My 2014 Homebrewing Year in Review

I saw a beer year in review post on Meek Brewing, one of my favorite homebrew blogs, so I thought it would be a cool idea to do something similar.  I’ve been brewing for three years now as I write this post, but this blog business is pretty new to me.  I’ll do one of these posts each year I keep this thing running, so It’ll be fun to look back and see how I’ve come along with my brewing.

This year’s beers were by far the best I’ve brewed, and that boiled down to a couple different factors.  First, I’ve moved on to all grain.  I did a couple small all grain batches last year, but in most of my 5 gallon batches I had to at least use some extract to hit my OG.  This year, I’ve built my equipment up to where I do my brewing outside with a ten gallon kettle, and a propane burner.  I still do stove top all grain batches when the mood strikes, but this is the year when I really feel like I’ve got my process down and efficiency generally figured out.

I also moved into my own house, which meant I didn’t have to inconvenience my brother any longer leaving my stuff at his house and making him swap out water bottles in a swamp cooler.  I also got a spare refrigerator and a temperature controller, so I’m finally able to really keep my temps where I want them and keep them consistent, and can do lagers.

Speaking of which, I did my first lager this year, and was pretty happy with the results.  I brewed an Oktoberfest that was just a bit more robust than a typical Helles, and while there’s room to improve, I think it was definitely a successful first lager.  It’s still the only lager I’ve done, and I don’t drink a ton of them, but I’d still like to expand my lager range.

My Favorite Batches of 2014:

White Death (ver. 2.0)- DIPA.  I based this recipe off of a recipe for Heady Topper from homebrewtalk.com, but made some changes to personalize it a bit.  It was probably my favorite beer I’ve ever brewed, and I’ve made some further improvements in a batch that is currently fermenting as I write this!  The only downside to this beer is the short shelf life it seems to have at its peak flavor since minimizing oxidation is difficult when bottling compared to kegging.

Black December a Black Rye IPA.  Homebrewtalk.com has a recipe for Firestone Walker Wookie Jack, the beer this one is based on.  I modified it some to fit my tastes, but its still really close to Wookie Jack, and that’s fine by me since Wookey is one of my favorite beers.  I still have a decent amount of this left since its my winter seasonal, and it’s held up really well with a bit of time.  The combination of tropical hops and rye spice mixed with some roasted grain really gives a unique flavor.

Doodle Face (ver. 2.0) an APA featuring Citra hops.  It came out as one of my favorite beers I’ve done, an easy drinking pale ale dripping with tropical hop goodness.  This thing looked like a glass of carbonated OJ, and there’s not a thing I’d change with the recipe.  I’m sure this beer will make another appearance this year.

I had a couple others I really liked that I’m sure will make a return, though I’ll probably modify them a bit such as my Serrated Summer Ale, Flood Waters Amber, and Hoppy Grinchmas, and Voodo Rookin, my coffee milk stout.

Improvements and goals for 2015:

I will say that while not every batch I made in 2014 knocked it out of the park, there wasn’t a batch that was bad, or didn’t accomplish roughly what I wanted it to.  That being said, I’d like to improve some of my beers when or if I’d make them again.  My Irish Red, O’Sharkahan’s, comes to mind as a beer that, while in the ballpark of what I wanted flavor wise, had room for improvement.  I’ve got a new batch of that with an updated recipe fermenting now, and I think I’ll be happy with it.  I also need to settle on a easy drinking lighter style of beer that will appeal to beer drinkers that don’t dig hops as much as I do.  I’ve made a Blonde Ale, Shark Piss, that was decent as far as this goes, but I can do better.  I’m thinking a Munich Helles might fill this need.  There are several beers from 2014 that I’m sure I’ll make again in 2015, and I hope to continue to improve upon them, or if I’m truly 100% satisfied with my recipe, then I hope to maintain a level of consistency in reproducing the beer.  I also hope to try to brew some styles I’ve never made before.  So with all that in mind, Here’s my goals for brewing in 2015:

  • Brew a big ass complex Imperial Stout.  I need to convince a friend to go half on this one since 5 gallons of this would be too much for me.  I’d love to include ingredients like chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and some bourbon soaked oak cubes.
  • Step up my Lager game.  Brew a nice clean easy drinking lager such as a Munich Helles, something that will appeal to people that aren’t the usual craft beer drinker, but will still appeal to me as well.  a good crisp Helles should fit that bill.  Also in the Lager department, I’d like to improve my Oktoberfest.  I think I might Americanize it a bit more with some specialty malts this year since I don’t typically drink it in 1 liter increments!  I need to keep it drinkable, but some more toasty and caramel flavor could make it more interesting.  I’d also like to try a Pilsner, but I’d like to try some new age hops with it, something like Mandarina Bavaria hops.
  • Continue to perfect my IPA’s and Pale Ales.  These are what I feel I brew best, and it’s what I drink the most.  I’ll continue brewing my DIPAs White Death, my APA Doodleface, and I need to try a new American IPA recipe that I’ve been planning.
  • Use fruit in a beer.  I’m not a big fan of fruit beers normally, so I’d try incorporating fruit into a hoppy beer to enhance the fruitiness provided by the hops.  I’m thinking a Mango DIPA sounds about right, and I might incorporate that into my 527 Celebration DIPA I do for my anniversary with the wife every year.
  • Brew a Brown Ale.  I’m thinking I’ll do this in the fall.  I’d like something with some toasty nutty flavor, but a good hop presence as well.
  • Continue perfecting the recipe for any other of the beers from 2014 that I rebrew, or maintain consistency in reproducing them.
  • GET A KEGGING SYSTEM!!!!!!!  I can’t imagine how much this will help my hoppy beers.

I’ll be interested to see if this blog catches on a bit in 2015, but I know there are a lot of homebrew blogs out there to choose from.  To any friends or family reading this, thanks for being supportive of my hobby and sharing my brew days and beer with me.  To everyone else, thanks for reading this.  I hope I can give back some of the information I’ve learned from others, and I hope anyone reading this can take something away that can help them make their own beer better.  Here’s to a great year of brewing in 2015!

O’Sharkahan’s 2015

Oshark glass 1Oshark glass 2

O'Sharkahan's

This was the second part on my stove top brew day on 01/03/15.  This one was a 2.5 gallon batch.  I really enjoy Irish Reds when I’m in the mood for an easy drinking low ABV malty beer, and in brewing terms, St Paddy’s is just around the corner so it’s time for the 2nd batch of O’sharkahan’s.  This, like last year’s version, is a 2.5 gallon batch.  While I do enjoy this style, I don’t drink it often enough to warrant a full size batch of it.

A good Irish Red ale has a few characteristics that define the style.  The beer is mostly malt forward, though it shouldn’t come off as cloyingly sweet and balance is important.  You’re looking for some caramel flavors, some toffee flavors, and maybe a hint of roast, though the roasted barely is just primarily to get you that nice red color.  A bit of English hop flavor is ok, but generally you want the malt flavors to be the star of the show here.  The color of the beer should be copper to deep crimson, and the beer should be clear.  As far as yeast goes, you’ll want to use a pretty clean fermenting yeast, but some esters are acceptable and in my opinion lend a nice subtle fruity characteristic, but make sure not to overdo it as the beer should still be pretty clean.  The style BJCP style guide says some buttery diacetyl character is ok in this style, but I’m not a fan, and that was my cheif complaint using the Wyeast Irish Ale in this recipe last year.  I found the buttery taste to be distracting from the other elements of the brew.  Most importantly, this beer should be a good easy drinking pub ale!

I was mostly satisfied with last years version, though there were several areas for improvement.  As stated above, I used Wyeast Irish Ale in last years version, and I wasn’t a fan of the buttery flavor it left, even fermented in the mid 60’s.  Now, this was my fault since it even says on the package that the buttery flavor is a feature of this yeast, but I didn’t realize just what the finish product would be like.  I’m sure that yeast would be good in a stout, but I decided to go with something cleaner for a red.  I decided to use one of my favorites, WLP 007 Dry English Ale.  When fermented in the low to mid 60’s, its a clean yeast, but gives just a bit more yeast character than something like Chico American ale yeast.  Plus it clears pretty quick, and clarity is important to this style.  To keep things simple, I cut Vienna malt and Fuggle hops from last years recipe, as well as dialing back on the crystal.  I also wanted to lower the ABV into the upper 4% area.  What I ended up with was a simple recipe that should highlight the best features of the style: an easy drinking ale made with good European base malt, mild English hops, and a nice deep red color produced by a small amount of Roasted Barely.

The brew day was pretty easy.  I started mashing this batch while I was chilling my batch of White Death DIPA that I brewed first.  I mashed at 154 for an hour, sparged, and then boiled.  It was nice not having a ton of hop matter to filter out of this thing going into the fermenter, especially after hovering over the carboy and scooping hops from a strainer for a half hour with my DIPA.  This was just a nice simple batch to brew compared to some of the big hoppy brews I’d done recently.  I took my hydrometer sample after I’d chilled the beer, and I came in a bit high at 1.054.  I noticed my volume was a little low in the fermenter, so I added another quart of water to get me where I wanted to be at 1.049 OG.  The hydrometer sample was decently clear, and it already had a nice flavor to it, so I actually have pretty high hopes for this one, and I anticipate it’ll be an improvement over last years.

My water profile for this beer was:

Ca+2    Mg+2    Na+    Cl-     SO4-2
79.5      0.0        0.0     89.6    69.1

Recipe Specifications
————————–
Batch Size (fermenter): 2.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.049 SG
Estimated FG: 1.013 FG
Estimated Color: 17.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 25.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
————
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
4 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 91.4 %
4.0 oz Caramel Malt – 40L (Briess) (40.0 SRM) Grain 2 5.7 %
2.0 oz Roasted Barley (Simpsons) (550.0 SRM) Grain 3 2.9 %

0.50 oz East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] – Boil Hop 4 20.8 IBUs
0.25 oz East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] – Boil Hop 6 5.1 IBUs

1.0 pkg Dry English Ale (White Labs #WLP007) [35 Yeast 7 –

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 4 lbs 6.0 oz
—————————-
Name Description Step Temperat Step Time
Mash In Add 5.47 qt of water at 165.9 F 154.0 F 60 min

Bottling Update on 01/23/15:  Bottled this one up today, and the beer came in at 1.009.  That’s a bit drier than I’d have liked, but the hydro sample still tasted really good.  Hopefully the beer will still have some body to it when its carbbed.

Tasting Update 02/16/15:  Sorry it took me so long to get around to tasting notes, but the time has given me a chance to have a few of these to form a solid opinion of the beer.

Appearance:  This ale pours a very deep crimson color with an off white head that dissipates quickly, but clings nicely to the edges of the glass.  The beer is very clear when viewed with light behind it.  The color is probably the only thing I’d change, it just turned out a bit too dark.  If not viewed in a bright room with some light behind it, this beer almost looks like a stout.  The good thing is the color, while dark, is a beautiful crimson color.  My concern when trying to brew reds is to get that actual red color, and not copper or brown.  Just a touch less roasted barley should do the trick for next time.

Smell:  This beer has a sweet malty aroma, almost like sticking your nose in a loaf of freshly baked bread.  There’s a hint of floral hop aroma, and just a hint of fruity yeast esters, but the aroma is pretty malt forward.

Taste:  There’s a nice mild bitterness that is the first thing that presents itself, but that is immediately  followed by a bread and biscuit like malt sweetness.  There’s also some toffee and caramel notes too, but this had a very nice bread like flavor from the Maris Otter.  There’s little in the way of hop flavor here, just a bit of floral and spice notes to keep the beer from being too sweet.  There’s a very subtle ester fruitiness from the English yeast.

Mouthfeel:  The carbonation on this one is on the light side of medium, as is the body.  This beer is fairly smooth and very drinkable, it would be easy to put a few of these away in short order.

Overall:  I’m very happy with this beer, it turned out just about perfect for what I wanted it to be.  I’d prefer it was just a bit lighter, but the aroma and flavor are spot on for the style.  This beer certainly won’t blow anyone away since Irish Reds aren’t the biggest or boldest beers in terms of flavor, but this beer will go great with corned beer and cabbage, or a night of drinking without wanting to get hammered, and that’s the goal.  Next time I’ll dial back the roasted barely just a bit, and that’s about it!

Final Beer Stats:

Measured OG: 1.049
Measured FG: 1.009
SRM: 17.5
IBU: 26
ABV: 5.2%

White Death 3.0

White Death in glass 3

White Death 2

Another batch of White Death is on the way!  This beer was brewed on 01/03/15.  I had posted my last take on this recipe in the fall, and had said there wasn’t anything I’d change.  In the time since that post, I drank a whole bunch of Heady Topper, and wow that beer is just crazy good.  White Death, while not supposed to be a direct Heady clone, was always intended to be in the ballpark, and my last batch came close. However, after having a case of Heady at my house I realized my White Death wasn’t quite 100% where I wanted it.  The flavors are there, but I wanted a touch more bitterness, and to try and get that great drinkability that Heady Topper has.

With those goals in mind, I made a couple of changes to the recipe.  First, this is a 3 gallon batch!  So if you’re reading this (There’s bound to be one or two of you right?)  and thinking of brewing this beer, I just cut everything in half from my normal batch size.  I’ll talk about why I did a small batch in a bit.  Downing a can of Heady is an easy thing to do.  The beer is bitter, but it doesn’t linger on your palate and leaves you wanting more.  The beer is dry, but still had a nice mouthfeel.  In an attempt to emulate this drinkablity, I dropped the oats and caramalt from the recipe, and hope that the grainy bread like flavors from the Pearl malt and White Wheat will be enough of a malt backbone.  I feel like the caramalt was used in such low quantity that it shouldn’t be missed here anyway.  I also mashed a bit lower this time, 150 degrees for an hour.  Another change I made was the addition of Mosaic hops, and the subtraction of Amarillo.  I like Amarillo hops ok, but I haven’t really been blown away by them, while I have really enjoyed everything I’ve had that makes big use of Mosaic.  Even having Heady, which as far as I know doesn’t have Mosaic hops, there are aromas and flavors that remind me of Mosaic, and nothing that really struck me as Amarillo.  My LHBS doesn’t have hop extract, so I went back to bittering with Apollo for this one.  I also tried adding more gypsum to this batch than I’ve ever used before.

As far as why I did a small batch?  I still have about 6 bottles of my old batch in the fridge.  They have not held up well.  6 gallons of a beer that is best fresh was too much, especially since I had several other brews ready at that time too.  I had about a case left when I could see the beer darken some and the hops started fading.  The beer is now a shadow of what it was fresh, a dull copper as opposed the the bright golden orange it was.  I’d rather brew just a case and love every sip, rather than brew two cases and have to power through the last 12 packs worth that’s gone south.  Hopefully when I get a keg system eventually this concern will be a thing of the past since I’ll be able to purge everything with C02 to minimize oxidation.

I did this brew as the first half of my two batch stove top brew day.  The brew day itself was uneventful, which is usually a good thing.  It was just me and the dog, so I wasn’t distracted, and kept the beers to a minimum (Boooooooo!).  I mashed in at 150 for an hour, sparged, and boiled.  I did an hour long hop steep.  I put half my flameout hops in immediately after the boil, and added the other half for the 30 minutes it was cooling.  I had to do an ice bath for this one since my chiller is set up for a garden hose attachment, and it was snowing out so I didn’t feel like dealing with that.  I took my hydrometer reading and it came in at 1.073, right around where I wanted it.

Here’s my water profile

Ca+2   Mg+2   Na+   Cl-   SO4-2
185.9   0.0       0.0    42     388.7

Recipe Specifications

————————–
Batch Size (fermenter): 3.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.075 SG
Estimated FG: 1.013 FG
Estimated Color: 5.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 135.7 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
————
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
7 lbs Pearl (2.5 SRM) Grain 1 88.4 %
8.0 oz White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM) Grain 2 6.3 %
2.7 oz Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 3 2.1 %
5.0 oz Corn Sugar (Dextrose) (0.0 SRM) Sugar 3.1 %

1.25 oz Apollo [17.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 115.5 IBUs
0.50 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 6 6.5 IBUs
0.50 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Boil 5.0 mi Hop 7 6.6 IBUs
0.50 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 8 7.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus (CTZ) [15.50 %] – Hop 9 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 Hop 10 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 m Hop 11 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Steep/Whirl Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz Apollo [17.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 Hop 13 0.0 IBUs

0.50 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Hop 16 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days Hop 17 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days Hop 18 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] – Dry Hop Hop 19 0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz Apollo [17.00 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days Hop 20 0.0 IBUs

1.0 pkg DIPA Ale (Omega Yeast Labs #OYL-052) Yeast 14 –

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 7 lbs 14.7 oz
—————————-
Name Description Step Temperat Step Time
Mash In Add 9.59 qt of water at 161.4 F 150.0 F 60 min

Bottling Update on 01/17/15:  FG of the beer was 1.012, right where I wanted it.  The hydrometer sample tasted and smelled amazing.  It really did remind me a ton of Heady Topper, and while I may not have been going for an exact clone, this tasted damn close.  The only negative here was I only got 21 bottles from this batch. I took the siphon out as soon as I started getting some hop material up with the beer.  I left what was probably another few bottles worth in the carboy, but with all that hop material from the huge dry hop, I didn’t want to risk sucking that into the bottling bucket or agitating the beer.

Tasting Notes on 01/25/15:  I feel that this beer is best to drink as soon as its carbonated, so this was about a week after bottling.  This beer is great, plain and simple, and I feel it’s most likely the best beer I make.  This third batch is even better than the last one, and the subtle changes from the lat batch are the difference.

Appearance:  This beer pours a very hazy golden orange color, almost like a glass of orange juice.  The beer pours with a fluffy white head that slowly dissipated into a consistent thin head that lasted the whole glass.  The brew left nice lacing on the glass.  Exactly how I like my IPAs to look.

Smell:  Huge hop aroma on this beer, complimented by the Conan yeast.  I get aromas of pineapple, passion fruit, some pine, earthy dankness, citrus, and a nice dose of peach from the yeast.  Huge aromatics on this one.

Taste:  There’s a nice bitterness upfront, but it quickly gives way to waves of hop flavors.  The tastes largely follow the nose with some tropical fruits and earthiness.  I get a lot of pineapple and some citrus and some peach.  The back end has a nice sweetness to it.  I’m glad I dropped the oats and caramalt, the Pearl and White Wheat provide enough base to give the beer a nice malt base to let the hops play on.

Mouthfeel:  I was worried that cutting the oats and caramalt would have a negative effect here, but thankfully I was wrong.  The beer is a just slightly drier, but it’s definitely more drinkable than the last batch.  As a matter of fact, this beer is dangerously drinkable for an 8% beer.  The mouthfeel is still sturdy enough to keep the beer from ever feeling thin.

Overall:  This is as good as any commercial IPA I’ve had in my opinion, and as a very Heady Topper like flavor to it, but not close enough that it would be a clone, which is fine.  I like what the Mosaic hops added here, and I can detect their presence in the beer, where I feel like the Amarillo in the previous batches got lost in the shuffle.  The beer didn’t lose anything from simplifying the malt bill, and I think it was an improvement.  I love this beer, and the only way I feel it could be improved is through kegging to minimize oxygen pickup.  The only things I might try when I get around to brewing this one again is to increase the bittering charge just a bit more, and then I’d like to eliminate the 5 minute additions.  I’m not sure whether they really add anything substantial that I can’t get from the hopstand, and I’d love to try and cut the cost of this beer a little since those hops add up in a hurry.   This beer is just crazy good though, and I wouldn’t change anything else!

Final Beer Stats:   

Measured OG: 1.073

Measured FG: 1.012

SRM: 5.1

IBU: 136.6

ABV: 8.1%