Tag Archives: Northwest Ale

Post Super Bowl Beer Thoughts

For the first time in a few years I actually watched the Super Bowl in its entirety.  With no skin in the game—either team could have won and I would have cared not the slightest bit more either way—the game needs to be entertaining.  Well, we got that in droves on Sunday evening.  It helped that I was pint deep in beer, both of the homebrew variety and commercially produced.

Northwest Ale

Styles of beer are getting to be so muddied.  Is it an amber ale or an IPA or an oak-aged monkey ale?  I don’t know.  One style of beer that is associated with the craft beer renaissance in the United States is amber ale.  I associate this style mostly with New Belgium’s Fat Tire Amber Ale, but there are countless varieties.

Homebrewers often cut their teeth on a variation of an amber ale.  Commonly, Wyeast 1056 “American Ale” or 1272 “American Ale II” are used to ferment the beer.  However, those yeasts are known for producing a platform for hops to be showcased in the place of a heavier malt profile.  I wanted to see what would happen if I let the hops take a backseat:

Northwest Ale

So, I started with an American Ale recipe, but instead of the traditional yeasts I chose Wyeast 1332 “Northwest Ale.”  The description, per Northern Brewer, is that the yeast “Produces a malty and mildly fruity ale with good depth and complexity.”  The malty part is what I was going for.  What is the verdict?

Pretty good.  I would be interested to see how two beers brewed the same time using the same recipe, but using different yeasts, would turn out because it is so hard to compare a beer that I brewed in January with one that I brewed in August or February of the prior year.  I lack the palate memory.  The beer is definitely malty.  I would not say that it has a fruity profile in any significant way, which is good because I was afraid of some banana flavors leaking in.  Everyone knows how I hate bananas.

Rye Ale and Rye Stout

I am on a little bit of a rye kick this month.  I have just put a batch of rye ale into bottles and I have a batch of rye stout that is fully krausened right now in a carboy downstairs.

Rye makes an interesting addition to a beer because it is supposed to add a peppery or spicy note to the beer that you just cannot get with malted barley.  I am sure that there are purists who will quote Germanic rules of brewing that say rye cannot be part of a true beer recipe, but I say hokum in my best Sheldon Cooper voice.

Does Fracking Threaten America’s Small Brewers?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing if you want to get all technical, to unleash natural gas in shale formations is booming all over the United States.  It’s part of the U.S. rise to prominence as an energy producer after spending the better part of the past few decades hearing about our dependence on everyone but ourselves for energy.  However, there is a dark side and that dark side is primarily about the impact of the process on the water supply.

It’s one thing to affect my drinking water, but affect my beer and those are fighting words.

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Bitterly Cold Beer Thoughts

The mercury or whatever they use in thermometers these days was showing an ambient air temperature below zero for much of the morning here in eastern Iowa.  It’s the kind of cold that feels like someone has just pinched your spine when you walk outside or, rather, run between buildings in an effort to avoid exposure.

It’s on days like these that I wish I could stay home wrapped in blankets drinking a beer.  Instead, my thoughts wander to beer while I look at spreadsheets all day long at work.

Brickwarmer Holiday Red

It’s been about a week since I cracked open the first 22 ounce bottle of the Brickwarmer Holiday Red:

Brickwarmer Holiday Red

The beer turned out okay, but it really lacks some of the flavors in the description.  In particular, the description noted that it would have pronounced citrus flavors but none of that came through in the final product.

However, the beer does seem to hit a lot of the right notes for these cold days.  It is hearty in terms of malt profile and the hops do come through strong without turning into a gut punch.  Or a smack to the teeth depending upon your perception of hop bombs.

I think that next year I will try a recipe similar to this but add some fruit or spices to make a unique holiday ale.  A Christmas present for the beer drinker in my life…me!

Like my second batch of The Innkeeper [insert link] the carbonation of different bottles has been highly inconsistent.  Some bottles are carbonated perfectly while others are quite flat.  It is a problem that is pushing me closer and closer to going the keg route.  I just want to build a keezer.

My Rye Ale

This weekend I brewed up a batch of rye ale that started with the American Rye Ale extract kit offered by the good folks at Northern Brewer.  I have made this exact recipe before, so I wanted to do something a little different.

I felt that the beer really lacked a defining rye characteristic, something that my rye whiskey drinking friend agreed with wholeheartedly.  In an attempt to up the rye quotient without upsetting the balance of the beer I steeped one pound of Weyermann Chocolate Rye Malt for twenty minutes as a specialty grain to add some depth to the beer in general.  It will darken up the beer and add those roasted notes that can really make a beer shine.

When the weather turns warmer and, depending upon the success of this batch, I am eager to try substituting the dark chocolate malt for a lighter Weyermann Rye Malt or Fawcett Crystal Rye Malt.  The other change I am looking to try is moving away from the ubiquitous Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast or the slightly less ubiquitous Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.  This weekend I bottled a batch of American Amber Ale that used Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale.

The “problem” I am having right now is that I can spend hours on my iPad with iBrewMaster crafting new recipes to try come springtime.

What is Craft Beer?

There is a debate raging in the beer world over the term “craft” and what it means.  In December the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based member association comprised of self-identified craft brewers, released a statement entitled “Craft vs. Crafty: A Statement from the Brewers Association.”  While I will not qualify the resulting conversation as a firestorm, it has been a heated debate within the world of beer.

The “traditional” criteria of a craft brewer is one whose production is less than 6 million barrels a year and has an ownership structure where less than 25% is owned by a parent company who is not themselves a craft brewer.  Therefore, a brand like Shock Top would not qualify because it is wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

I feel that some of this argument is reminiscent of the whole debate surrounding organic when the federal government put into place standards that were used to define organic.  While there was general applause over there being standards by which to qualify organic, a lot of people felt that there was a departure away from the spirit of what it means to be organic.  In the debate over craft there is the same tenor.  Is being a craft brewer purely a numbers game, as the Brewers Association’s definition would suggest, or is it about approach?

I would argue that what defines “craft” is approach.  If a brewery is independent of a large parent, but brewing watered down schwag lager to be consumed via beer bongs no one is going to label that a craft brewer.  Sorry, whether it’s 10 million barrels or 2,000 barrels crap beer is crap beer not craft beer.  That is, in essence, the problem with simple thresholds.

BTW, why 6 million barrels as the threshold?  The Boston Beer Company, which brews Sam Adams, is the largest craft brewery in the United States.  In 2011, the company brewed 2.5 million barrels itself and another 13 thousand under contract according to its annual report.  If the largest craft brewer is not even halfway to that number why is it even considered a threshold?

Ironically, included among the list of members for the Brewers Association is AC Golden—a division of the gigantic Molson Coors Brewing Co and part of the Miller Coors Brewing Co joint venture, Goose Island Beer Co—owned by the megasized Anheuser-Busch InBev monstrosity, and others I am too lazy to track down the true ownership structure.  The Brewers Association is going to produce a list in the first quarter of 2013 of the breweries that meet the “traditional” criteria of a craft brewery and that remain independent of a larger parent company.

I am just going to stick to my homebrew.  It’s as craft as you can get.

New Year’s Beer Thoughts

Damn, it’s 2013.  Where did 2012 go?

The Innkeeper Redux

In April of last year I brewed up a batch of Northern Brewer’s Inkeeper recipe kit.  I liked the beer at the time, but Northern Brewer has mixed things up by changing the malt extract.  Now the recipe utilizes Maris Otter malt syrup.

Apparently the new malt extract syrup is supposed to provide a more “real ale” character.  I do not know what the means exactly.  To my palate there was not a lot of difference between the new recipe formulation and the older formulation using light malt extract.

Regardless, the beer turned out well:

Maris Otter Innkeeper

However, some of the beers have been highly inconsistent.  The head on this example is great but two other recent bottles have had very little carbonation and some “off” flavors.  I hope that the batch did not get contaminated during bottling.  Ugh!

Brickwarmer Red and American Amber Ale

The Brickwarmer is in bottles and my take on an American Amber Ale is almost done with its secondary fermentation.  Needless to say, I am going to be “in the beer” very soon.

The big change I made to the recipe was changing the yeast out with the American Amber Ale.  Normally, the kit uses Wyeast 1056 American Ale which is a go to yeast for any type of American-style beer.  Along with Wyeast 1272 American Ale II, the yeast provides a neutral base for a “hop forward” flavor profile.  However, I am a fan of highlighting other aspects of a beer especially the malt profile.

I decided to use Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale.  The description and reviews led me to believe that this would provide a much more “malt forward” as opposed to “hop forward.”  We shall see in about three weeks when the first bottle gets opened and poured.

What is that Malt Flavor?

The good folks over at Serious Eats have a good rundown of the flavors of malt most commonly found in craft beers.  Too often we focus on the hops in beers–yes, I am looking at you craft beer aficionados–at the expense of the malts which can provide a ton of flavor.  I need to start a Malt Forward movement in beer.

First December Beer Thoughts

The Christmas songs are out in full force wherever you go, people are carrying those red cups from Starbucks, and suddenly people think it is appropriate to put strange looking reindeer decorations in their cubicles at work.  The holidays always turn my thoughts to…beer.  Big surprise.

Dry Irish Stout

The latest beer is done bottle condition and is ready to drink.  It’s a Dry Irish Stout recipe:

Dry Irish Stout

The original recipe, as it came from Northern Brewer, called for a more bitter beer than I wanted.  So, I reduced the boil time for the hops to reduce the bitterness down to approximately 40 IBU which is where a lot of people place the popular Guinness Draught stout.

Unlike Guinness Draught from a tap or can, my stout does not get the benefit of a nitrogen dispensing system or whatever that little widget is in the can that rattles around when empty.  The result is that the homebrew version lacks some of the creaminess that I associate with stout.  Not a deal breaker, per se, but it is a little bit disappointing in some ways.

However, the bitterness profile is spot on and this is a great beer for colder nights.  One way to really take things up a notch would be to introduce some cold pressed coffee extract.  Like, I don’t know, Surly’s Coffee Bender…

Innkeeper, Brickwarmer Red, and American Amber Ale

A batch of the Innkeeper extract ale kit from Northern Brewer is set to be bottled sometime on Sunday or Monday evening.  I brewed this same recipe earlier in the year and was very pleased with the results.  For some reason I felt compelled to return to the recipe.  It revolves around my interest in brewing styles of beer that are harder to define than India Pale Ale or porter or whatever.  It’s also about a search for finding beer styles that can have bold flavors, both in terms of malt and hops, without becoming hop bombs.

Next up after the Innkeeper are two recipe kits: Brickwarmer Red and American Amber Ale.  The Brickwarmer seems like the perfect beer for January and February when the weather is the coldest and you just want to snuggle under a blanket.  Not the right time of year for a light wheat beer or saison, but perfect for a heavier beer with spice.  Maybe an ugly sweater will complement the beer perfectly.

The American Amber Ale kit is going to be a little bit of a departure from the recipe as specified by the good folks from Northern Brewer.  Originally, the recipe called out Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast.  Honestly, I am very bored with both strains of American Ale yeast (1056 and 1272).  The yeasts produce fine beer, but like the description points out these are yeasts that are meant to produce a beer that takes a backseat to bold hop flavors.

I chose to take the recipe kit and combine with the Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale.  My hope is that this yeast will produce a beer with a distinct flavor profile versus a somewhat blank canvas like 1056 and 1272.  Only time in the carboy will tell.

How to Identify the Hops in Your Beer

The more I delve into the manufacturing of beer and the vast array of ingredients available the more I think the entire community is getting a little Sideways at time with the hops.  I am half expecting to go into Benz Beverage Depot and see a couple of guys looking at a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon while wondering about the variety of hops it uses.

Nonetheless, some hops have very different flavors and aromas.  If you are brewing your own beer or spending $12 a six pack for beer it is important to know what you like and what you do not.  Here is a handy guide for starting to identify the hops in your beer.

Beer Mythbusting

Apparently, there is some truth to the oft told tale that the pilgrims ended up landing in present day Massachusetts because the supply of beer was running low.  Huh, who would have thought?

There are some other interesting beer mythbusting going on in the same article.