get a slight bite from it.  The beer itself needs no tweaking, it’s an excellent American Wheat, worthy of brewing on its own.

The final experiment in progress is the Baltic Porter.  I bottled it last week so I’m not quite ready to crack open one and test it.  Last taste prior to bottling, the gravity sample, had some harshness at the end, some almost phenolic flavors that may be more process-related than recipe but we’ll see once it’s carbonated and ready to drink.

Finally, forgive me my sparse postings.  It’s ski season and I’m an aging ski bum.  ‘Nuff said….