Tag Archives: Northern Brewer

Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA

The second beer that I ended up with because of HyVee’s evil Fuel Saver program was Deschutes Brewery’s Pinedrops IPA:

Pinedrops

This beer pours a lot lighter than Fresh Squeezed IPA. Therefore, I would classify this as a more traditional IPA versus the emerging American Pale Ale style of beer.

However, the light body does not provide a good sounding board for either the alcohol (6.5% ABV) or bitterness (70 IBU). Perhaps it is from the wide variety of hops used— Nugget, Northern Brewer, Chinook, Centennial, and Equinox hops—or the general level of bitterness, but this beer leaves a lingering after taste that is not particularly pleasant.

It reminds me, unfortunately, of a lot of early craft beer IPAs that left you with the feeling of having drank some bong water with your beer. Those brewers were trying to mask deficiencies in skill by piling on flavors and aromas. Having drank well done beers from Deschutes Brewery before I know there is no need for these brewers to be hiding because the talent is present in the brewhouse.

Also, with a name like Pinedrops I was expecting a heavy, resinous profile that almost made you think you were breathing in the air of a temperate coniferous rain forest. Was that too much to ask?

At this stage of the craft brewing industry in America we expect more from our IPAs:

One Mug Homebrew

See what others are saying about Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA at Beeradvocate.

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Steel Toe Brewing Provider Ale

The first beer I drank from Steel Tow Brewing was big and brassy—Size 7 IPA—but Provider Ale was a totally different experience:

steel toe provider

At only 5% ABV and 15 IBU there is little “big” about this beer. It is also hard to categorize. It’s not a wheat beer, even though it pours with a golden straw color and is unfiltered. It has some sweetness and the hop notes are floral as opposed to resinous.

If you were looking for an analog I would suggest a cream ale like New Glarus’ Spotted Cow or Galena Brewing Company’s Farmer’s Cream Ale. These are both light beers that pour like a wheat beer but have a very different flavor that is hard to categorize.

These beers are actually quite hard to pull off from a technical standpoint because there is little hop flavor and aroma to “hide” behind when off flavors present themselves in the malt body of the beer. I have also found these beers to be heavily influenced by the temperature at which they are fermented. It might be the exact same recipe, but the fermentation spent a few days at a temperature higher or lower than ideal which leads to a totally different beer. Trust me, I have brewed Northern Brewer’s Speckled Heifer partial mash kit a few times and each batch tastes noticeably different. Not bad, but definitely different.

If Provider Ale and Size 7 IPA were poured side by side a person would be hard pressed to know that these beers were from the same brewery. It is a very different approach to beer in each glass:

Two Mug Purchase

SMASH American Session Ale

2014 is going to be the year of session beers.  You cannot swing an empty growler without hitting another variation of the theme.  You know how I know it is going to be the hot trend?  The term session has become almost meaningless like IPA before it.

Why meaningless?  You see brewers calling beers session ales that have alcohol levels ranging from under 3% ABV to over 8% ABV.  Bitterness levels are equally all over the map.  This is okay, but it does confuse the beer drinker.  It just requires a little leg work and tasting.  First world problem, I know.

Keeping myself on trend, I brewed up a batch of Northern Brewer’s SMASH American Session Ale:

SMASH IPA

iBrewMaster calculated the beer to be 3.8% IBV and ~48 IBU.  Ignoring the voluminous head of some of the bottles in this batch, it’s a pretty well balanced beer.  The bitterness is about perfect and the dry hopping adds a resinous after taste that lingers just long enough to enjoy without becoming annoying.

The beer could use a little more body to it to balance out the bitterness and “hoppyness.”  I would not suggest upping the alcohol content because I found this to be a very drinkable ale, but I would rather find a way to incorporate a malt structure that has a better chance of supporting the excellent flavors present.

I am a recent convert to the powers of dry hopping.  Between this beer and my recent dry hopped Chinook IPA  I am prepared to forgo my former opposition to the practice as gimmicky and embrace the effort to enhance the flavor or beer.

I did not like this beer as much as the second Chinook IPA, but that is not to say that I did not like this beer a lot.  I have been drinking this beer for the past couple of weeks and the great flavor has been appreciated during this recent cold snap and holiday break.  Even when I was sick and nothing tasted like much else there was something refreshing about a glass of dry hopped goodness bursting through to my taste buds.

In the past I have been leery of the Simcoe hop variety.  Beers I have tried using this hop always tasted like something was burnt or ashtray like.  It was not a flavor in the body of the beer, but something that sat in the back of the throat.  After drinking this beer I am going to chalk my suspicion up to the execution of the brew rather than the ingredient.    It would be interesting to duplicate this recipe using a different hop variety.  Citra, perhaps?

The verdict?

3 Star HomebrewMy New Year’s “beer resolution” is to develop a so-called house beer to have on tap in my newly constructed keezer setup.  The idea is to refine a single recipe rather than trot out singular attempts—dubbed a series of one night stands by a beer writer—in order to really nail down the finer points of that particular recipe.  Brew on.

Wiring the Keezer

The biggest difference between a kegerator and a keezer is that the kegerator begins life as a refrigerator and the keezer starts as a freezer.  The critical difference is that the temperature controller built into a refrigerator is meant to keep temps above freezing while a freezer’s temperature controller is meant to do the opposite.  While the slushy beer at Epcot was interesting I did not think that it was something I wanted to duplicate on a regular basis at home.

A common solution is to use a plug-and-play temperature controller like the Johnson Controls model available at Northern Brewer.  I thought that this solution was a little “hacky” and decided to go with a cleaner, hard wired solution.

I procured an Elitech STC-1000 digital temperature controller from Amazon.  The price seems to be stable at just under $20, but sometimes this spikes or availability goes into the toilet.  You can find similar temperature controllers on eBay, but I actually had a hard time finding one that was the right voltage and it was often no difference in price so I felt the extra hassle was not worth it.  As I said in my first post about the keezer build, everyone will make slightly different choices that make this an essentially custom build.

The key thing to remember when buying a temperature controller like this is that you get the model designed for 110 volts as opposed to the higher voltage model.  In the U.S. your household current and freezer are likely to be 110 volt alternating current.

A version of this temperature controller exists that displays the temperature in Fahrenheit as opposed to Celsius, but the cost difference was substantial and the availability was spotty.  For under $20 I figured that I could deal with converting to the accepted world temperature measurement.

The compressor and wiring in the back of my small—5.1 cubic foot—chest freezer was already exposed.  Some freezers may require you to remove a grill to get at this wiring and others may actually have the wiring hidden in such a way that would require some minor surgery.  If you require cutting into the skin of the freezer be very careful to not nick any coolant lines because if that happens you will be left with a very large piece of junk on your hands.

I did not have any problem cutting the power cord off of the freezer because it was free and the cord would be easy to replace in the even that I want to turn this back into a freezer at a later date.  You can mount the temperature controller in a special cut out or build a bracket, but I kept the wiring simple and easy to remove.

The other reason that I mounted the temperature controller here was to keep it out of the cool and moist air of the keezer compartment itself.  I have seen builds where the controller is mounted in a cutout on the collar.  Given that the STC-1000 does not appear to be sealed for this type of application I chose to keep it at room temperature.  Again, a personal choice.

As you can see by the picture below the temperature controller just sits inside the compressor bay:

Keezer Temperature Controller

The STC-1000 can actually handle temperature control for both heating and cooling.  In this build I will be dealing with just cooling because I do not intend to create a lagering cellar.  Again, this is a simple build and you will probably make different choices.

It can be difficult to find straightforward wiring diagrams for a cooling only STC-1000 that is hardwired, but below you will see how I wired the device:

Wiring Diagram

I do not claim that this is entirely proper and I would not follow my instructions for fear of burning down your house.  This is the internet and you can find information to suit your needs as you see fit.

I reused the cord from the freezer and cut jumper wires from that same cord to ensure that my wire was properly rated, etc.  You could use supplemental wire, but I figured it was cheap and easy to make do with what I had in the basement at the time.

I grounded the refrigerator using the existing ground wire from the cord, bypassing the STC-1000, because the temperature controller does not have a provision for grounding.  Also, please make sure you use wire nuts that can accommodate three larger wires.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen people try to smash heavier gauge wires into a small wire nut meant to splice two small gauge wires.

After every wire nut was tightened and all the wires were checked I plugged things in and it all worked.

The setup on the STC-1000 is a little convoluted, but easy to follow with the instructions included in the box.  For a test I set the cool temperature at 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since I do not have any beer in kegs ready to dispense I might be adjusting that in the future.  Right now when it is below zero—in terms of Fahrenheit—here in Iowa that might be okay, but come summer when the temperatures move toward triple digits I might want to go even colder.

One thing to make sure happens is that the unit actually cycles the compressor in the keezer on and off.  When you initially power the unit a delay will be set because the STC-1000 comes from the factory with a compressor delay set to 3 minutes.  This is programmed to prevent the compressor from cycling too rapidly and wearing out prematurely.  I left the setting alone because I figured that at higher than freezing temperatures the cycling should not be an issue.  Just wait out the few minutes and make sure the compressor starts operation.  I waited until the unit cooled the keezer down to the set temperature to ensure that it would shut off.  Everything worked clean from the first try.

That’s the beauty of homebrewing, you are always tinkering.

In my next post I will discuss the construction of the collar and the mounting of some hardware.  See you then!

Scottish 70 Shilling

Over a year ago I poured a glass of Scottish 60 Shilling and found it to be a little too mild for my tastes.  The beer was very low in alcohol and bitterness.  Thinking back on it, I should have described it as a dark and malty version of you average American light beer.  I do not think that this is a bad thing, per se, but the beer’s appearance and its drinking character were kind of at odds.  Call it beer drinking dissonance.

This time I moved “up the ladder” and brewed a Scottish 70 Shilling:

Scottish 70

Fermented with Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale, the beer comes out true to description as neutral and clean per the yeast strain description.

As a “far cry from a Wee Heavy” according to the lads at Northern Brewer, this is a good drinking beer for cooler temps.  I bottle conditioned this batch, but per the description at Northern Brewer’s website this would be a great beer carbonated at a slightly lower level and served with food that could be termed rustic.  It is hopped to what is considered the high end for the style.  Consider, however, that this means approximately 1.5 oz of US Fuggle hops in total.  Compared to a lot of modern American Pale Ales this is downright tiny.  Also, US Fuggle is a pretty mild hop variety having about one-half the alpha acid content to the more common craft beer hops like Cascade or Willamette.

When you drink beers that hew toward the traditional styles of the United Kingdom—in whatever iteration you want to consider the United Kingdom—it’s easy to see why people considered beer to be liquid bread.  You can almost taste the structure of baked bread in these beers.  Heck, it almost makes me want to sit down to a plate of bangers and mash while watching Everton eek out another mildly impressive season considering the resources at the club’s disposal.

It’s my belief that beers like this do not get enough attention because so much time is focused on the over the top or gimmicky beers coming from the countless craft breweries that are opening their doors across this great country.  Everyone wants to stand out in some way as that is the path toward longer term success in a marketplace that is increasingly saturated.  However, modest and drinkable beers are the ones that we, as beer drinkers, will return to time and time again.

Often derided as “house” beers, much like table wine is derided by wine snobs, these are the types of beers that occupy our refrigerators for a pint or two on a Wednesday night.  That is not a shame.  Rather it is an honor.

Next up is a SMASH American Session Ale.  It’s also going to be the last batch I put into bottles because I am moving into the world of kegging over Christmas break.  Check back to see my keezer build.

American Amber Ale

The latest batch of homebrew is done bottle conditioning and it was ready to drink over the weekend.  This time it is an American Amber Ale:

American Amber Ale Part Deux

I have brewed this exact recipe kit before, most recently last February when I chose to use Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale in place Wyeast 1056 American Ale.  The results of that batch were good, so I chose to brew a batch using a more traditional strain of yeast and see what happened.  And?

This is a beer that definitely benefited from an extra week in the bottles.  The first bottle that I tried, not pictured above, was bottle conditioned for the minimum of two weeks.  The beer was not heavily carbonated and the flavors were kind of sharp instead of melting together.  It drank like a young beer.  It is odd sometimes to think of beer ageing, but it is critically important to remember that un-pasteurized homebrew is a living organism.  It is what allows the beer to bottle condition and it can dramatically change the flavor profile over time.  Usually this ageing improves the beer.

I waited an additional week to crack the next couple of bottles and was surprised by the difference.  There was more carbonation, almost the perfect amount, and the malt profile no longer felt like it was trying to punch the hops out of the room.  Some of the residual sweetness that was left on the tongue with the first bottle was totally gone.

iBrewMaster figures that my American Amber Ale will be of both middling bitterness (~41 IBU) and alcohol (4.6% ABV).  Both numbers feel about right for the beer that I let age additional week in the bottles, but the alcohol felt a bit higher across the tongue on the younger beer.  Overall, this is an excellent example of a modern American craft beer and it is very forgiving for the average homebrewer to take on.

It is my belief that amber ale and modern IPAs define the American craft beer renaissance.  No two styles are crafted in as many variations by as many breweries with as dramatic a range of results.  Partly this is due to just how versatile a base the basic recipe of either of these styles can be and the forgiving nature of the yeast, which seems amenable to just about any brewing condition unlike more temperamental ale strains.  Do not even get me started on the prima donna yeast strains of the lager side of the house.  Enjoy.

Next up is a dry-hopped Chinook IPA that is bottle conditioning right now and a Scottish 70 Shilling that is bubbling away in a carboy which would make it ready for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Bring on the cranberries.

The Little Orange

I cracked opened a bottle of my latest homebrew this weekend, Northern Brewer’s La Petite Orange or as I like to call it the Little Orange:

Little Orange

First off, this has to be the most inconsistently bottle conditioned batch of beer that I have had the pleasure of drinking.  Some bottles almost foam out the top upon opening.  Other bottles barely have enough carbonation to produce a thing ring of head around the interior rim of the glass.  I do not get what happened with this batch, but it is one more push toward force carbonating my beer with a keg system.

The estimates from iBrewmaster put the alcohol at 5.37% and the bitterness at 19.  It’s a little hard to believe the estimate of the alcohol content because after a couple of these you start to feel things get soft around the edges.

One of my fears was that the yeast used—Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey—is known for producing banana esters at higher temps.  Naturally, I decided to brew this recipe when we went through a period of three weeks where the temperature barely ticked below ninety degrees and commonly topped out closer to 100.  We were fried and I was afraid my beer was going to come out like mofungo.  Good news is that my fears were not realized and the beer does not taste of bananas.  Whew!

Note to anyone using Wyeast 1214: it’s a slow start.  However, once this batch got going it was explosive.  I was afraid my blowoff preventer was not going to be able handle the volume of gas being belched out.

I really wanted to like this beer.  It seemed, from the description of the recipe, that it would really hit the spot as a late summer/early fall beer to drink on those days when the temperatures drop as the sun sinks below the horizon.  You know, something to bridge the season between the lawnmower beers of summer and the “heavier” beers of the cooler months.  It just did not come together in a way that I found satisfying.

The real problem that I had with this beer was that it was too sweet without any accompanying bitterness or body.  It sort of reminded me of the honey ales that friends have made where the sweetness of the honey added later in the brewing process overwhelms any other flavors.  With only 1 ounce of Styrian Goldings hops to provide bitterness, you are not likely to get much balance against six pounds of malt extract and a pound of candi sugar.

If I were to brew this recipe again, I would opt for a more potent hop or more hops in general to provide some bitter balance to the sweetness of the malt and sugar in the wort.

Next up is a batch of American Amber Ale and a Chinook IPA.  Stay tuned to see if I go the keg route and skip the horror that is two hours of my life spent bottling.