Monday, June 20, 2016

Brewing up an xBmt, New England Style!

The East Coast/West Coast divide on hazy hoppy beer is the talk of the year in 2016, so much so that I even penned a stupid opinion piece about it, something I said I would never do here. What's the deal guys and gals? Some of us want to see through our beers and others aren't as concerned. But the question remains, do we or don't we need the haze that's so prevalent in New England style hoppy beers? Whats makes this style so different that it must not be clarified? Not only that, but does clarifying these types of beers degrade them in some way shape or form, could they even be better if they were fined/filtered? These are questions that Marshall and Malcom from and I have been discussing for months over email. Admittedly, Marshall and I both fall staunchly on opposing sides of the debate (while Malcom seemingly can have it both ways) but that just makes us the perfect pairing to collaborate and start to get to the bottom of these debates. We're all cumbaya up in here!

I was pretty adamant that using gelatin/Biofine to clarify, or even *gasp* filtering, a New England style hoppy beer would/could strip away some hop character that I work so hard to get in my beers. While Marshall, and many other folks, contest that it will not and that haze brings nothing to the table and might actually degrade the quality of the beer, as well as decreasing shelf life. After much discussion with the Brulosophy team we ironed out the details of an xBmt that I would brew and bring to HomebrewCon 2016 to serve for data collection on one of their xBmt posts. So I did something I hadn't done in a long time, I brewed a 10 gallon batch of HopWards and gelatin fined half and left the other half bare. Oh the humanity!

This post will act as a companion piece to the Brulosophy article, and serve as a means for me to share my impressions and experiences on the beer from brew to glass. I encourage you to go read Marshall's post for all of the hard data we collected at Homebrewcon, there is all the p value your little heart can desire. 

When I set out to brew this beer  I wanted to ensure it was done as precisely as possible, not to say that I don't try to do that normally but the fact that I was going to have it judged based on one specific variable, I wanted to be sure everything was on point and indistinguishable in the triangle tests.It is my opinion that the water profile in these types of beers is of utmost importance, and can be a final piece of the puzzle to get them where I want them. Marshall and I discussed about the possibilities off high chlorides levels promoting even more haze in beers, in this case the NE style hoppy beer. I wanted to make sure this beer was constructed as close as possible to how I envision the style should be brewed but Marshall was concerned about the high Chlorides affecting the variable. So we decided a 1:1 Sulfate:Chloride ratio was a good happy medium, balanced, but still should work well for the style. Normally I try to target a 1.5-2:1 ratio in favor of high Chlorides. 

I brewed a 10 gallon batch, adding half of the dry hops at the tail end of primary, then splitting off 5 gallons each into separate kegs with their own additional dry hop charge. There was a total of 6 ounces of dry hops for each 5 gallons. After 5 days of the keg dry hopping I chilled the kegs down for 24 hours, with the hop bags still contained. Up until this point both kegs were handled identically and this is where that changed. I opened both kegs and added gelatin to one using the Brulosophy method, and the other remained untouched. I wanted to make sure each keg was opened the exact same number of times, and while I did not need to open the unfined keg I wanted to be sure that everything was equal and fair. After 18 hours cold with the gelatin I used a keg jumper and moved both beers, the fined and the unfined, to serving kegs in a closed environment. It wasn't totally necessary to move the unfined beer to a new keg, but as I said I wanted to keep all of the processes equal.
Heated up in the microwave to ~150F, then added the gelatin.

While I was pushing the beer from the dry hop keg to the serving kegs the beer in the lines on the gelatin fined keg was significantly more clear than the unfined. I wasn't necessarily surprised by this because I know gelatin works well, but I thought that with so many oats, high-ish chlorides and heavy late/dry hops it might not clear so quickly. The beers we set to 35psi and carbonated over night, they were all set for the drive to Baltimore for Homebrewcon the next day. 
Gelatin fined, looking clear while being pushed to the serving keg.

Not Fined, looking hazy while being pushed to the serving keg.

One hour before I left for Baltimore I sat down with both beers to taste them side by side for the first time. I didn't have anyone available to pour me a true triangle test but I still wanted to get a few notes down and impressions on the two. Visually they are remarkably similar looking beers, only when I took the glasses outside did I notice a perceivable clarity issue. At first glance at this photo you might not even notice the difference, but look at the glass on the right, the gelatin fined one, there is less haze at the bottom of the glass.

As I first dove into the aroma of these beers I truly thought I noticed a difference, with the unfined version having a more prominent tropical fruit aroma. The bitterness and overall hop flavor of the two was identical, no differences there but I felt that the gelatin fined beer had a more creamy smooth mouthfeel, something that really surprised me. However, when I got to Baltimore and was served the triangle test (somewhat) blindly while recording an episode of Basic Brewing Radio about this very beer, I had a hard time picking the odd beer out. 
Gelatin fined on the right, not fined on the left. Why I couldn't fill the glasses to the same
level is beyond me, and currently driving me insane looking at it.

It seemed that the only real consensus from that group was that we felt we could tell a difference on the first pass through the triangle test but the more we tasted and sniffed the more confused we had become. It was interesting that we basically all got palate fatigue after only a few sips of this beer. Actually there was another consensus, everyone seemed to really like the beers, even remarking as we poured the samples out how aromatic the beer was as the smells engulfed the hotel room. The quality of the beer was of course something I was concerned about, I didn't want to look like an idiot here but of course it didn't matter really for the experiment.

In the end, as these types of things tend to do, this opened up more questions than answers really. On one hand the folks he felt that gelatin fining does not degrade the hop character of NE Style hoppy beers were right as tasters were not able to reliably differentiate the three beers blindly. On the other hand, gelatin was not able to clarify this beer enough to make a considerable visual impact. This beer is hazy and not murky as some folks say, but even with this level of haze you would be hard pressed to look at the gelatin fined beer and guess it was fined at all. Due to the fact that it didn't significantly clarify the beer, and since I am not a stickler for clarity anyway, I don't see this changing anything in my process. Yes it did not degrade the hop character significantly, but gelatin fining is an additional step that brought nothing of considerable improvements, or hurt, to the beer. So my process will remain the same, and I will sleep more soundly at night knowing I did not pop open that keg of hoppy beer exposing it to o2 just to add some gelatin. To each their own, and my own New England style hoppy beers will remain unfined.


Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Measured OG: 1.050 SG
Measured FG: 1.012 SG
ABV: 4.8%
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 33 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.9% - 8lbs 8oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
18.1% - 1lbs 14oz - Flaked Oats

First Wort Hop - 0.50 oz CTZ [14.20 %] - 16.3 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 3.1 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 3.6 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 4.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 1.4 IBUs -
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 1.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f 0.75 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 2.2 IBUs

Dry Hop: 3 days @ tail end of Primary - 1.00 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] 
Dry Hop: 3 days @ tail end of Primary - 1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %]
Dry Hop: 3 days @ tail end of Primary - 1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %]

Dry Hop: 3 days in keg - 1.00 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] 
Dry Hop: 3 days in keg - 1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %]

Dry Hop: 3 days in keg - 1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %]


Sacch rest - 60 min @ 152.2 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 60 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.35, Water Profile ( 109ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 100ppm Cl, 100ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.

Notes: Fermentation temp was 66f for 7 days, bumped to 70F for 3 when half of the dry hops went into primary, then kegged and dry hopped again in the keg for 5 days. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Just Another HombrewCon 2016 Recap

Homebrew Bloggers Rountable, I'm likely saying something stupid here but at least I'm into it!
Photo Cred. Chip Walton
It's been a few days since I returned from HomebrewCon 2016 but my mind, unlike my NEIPA's, is only just now starting to clear from the haze. This years conference was much different than my last experience in Philly a few years ago, last time I had no commitments, no real connections with out of towners, save for a few people, and drank entirely too much (I left Gordon Strong's talk to puke at the Hard Rock Cafe next door). This year that was all different, from Brulosophy xBmt's, to Basic Brewing Episodes to presenting as part of a panel on blogging, it made for a really busy but fun conference. One to remember for sure, though I still probably drank too much I didn't throw up.

Scott Janish's NEIPA
As I mentioned in my itinerary post I was late getting down to Baltimore and only arrived Thursday evening where I planned to meet up with two of my Philly buddies Chris and Tom. They were at the bar so I walked into Craft Beer Kickoff Party alone and immediately ran into some familiar faces some of whom I hadn't seen since the Philly conference. It was great to finally meet Brian Hall of Brouwerij Chugach, Matt Humbard of A Ph.D. in Beer, Marshall and Malcom from and Derek Springer from Five Blades Brewing in person. Ive been communicating with all these dudes via the internet but we had never met in person until this night, all great people. I was actually surprised to see so many Philly area breweries at the event, not that it's a long way to travel, and all due respect but I wanted to try local to Baltimore breweries I had no experience with. After stopping at a few of those local brewery booths I realized that some Homebrew clubs were pouring as well, including two NEIPA's at the DC Homebrewers booth by Michael Tonsmeire and Scott Janish. Both amazingly juicy and creamy beers, I wish I had just stayed and drank those all night. Once the event ended we stood on the corner for 30 minutes while Marshall called bars looking for karaoke. We grew bit antsy so Brian Hall, Derek Springer, Frank Fletcher ( President of Philly HBC) Tom, Chris and I walked to Alewife for exactly one beer where my buddy Tom fell asleep but not before making fun of us bloggers a bit.

Having had a relatively easy night on Thursday I drug myself out of bed to go for a run along the harbor in Baltimore to start the day off right. When I got back my roommate Tom was ready to go but before we would hit the expo floor I got a message from Marshall to come to his room to record an episode of Basic Brewing Radio, and bring the beers I brewed for a top secret collaboration Brulosophy xBmt. This was a planned thing but the timing of when we would record was up in the air. I filled a few growlers and Tom, Chris and I went upstairs. 

A not so exciting photo of us getting ready to record.
I was pretty exciting as I had never been on a beer podcast before, and with Homebrew luminaries like James Spencer, Mike Tonsmeire, and Marshall in the room waiting to try my beers in a triangle test I was mostly just hoping they would enjoy the beers! The results of the xBmt will be posted next week, not sure when the episode will be but I imagine not long after, hopefully I don't sound like an idiot! Once we were done recording Marshall, Malcom and I hit the expo floor with kegs of the xBmt beers to pour triangle tests for attendees and collect data. We got a good number of people to sample and I set off to catch Brian Hall's talk. The one thing I regret here is that I had so many commitments that I was only able to sit in on a portion of talks I wanted to see first hand, luckily they will be posted later on. Marshall took the triangle test onto a live episode of Experimental Brewing for a few more data points, after that I was looking to just chill and pack up shop for the day. Tom, Chris and I smashed burgers at Pratt Street Ale House then went to grab my beers for the Milk The Funk meetup from the hotel.

I arrived at the Milk The Funk Meetup a few minutes late but it was clear everyone knew the drill. There had to have been 50-60 people outside in the hallway sharing beers and chatting, it was actually a little overwhelming. I got to try fantastic beers from Brian Hall, Matt Miller, Mike Tonsmeire, Jamey Barlow, Dave Jansen and many others that I can't even recall. But as a whole the quality of the beers at the share was a class all its own, I wish I could have tried even more of them. So good infact that I only open 2 of the 6 bottles I brought with me to the share, I was bummed to not be able to share with some folks but I was enjoying everyone else's immensely. If you weren't able to join us for the meetup fret not as Jeff Mello from Bootleg Biology collected dregs from folks that he plans to prop up and sell at some point. Jeff is a really awesome guy, when the crowds from the share died down I was able to hang with him and his wife to chat a bit. If you're not already looking at his strains and his local yeast project I urge you to keep him on your radar.

After the Meet up I had a nice buzz and bit of heartburn with some time to kill, so we walked the Expo floor for a minute then headed to Of Love and Regret for dinner and beers before Club Night. What started as a plan to just stop in devolved into a nearly three hour stay as we sat outside and enjoyed Farmhouse ales, great food, and a super relaxing atmosphere. We grabbed an Uber and arrived at Club Night later than planned but feeling good at 10pm.
I hated leaving all of those nice empty bottles behind
 after the MTF share.

Club Night was a trip, If you have never been to the conference this is the night all of the clubs set up booths and pour their best beers. A really great event walking the floor chatting with clubs and people you might never meet. I poured HopWards and a blended version of An Ocean Between the Staves at the Philly Homebrew Club booth, it seemed people enjoyed both. I got to meet more great folks, and sample more fantastic beers that I wish I could remember. I might have sampled more beers throughout the night but Derek Springer kindly reminded me that we were set to speak the next morning at 9am! *Gulp*, so off to bed at around midnight.

I was up bright and early, ready to go on Saturday, met Marshall in the lobby and walked over to our room to get settled in. Surprisingly I was not nervous, I thought I would be being that I am not much of a public speaker, maybe the booze hadn't worn off yet but I was ready to go. We had a pretty light crowd for our talk, which didn't bother or surprise me much as it's a pretty specific topic. The four of us got a slow start but the conversation got flowing and remained pretty laid back and loose, just as we had planned. Chip Walton moderated for us, which was a great addition to the talk, and a highlight for me as I've always been a big Brewing TV and Chop and Brew fan over the years. I hope everyone enjoyed the banter, we didn't want to come across as know-it-all's especially with the real pro Michael Tonsmeire in the crowd, and I think we achieved that well.
HopWards hits the taps on club night.

After our talk I sat in on Malcom and Marshall's talk, which was really fun and informative. Afterwards I had a decision to make, I was feeling a little burnt out, and with my hotel roommate planning to split I decided to check out of the hotel room and not stay the night for the banquet. I had planned to then go to Tonsmeire's talk at 2pm but with the car loaded with all my kegs and bottles I decided to pull and Irish exit. So I apologize to all I didn't say good bye to, it sounds like everyone got along just fine at the Banquet without me. 

It was a whirlwind conference and I had a seriously great time, learned a bunch and made more connections with folks than I had expected to. I tried to mention as many as the folks I hung with throughout the conference, sorry if I missed anyone, I was drinking. If you have never been to the conference you really have to go at least once, its a wild and unique beer experience thats unmatched anywhere that I have been. I'm hoping Minneapolis 2017 will be in the cards for me, because this years conference was really one to remember I can only imagine next year will be more of the same.