Tag Archives: process

Bottling day and tasting notes: Molasses Stout

Standard bottling process, you know how it goes. Sanitize everything, shoo the Morale Octopus off the fermenter, and get busy.

I’m really happy with the Molasses Stout, but you know what I need about a ton more of? MOLASSES. I thought I was overdoing it, but I didn’t even scratch the surface of overdoing it. I may have barely begun to simply do it, and overdoing it will require a tanker truck.

Tasting notes:

Really, really good. I love this beer. Hoppier than expected, but less spicy and less molasses-y. Good balance, will probably be especially super after a few months in the bottle mellow the hops out. There’s a little bit of barleywine-type raisin fruitiness. It’s also pretty strong. As usual I have no idea what the gravity or ABV are, but a test glass suggests that this batch is comfortably in the imperial range.

Recipe notes:

I would happily make this beer again, unaltered. But for a gingerbread molasses stout of the sort I originally intended, the recipe needs about half the hops–and twice the molasses, lactose, and spice mix (leaving juniper at original amount). 8 oz of lactose and nearly a gallon of molasses for a 5-gal batch. That sounds absolutely ridiculous. I’m going to do it anyway–but probably as a 1-gal test run first.

Here’s a look at the actual beer, just after bottling. Looking forward to seeing what kind of head it ends up with once it’s done.

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Beer is friendly, dammit

I recently saw a very new brewer ask a question on a forum I spend some time on: is it okay if I put herbs or fruit in my beer, to add some flavor? Is that a thing I can do? What’s good to use?

It was honestly pretty depressing to see how unanimous the response was: NO. Or, more accurately: HELL NO, NO WEIRD STUFF UNTIL YOU CAN MAKE A GOOD NORMAL BEER.

Believe me, I do understand  where they’re coming from. I love the idea of a standard, old-reliable recipe that can comfortably accommodate a lot of adjuncts. The idea that you should learn the basics before improvising is a very old idea, and definitely a practical one; everybody’s probably got at least one wildly ambitious first project that went terribly wrong, wasted materials, and came out nothing like what they wanted. I know I do. Brewing is a very friendly hobby to people focused on details and procedure and measurements…and people who focus on those things tend to focus on perfecting a foolproof, reliable process they can control all the variables of, or duplicating something they already like. I GET IT.

But you know what? It still pissed me off. An experienced brewer had the gall to give this newbie a homework assignment: make 20 batches the normal way, then you can start messing around. I saw the sad little reply: “okay, you guys give good advice. I guess I’ll just focus on making good beer”.

I wanted to throw things.

I wanted to reach through the internet with a witbier in one hand and a juniper branch in the other and start bludgeoning everyone involved in the exchange.

This person wanted to do something that was good, normal beer–the kind a beginner or anyone else would make. It’s the definition of good, normal beer for most of history and most of the world, in fact. It was unbelievably frustrating to see an idea as unremarkable as socks treated like something dangerous. Our beginner may not make it to twenty brews before trying out some adjuncts, but when s/he does, it will probably be anxiously, tentatively, and with a nagging conviction that they’re going to ruin everything by doing it. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY.

Beer is forgiving. Beer is tolerant. Beer is not scary, and it’s not waiting for you to mess up so it can laugh at you. Please, please, brewers–remember, and help others to remember. You can get away with more than you think.

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Calibrating a Brew to the House

This isn’t a brew about developing a house yeast, though I’ve got plans to try that out in the spring when the environment is a bit more cordial to micro (and macro) organisms. A friend of mine took advantage of the generosity of the folks at Big Al Brewing to score some of their yeast a while back. I’ve still got a few of the bottles I made with that. Big Al is seriously good stuff AND THEY’RE SOUNDERS FANS and I have a particular fondness for the funk-rich sours that they’re so good at, so I don’t think there’s a better place to start the Chez Ape Micro-Preserve than that yeast culture.

I did say this wasn’t going to be a post about that, though. Heh.

Mostly it’s about dealing with the fact that my housemates don’t drink enough beer.

I like to brew in 5-gal batches; maybe that’s the basic problem. But I love having a lot of a beer that turns out well, so eh. I am constantly running out of bottles. I’ve got about a batch and a half’s worth in constant rotation. Occasionally one gets gifted or purchased, so the number stays more or less constant. There’s just too much beer still in bottles when I come around to bottling day again. Like today, when the Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin gets decanted. I’m brewing faster than the house likes to drink.

The solution came to me in the car on the way to the brewshop today: BAAAAARLEYWINE. Pretend there’s a Ghost of Brewing Past saying that, it’s cooler that way. If the housies aren’t drinking enough beer, and I don’t want to deplete my stock of bottles by giving them out, the obvious solution is to calibrate what I brew to give them more time to drink the batch I just made. Batches that take longer are GO! Having a bucket filled up with nice fermenting things seems like the best way to deal with the urge to fill up buckets with nice fermenting things. So now I’m looking for recipes, just in time for prime barleywine season. Got a favorite? Let me know. Otherwise it’ll be some ridiculous Galactic Imperial Wheat Sahti nonsense, and who wants that?

(actually I do seriously want that now. It’ll give me a chance to bust out the stormtroopers again.)

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Okay. Cloudy homebrew.

Wine and mead first: it’s not as though I have some sort of principled stand against a beautiful clear wine or mead, no. Clear wine shows off the color of the brew fabulously, which is kind of the point. It’s just that I don’t think it’s worth half the time and trouble it takes, and that the road to clear wine paves over some other very pleasant options.

The pectin that causes haze/cloudiness in fruit wines is the same pectin that gives jams and jelly their gel, and gives the wine it’s in more body and a smoother mouthfeel. Sure, you can add pectin enzyme to your fruit to eliminate the pectin and add glycerine later when your wine seems thin–or you can leave the pectin right where it is. The feel of a wine that still contains its original pectin is something you can pretty much only get in a homebrew, and I dig that.

I also brew things because I like to drink things I’ve brewed. Clarifying can take a long time. You can rack a wine off its sediment three times and still see clouds. Mead in particular is a slowpoke, and can take months and months and months and still not clear until you give up and use some Sparkolloid or whatever. All of these mean more time, more fuss, and more chances for something to go wrong–the brewing ape does not like these things. The ape is very strongly anti-fuss. The ape certainly does not go looking for these things when there is a delicious bottle of cloudy homebrew sitting in front of her. Waiting for flavor is worth it; waiting for other things, not so much.

Now for beer: I like cloudy beer. I like its taste and its texture. That’s pretty much that. Irish moss, cold crashing, et cetera, they’re good to know about but I’ll probably never use them.

Now that you know my thoughts on cloudy homebrew, you can figure out if you agree or not. If you don’t, you’ll want to make sure to add pectin enzyme/pectinase to most wine recipes and read up on clarification techniques for the other brew types.

Cloudy brews, a treatise on their excellence

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