Down Under IPA Tasting

Hops Hops Hops. We continue to talk about hops. Hop methods and hop varieties. We finally get down to tasting some hops. This week we quaff down some mighty fine double IPA loaded up with Australian and New Zealand Hops!

One of the best IIPAs we can get around here in the Northeast is Heady Topper out of Vermont. For kicks we tasted John’s double IPA along side Heady Topper. Why?!?! Because its good! Not intending to make a direct comparison recipe or flavor wise there are some technique and presentation lessons to be learned tasting your beer with a similar style side by side. It can help give you perspective in your beer. I find that if I have another fine example of the style I am working on it helps me see depth and difference more clearly than if I simply sampled my beer alone. For that matter, you should try purchasing two or three commercial examples of any style of beer. Tasting them side by side can be pretty eye opening.

Enough of that! John’s IPA was a a wonderful smooth bitterness to it up front. It wasn’t resinous or biting, just smooth and lent good balance to the malt bill. That bitterness was necessary to help support the caramel malt in the recipe as well. Certainly helped to balance the malt backbone of the beer.

John put most of is efforts late in the boil process and it shows. There is great hop aroma and flavor coming from the hops at this stage. The best way I could describe the down under hops was as dark or overipe fruit. The zing of the tart fresh fruit character was gone but the flavors are more deep almost enriched. These hops played nice together and work well as late kettle additions. Not over done, but strong enough to taste them and be drawn in after each sip.

In comparison to how Heady Topper comes across the technique yield some similar results. Heady is bright, crisp and clean. The hops are also present predominantly as flavor and aroma additions. Heady does have strong resin like quality that tends to long on the palate. Certainly characteristic of the American style and the American hops. Where in the Down Under IPA the hops down linger; they are not super resinous. An interesting aspect of these hops and maybe something play with if that’s how you like your IPAs.

Have you brewed with Down Under Hops? Tell us about it in the comment sections or on our YouTube channel along with the video.


Russian Imperial Stout Brew Session

Of all the stouts to brew, the Russian Imperial Stout (RIS) is the one that you have to brew at least once to see if you can.  It’s one of the biggest beers you can brew.  As I read, there are no limits – just minimums with the RIS.

Being a somewhat experienced brewer (I am celebrating 10 years of brewing in July), I didn’t think I would have any trouble brewing this style.  Well, I was wrong.  All the materials I read about how this style would put my equipment to the test and there would be trial and error involved in brewing it didn’t sink into my thick skull.  I should have heeded some of the warnings.  Watch this video to see the details of the Russian Imperial Stout brew session and what I am writing about in this post:

Let’s start here: a ten gallon cooler for a mash tun is not going to cut it for a mash with 24 pounds of grain. Thankfully, I had an extra cooler that allowed me to mash in two separate vessels at the same time.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t hit my starting gravity and I really should have been able to do that. I think one of the tricks I am going to try next time is brewing a smaller final batch volume version of this beer. What’s wrong with a 4 gallon or even a 3 gallon version of this beer? This style isn’t something you drink in a long session, more of a special occasion sipping beer to me. If I made a smaller batch size, the bottles would still last me three to five years after my brew session.

The second trick – which I want to try first – is to brew with enough grain for a five gallon batch and split the grain between two vessels like I did during this session. I plan to mash the same way as I did, using the mesh bag in the smaller cooler and the same false bottom set up in the larger cooler. After collecting the first runnings from the mash, I would rinse the grains of the smaller cooler and transfer the second runnings into the batch sparge of the larger cooler. If I combine them in the larger cooler, I think I would have a higher gravity at the beginning of the boil which in turn should give me a higher starting gravity.

Trial and error is the name of the game with the RIS so I learned something. Hey, I guess no matter how experienced you are as a homebrewer, you still have things to learn.

Russian Imperial Stout recipe is here!

Brew On!

Using Old Yeast Part 2

I know I know! Last week we talked about using old yeast from a dry packet. Well this week I share my experience and follies with old yeast and frozen yeast. I finally brewed my first batch for 2015, but things didn’t go as planned.

Flander’s Red and a new brewing area. I had the ingredient in the garage waiting for most of the winter; back when most of my stuff was still in the garage for brewing. I wanted to get both of my cars in the garage this winter so I was able to appropriate some space in my finished basement as a brew area. Complete with sink and more fridge space (stay tuned for a brew space tour soon).

I figured I’d use BIAB to put the Flander’s Red ingredients to good use. I had gotten the grains just about ready to mash. While I was waiting for the water to finally come to temp I started looking for my yeast pack. I had a WYeast Roselare blend pack somewhere but couldn’t find it. I looked in all three fridges in the house. With dread I finally looked in the freezer. I found my frozen Roselare underneath a couple packages of whole hops. I must have moved the whole lot of it as a unit when I transferred my brewing setup from the garage to the basement. The yeast was put away with the hops in the freezer.

Bummed I went to plan B. I had a mason jar of Saison yeast and Brett Clausennii slurry from last years big brew. That beer was brewed in May, the yeast harvested likely at the end of May maybe early June. I kept it because I had intended to brew another saison, but never did. Out of curiosity, I thawed the pack of frozen Roselare and poured it into the 1500mL starter I made for the saison blend.

The starter obviously worked because I could tell by visual inspect and color change in the starter that the yeast I put in there did indeed multiply and grow. Who knows if any of the microbes from the Roselare got started. The whole thing got pitched the next day into the Flander’s Wort (No chill brewing so I had time for a starter to go 24hrs). The next day the 5 gallon batch was bubbling alone nicely. I’ll be racking to glass carboy soon. That way I can visually monitor the presence of a pellicle which will tell me if the Roselare blend has come back to life.

Time will only tell. I might pitch a new Roselare pack and a some sour beer bottle dregs in there too. But it might be fun to let it go and see if the frozen stuff had any life in it. I read on the WYEAST website some information about frozen smack packs that makes me thing it just might make it.

Lets keep our fingers crossed!

Using Old Yeast

John recently had a dilemma. He needed to rep itch some yeast into his braggot after a long a tiresome ferment. Worried that some fresh yeast was needed at bottling he looked to the fridge. All he had away an older package of white wine yeast. He rehydrated the yeast in some water and pitched it in hoping for the best. This week he asks the question: “How old is to old for yeast?”

The first thing going for John in these situation is that he had a dry yeast packet that had been stored in the fridge. Dry yeast tends to have a much longer shelf life than liquid yeast due to its nearly nonexistent metabolism while dry. You should always consult the side of the package for an expiry date or a packaged on date. In general these things will give you an idea of how old the yeast it.

Normally, under ideal conditions these things can be revived. Dehydrating the yeast and then putting old yeast into a mild starter (1.025OG) is a good idea. The little bit of sugar will encourage the yeast to start some activity. Within 30-60minutes properly rehydrated yeast should start to show some singes of CO2 production. This means there are some live cells in there. It doesn’t mean they are all alive or that you have a pitchable quantity but it does mean you have a shot at redemption.

The next step would be to let the yeast continue to make up in this sugar solution. Once it goes to completion, you can pitch it in a new volume (not more that double in size) with more sugar (this time not more than 1.040OG). When that once completes its process I’d recommend cold crashing it and seeing how much yeast volume there is. From there you might be ready to decant the spent liquid and go to a true 1-2L starter wort. Proceed as usual.

Ultimately there is no real good answer. Is the yeast too old? You have to put it in some sugar and see if its alive or not. No date on the package is going to tell you that. Like many things in home brewing you need to try them out and experience it yourself. Experience and gained knowledge will go a lot further than any “expert” source can give you.


Stir Plate or Ferm-Wrap

The curse of the home brewer is equipment upgrades. There are so many gadgets and toys available to make better beer or to help you make beer easier. And once you get those gadgets, there are usually newer gadgets to replace those gadgets. The cycle can be exhausting. This week John prepares himself for his next set of upgrades. We discuss the merits of choosing between a stir plate or Ferm-wrap.

The premise of using a stir-plate is that you generate lively and healthy yeast. In the past we have all been taught to believe that the stir plate also increases cell numbers as well. In reality cell numbers do increase, but depending on the size of your starter and the length of time you give it, the cell number issue can be pretty varied. However, a good steady supply of oxygen and access to fresh sure will certainly increase the viability and performance of any starting source of yeast.

Using a Ferm-Wrap has different benefits. Many of us have fridges that we can use with a thermostat controller to keep things cold in the summer. Active heating is something that is usually an after thought. But in the winter time a cold fridge or basement isn’t going to help brew most ales. A Ferm-wrap in combination with a temperature probe can really help maintain a constant temp when the ambient temps fall. I always found that having the option to heat up a brew towards the end of its ferment a benefit. This practice helps drive the beer to its lowest gravity before the majority of the yeast start to go dormant and flocculate out. A Ferm-wrap also makes it easy to heat up a fermentor in an attempt to restart a sluggish or stuck ferment.

Both of these things certainly point towards better beer through better fermetation or yeast management. My vote for anyone is always temp control. Temp control before even any type of starter. You can always buy more yeast, but you can’t ferment at 70F in a 50F basement. In John’s case, I think he already does a good job with a standard starter made by occasional shaking to create and suspend the yeast. His beers have very little fermentation flaws derived by sluggish or under pitched yeast. So my vote would be for the Ferm-Wrap to assist and lend more control to the good yeast he is already pitching. A stir plate later down the road would only enhance the high quality yeast he already pitches.

What’s your take? What’s your vote? Do you have experience with one or the other? Do you think one provides bigger rewards when in the absence of the other? Let us know with a comment or an email.