Tag Archives: Willamette

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

I have been harsh to lagers lately. Most of the lagers I try leave my palette with an off taste that is not quite burnt. It’s not musty or soapy either. It’s just an odd flavor that makes me want to pour the beer out and grab the nearest pale ale.

Since I was such a fan and consumer of Dale’s Pale Ale while in Colorado I brought home some Mama’s Little Yella Pils:

Little Yella Pils

What is this liquid masquerading as a lager? It has none of the bad traits I associate with the breed. It, dare I say, drinks smooth like my favorite ales. What alchemy have the brewers at Oskar Blues conducted to create such a monster?

First off, this beer is true to style meaning that it does not employ the use of so-called “adjuncts” like corn and rice. Say what you want about corn and rice in beer, but the traditional recipes used in Europe do not call for the ingredients. These beers also do not use a lot of the ingredients modern American brewers are using to craft stunning beers—yes, I am looking at you Surly Coffee Bender.

Second, the hop bill consists solely of Saaz hops. This is a very traditional hop for pilsners and seems more in place in this style as opposed to more common American craft beer hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Willamette. A pilsner lager is normally an easy drinking beer—hence the use of this style as the backbone of American light lagers that are meant to be consumed in units measured by 24 cans—so a potent hop really interferes.

The end result is a “smaller” beer that begs to be quaffed. I came home from a three hour long hike with my daughter and enjoyed a beer on the patio as the sun was setting. It fit the moment perfectly.

This all kind of surprised me because Oskar Blues is known for being on the more aggressive side of craft brewing. It’s not Stone Ruination aggressive by any means, but several of their beers are pushing higher alcohol and/or bitterness levels. This is not a brewery known for making session beers. Heck, the main line beer—Dale’s Pale Ale—clocks in at 65 IBU.

It’s a malty, not too hoppy easy drinking beer from a brewery better known for trying to knock your socks off:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

House Pale Ale #3

The attempt to solidify a “house” pale ale recipe for my keezer is a frustrating process. First, there is the lead time inherent in homebrewing. It is four to five weeks between batches because I prefer to allow the batches to keg condition much like you would bottle condition. Second, small variations in the process can produce some pretty divergent results. Your yeast could produce bubblegum esters or your hop profile could come out flat. Argh!

Each of these “house” pale ale recipes is going to seem a little derivative, but that is the point. My recipe was as follows:

  • 1 lbs. Briess 2-Row Caramel 20L, steeping grains
  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Cascade pellet hops, 60 minutes
  • 1 lb. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes
  • 1 oz. Willamette pellet hops, 15 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minutes
  • Safale S-05 yeast

iBrewMaster figured that the beer came in at ~3.7% ABV and ~32 IBU. Fairly light and easy drinking for the higher temps of early summer. What was the result:

House Pale ALe #3

It’s a very light beer in terms of body and alcohol. Unlike my prior house recipe there is a more pronounced hop character, even though the IBU rating is the same, which I am chalking up to the use of Cascade hops. The hops’ resin character can stand up to a full 60 minute boil better than some other varieties…yes, I am looking at you Citra.

The beer came out very similar to my prior House Pale Ale #2, which was to be expected considered that the primary departure between the two recipes was the change in hops. I also changed the steeping grains from a Caramel 40L to a Caramel 20L which did result in a slightly lighter body.

I would like to say that this beer is a 2.5 mug rating, but I am not going to start parsing mugs down into fractional units. Therefore, it gets two mugs because I like to err on the side of pessimism.

Beer Ratings

Pale Wheat Ale

I have been on the hunt to create a “house ale” recipe in the pale ale style. For some reason, I decided to depart from that a little bit with this recipe and incorporate some wheat ale elements. I have no idea why I decided to do such a thing.

I poured the first glass when I was recovering from surgery:

Pale Wheat Ale

The recipe was similar to recipes in the recent past and is as follows:

  • 1 lbs Caramel Wheat Malt, steeping grains
  • 3 lbs Munton’s Wheat DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz Cascade pellet hops, 60 minutes
  • 1 lbs Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes.
  • 1 oz Citra pellet hops, 5 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minutes
  • Safale S-04 yeast

iBrewMaster calculated that the beer would come in at ~5.3% ABV and ~28 IBU.

I had hoped to force carbonate this beer using one of the speedier methods, as opposed to set it and forget it, but my system developed a slow leak somewhere and the pressure crashed overnight. Whoops.

The body of this beer was very malt forward, a product of heavy steeping grains and wheat malt extract I suppose. It was to the point of completely overwhelming whatever bitterness, granted it was designed to be a mild beer in terms of IBU, was present.

For the past few batches of beer—two that have been dispensed and a third that is keg conditioning as I write—Citra hops have been a major player. Unfortunately, with this beer I think I am realizing the limits of that hop. Used in dry hopping Citra is amazing. It adds a strong grapefruit aroma that is just unique. Used in a more traditional boil and those unique notes are totally lost. I could have used any hop with a more “durable” flavor profile in the boil and gotten more impact out of it. For my next batch I am using a combination of Cascade and Willamette, traditional craft brew hops, to create a base recipe. My intent is to make an analogous batch that utilizes Citra as a dry hop.

Yeast is a funny thing when it comes to homebrewing. You read descriptions on packages and troll the message boards. Once you finally decide what yeast to use it gets pitched into the carboy and away begins the fermentation. Except the end result can be markedly different depending upon a number of factors.

I utilized Safale S-04 for this batch of pale wheat ale and I think that the yeast or my usage of the yeast contributed to several flavors that I found unappealing. Most notably the beer had a yeasty or doughy aroma and taste that was not objectionable, but it was not what I wanted in my beer. If you have ever walked into a bakery that moves a lot of bread and smelled a batch rising you know the aroma I am talking about. It’s not that horrible Subway bread smell that knocks me on my ass every time I walk past that place.

There was also a fruity or sweet taste—some say bubble gum, but my nose did not detect that note—that lingered a little too long on the tongue. Again, this was not an objectionable flavor but it was not what I wanted at all. In the next two batches I used Safale S-05 hoping to avoid these particular flavors.

Not my favorite homebrew:

One Mug Homebrew

Rocky Mountain Goodness in a Can

Some places just do not like glass bottles.  So, in order to bring some beer to my holiday weekend festivities I needed to stock up on canned beer.  The upside was that I “needed” to make a trip to the liquor store to peruse the aisles for something contained within aluminum that could whet my whistle.

Sure, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy was calling to my from 16 ounce cans in the cooler but I wanted something different.  With the heat approaching 90 degrees and the sun feeling like it was trying to melt my face off, an IPA or stout or other heavy beer style was off the table.

Breckenridge Brewery came to my rescue with two options in cans: Avalanche Ale and Summer Bright Ale.

Avalanche Ale is described as being an amber style:

Avalanche Ale

This style, along with different varieties of pale ale, is one of the hallmarks of the American craft beer movement.  A relatively light (4.4% ABV) and mild (19 IBU) Avalanche Ale drinks easily on a warm day without tasting like straw colored water.  One thing that I really appreciated about Avalanche Ale was the inclusion of Chinook hops which are quickly becoming my favorite variety in homebrews.

The great thing about the amber ale style is that it can accommodate so many variations across the beer spectrum.  There is lighter fare, like Avalanche Ale, and much more heavy fare, like some of the homebrews that my friends have shared where the alcohol is north of 7.0% ABV and the bitterness is approaching 70 IBU.  The key is that the malt really provides a structure for the brewmaster to make an imprint.

Summerbright Ale is another story:

Summerbright Ale

Reading the can after pulling one out of a slushy cooler with temps above 90 degrees I was ready for summertime perfection.  Instead, I was left with a totally lifeless beer.

I cannot really pinpoint what went wrong with Summerbright Ale because I think many things are off.  There is very little malt structure whatsoever.  Therefore, you are left with a beer that just flies off your palate in no time like a drink of cold water.  It’s really on par with the malt structure of your typical canned American light lagers you see guzzled by the caseload over the Fourth of July.

There is also no hop profile to speak of either.  I am not a “hop head” seeking out the most bitterness all the time, but beer needs to have a balance between malt and hops to provide flavor.  Summerbright Ale did not have any of this interplay and came across somewhat tasteless.

I would purchase Avalanche Ale again and avoid Summerbright Ale.

Speaking of the six-pack, I was really curious about the packaging:

Six Pack Rings

Made by PakTech these rings are made from #2 HDPE plastic, which is one of the two types of plastic that are readily recyclable.  However, comparing these rings with the traditional plastic “tape” style it seems like the newer rings are made from much more material.  Considering that a lot of plastic does not get recycled would it not be better to use the packaging with less material?

One nice feature, as pointed out by the makers of the handles, is that the fully enclosed top protects the drinking area of the can from dust and debris.  It seems like a pretty minor advantage considering that I can wipe off the top of the can pretty easily.

Apparently, I was not the only one wondering about this new version of the venerable six-pack.

Pre-Summer Beer Thoughts

It feels like summer might never actually get here.  Iowa received a record 17.66 inches of rain during the spring, triggering flooding, and leading to a general soggy feeling.  It’s a good thing that I have not bottled any “lawnmower beers” because I might be craving stouts if the cool temperatures and overcast skies continue much longer.

Chinook IPA

Single hop beers are taking off as brewers, both of the home variety and commercial craft type, are seeking to make beers that stand out.  A plethora of hop options also makes this possible, as do techniques like dry hopping or using freshly harvested hops.

I jumped on the bandwagon by brewing up the Chinook IPA recipe from Northern Brewer:

Chinook IPA

According to the calculations in iBrewmaster the Chinook IPA was going to clock in at ~52 IBU and ~4.9% ABV.   The bitterness was lower than the recipe called for because I reduced the boil time of the initial 1 ounce of hops to get to around the ~52 IBU, which I am beginning to think is the optimal point of bitterness.

Single hopped beers are supposed to accentuate the particular hop profile of the chosen hop.  I am not familiar enough with the Chinook variety to tell if anyone particular flavor or note was accentuated compared with a beer that has a blend of hops.  The beer did lack some of the earthy or “piney” notes of IPAs that use Cascade or Willamette hops.

The first bottle came out a little flat.  I do not know if it is the “magic” or “voodoo” of bottle conditioning, but some bottles come out less carbonated than others.  Maybe that’s another reason to make the transition to kegs and forced carbonation.  Never mind the two to three weeks cut in production time.

Next up into bottles is a recipe called Synchronicity, which should prove interesting given the use of sweet orange peel and lemongrass.

Innovation?  Really?

AB-InBev, the corporate monster behind Bud Light and about half of the world’s beer it seems, is truly showing its corporate colors lately.  Unable to innovate in terms of products, because as one commentator put it there is not much you can do to Bud Light besides add a little lime flavoring, the behemoth is turning to packaging.  Two things caught my eye recently, the so-called “bow tie” can and the new punch top.

Punch tops, vented cans, wide mouth openings…whatever is next make me laugh.  The brewer is saying to the customer, “Please pour this swill down your throat as fast as possible so that you cannot actually taste anything and you come back to the liquor store to buy more.”  In the case of Coors Light the can actually signals when it is so cold that the beer cannot taste like much more than grain steeped water.  That is the idea I guess.

AB-InBev now has aped SABMiller’s “punch top” can with a pop top that also punches a whole in the can for faster guzzling.  You see, SABMiller’s version required you use an accessory.  Granted, that accessory could be a spark plug, drumstick of the musical variety, car key, or properly branded use-specific tool.  AB-InBev has done them one better by doing away with the accessory and including the power to vent the can right there on top of the can itself.  Damn, that is innovation.

Well, if you thought that a punch top copy was ridiculous wait until you get a load of the “bow-tie” can.  Yep, AB-InBev is packaging Budweiser in a can that is said to evoke the classic inconagprahy of the Budweiser bow tie.  Huh?  Was anyone actually asking for a specially shaped can?  Does anyone actually care?  Never mind that the can actually holds 11.3 ounces of beer versus a traditional can’s 12 ounces.  Oh, and it comes in a new packaging quantity…wait for it…the 8-pack.  I cannot wait to check out the variety of packaging available for summer with the introduction of the 8-pack.

What’s next?

Left Hand Brewing Company

When I went to Colorado over the Labor Day weekend to visit friends in Breckenridge and Colorado Springs there were two breweries I was interested in seeking out: Left Hand Brewing Company and Great Divide Brewing Company.  Scheduling prevented me from actually visiting the physical breweries and tap rooms, but I was able to track down some of the beers I wanted to try in bottles.

Left Hand makes a sampler twelve pack.  Great mysteries are contained within:

The beers in the sampler pack are Stranger Pale Ale, Sawtooth Ale, Milk Stout, and Black Jack Porter.

Let’s look at the beers in order starting with Stranger Pale Ale:

I apologize for the quality of the images.  The dSLR did not make the trip to Colorado because I was trying to travel light to make room for two children’s stuff.

This is my favorite style of beer.  It’s a little lighter in body than the traditional American craft ale, but it has enough bitterness to balance that out.  There is enough alcohol (5% ABV) to know you are drinking beer, but not so much that after a couple you are wondering how to make the walk up 4 O’Clock Road.  Pale ales do not need to be overly bitter and strong to be successful.

Look who’s here…Cascade and Willamette hops along with their friend Centennial.  The two horsemen of the American craft beer movement.

Man, you can really taste the Willamette and Cascade hops used in this beer.  It’s not too powerful, but once you get used to looking for the particular flavor and aroma of these hops it is soooooo easy to point them out in a beer.  It is the signature of American craft beers.

That being said Sawtooth is a great example of American craft ale.  Since the arrival of Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager and New Belgium’s Fat Tire, the American craft ale has taken on a distinct form: medium amber color, Cascade and Willamette hops, long lasting head, and a strong mouth presence that lingers for a moment after swallowing.  Sure, there are variations on the theme but if you line the beers up those characteristics will be present.  It’s a good thing because it means that good beer is being made all over the country and the United States is developing distinct styles.

Milk stouts are an interesting breed of cat.  Like traditional stouts, a milk stout is a dark beer.  Also like tradition stouts, e.g. Guinness, milk stout will have the taste qualities of roasted malts and a rich mouth feel.  Where this variety differs from tradition is the use of lactose.  Lactose, a sugar usually associated with milk, is not fermentable by the traditional beer yeasts used in the production of most beers.  Thus, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the beer.

Left Hand’s Milk Stout is sweet, but not overly so.  The residual sweetness of the lactose gives the beer just enough to be noticeable but not enough to become sickly.  The beer is also amazingly light on the tongue for being 6% ABV which is something that attribute to the low bitterness (27 IBU).  Too often a strong beer is accompanied by a lot of bitterness from some serious hopping.  Not so with Left Hand’s Milk Stout.  This is a great alternative to the more well-known stouts available in the liquor store.

Last, but not least, is the Black Jack Porter

I drank the Milk Stout prior to pouring myself a Black Jack Porter because it was like stepping up a ladder on a progression.  The sweetness of the Milk Stout disappears and the alcohol (6.8% ABV) and bitterness (35 IBU) go up.

The dark flavors we associated with porters, chocolate and coffee, are present in spades but nothing is overpowering like a coffee stout.  The chocolate malt used in this beer is a great choice and an underappreciated ingredient in the beer universe.  Unlike actual chocolate or cocoa nibs added at various times during the brewing process, chocolate malt’s flavors get mellowed out over the process since the flavors are present from the first step in the brewing process.  It creates subtlety.

It’s pretty apparent from my notes on these beers that I really enjoyed what the fellows at Left Hand Brewing are doing in Longmont, Colorado.  I hope that I get a chance the next time I am out west to stop by the brewery and taste the liquid at the source.

Beer Thoughts in a Time of Drought

One upside to living through the worst drought in the past twenty five years is that after a day of ferrying buckets of water to the plants you want to save a cold beer tastes mighty fine.  By the third beer, as the sun goes down, you even begin to forget that your grass is crispy and the dawn redwood you planted earlier in the summer is really having a hard time.  Ugh!

I was brewing a new batch of beer this past week.  As I was pouring the wort into the carboy, my four year old daughter stuck her head inches away from the carboy’s opening and asked, “Daddy, where’s the trub?”  Yep, my daughter knows about trub.  I am proud parent.

American Wheat

For a summertime treat I went back into my homebrew past to brew up a batch of American Wheat using an extract kit from Northern Brewer.  This recipe is the first one that I tried when I began homebrewing almost one year ago.

It’s my opinion that my skills have improved, but only the beer will prove that out:

Well?  I have mixed impressions right now.  My sinuses are burnt—a combination of the heat, allergies, and medication have left them somewhat desensitized—so nothing smells right.  A big part of beers is the aroma and this beer actually smelled burnt.  Literally, it smelled like burnt malt.  I cannot believe that is an aroma from the beer.

It’s easy drinking, which is good in a time of drought.

Patersbier & Mild Ale

The patersbier I brewed up a few weeks ago has been put into bottles and will be ready to drink in a couple of weeks.  One reason why I keep looking at a soda keg dispensing system is that it cuts out the bottle conditioning time.  There is nothing as bad as waiting for a beer to bottle condition.

One step that I skipped with the patersbier was secondary fermentation.  Since no additional ingredients were going to be added I just extended the time in primary fermentation and went right to bottles.  I am not a fan of secondary fermentation because it adds in the chance of contamination.  The color on this beer is very light.  It will be interesting to see how it looks coming out of the bottle.

Also in a carboy right now is a batch of mild ale.  This recipe is very light on hops.  It only calls out 1 ounce of U.S. Fuggle boiled for 60 minutes.

New Zealand and Australian Hops Arrive on the Scene

The more I brew the more I learn about hops.  Currently, the hop varieties from the Pacific Northwest seem to dominate.  How many recipes do you recall that spec out Cascade or Willamette hops?  Too many to count.  But, it looks like the folks from the southern hemisphere are looking to invade the U.S. beer scene.

New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager, reviewed below, uses Nelson Sauvin variety.  I could not tell you about that particular hop because my palate is pretty weak at discerning the individual notes.

The good thing about this invasion is that it brings more options to the table.  For the longest time I remember every craft beer that I opened being an exercise in restraining my gag reflex because the over abundance of either Cascade or Willamette varieties made me think I was about to drink day old bong water.  A lot of breweries have gotten away from that heavy hand, but the trend is still prevalent.  If you want to experience a blast of hops like no other check out Stone Brewing Co’s Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary IPA.  Not only is it heavily hopped, but it also clocks in at almost 11% A.B.V.  This is a “big” beer.

Variety is the spice of life, right?

New Belgium Brewery Shift Pale Lager

There are times when even the most disciplined homebrewer runs out of beer.  I was one such homebrewer this week.  I found myself facing ninety degree temps and nothing read to drink for almost a whole week.  What’s a guy to do?

Go to the liquor store of course, but this would be the first time in a while that I had made a purposeful trip to the beer section of my local Hy-Vee’s liquor department.  One nice thing about not having made such a trip in a longtime is that there were a lot of new options.  Most of the new stuff from the macro-breweries sounded pretty vile.  Lime-a-rita or something like that from the makers of Bud Light.  Joy.

New Belgium Brewery’s new Shift Pale Lager caught my eye.  When I buy beer I tend to gravitate toward styles that I do not make myself.  Lagers fall into that category because I have not gone to the trouble to devise a fully climate controlled fermentation system preferring the room temperature joy that is ale.

True to its name, Shift is pale in color:

The taste is anything but pale.  Apparently, the beer uses four different hops (Target, Nelson Sauvin, Liberty, Cascade).  The neat trick is that this beer does not taste overhopped like so many other craft beers.  Oh sure, you can taste the hops but the bitterness and aroma are there in the right amounts.  Unlike beers that are heavy handed with varieties like Simcoe or Amarillo, which seem to be the hops of the moment, the mix of four varieties produces something that is more complex than a one note daisy cutter on your palate.

This beer definitely fits into the “lawnmower” category that I do not find derogatory in any way.

It’s available in 16 ounce aluminum cans so it is venue friendly.  This is important in the summertime when the safety police outlaw the presence of glass bottles.

Olympic Beer Controversy

What is the official beer of the 2012 Olympics?  Why, Heineken of course!

Huh?  These games are being help in a country that is home to the Campaign for Real Ale.  A country that has a long history of unique beers is going to be serving pale Dutch swill for the ever so reasonable price of £7.23 or just over $11.  Nothing like laying down over ten bucks for a schwag imported beer in England.

What’s next, ordering a Bud Light under the shadow of St. James Gate in Dublin?

The First Beer

The bottle cap has been pried off my first homebrew:

The first whiff contained no hints of skunk or other nasty smells—a sure sign of complete homebrew failure.  The color was right, the sediment stayed in the bottom of the bottle, and there was a decent amount of head.  About the only negative would be that the beer was cloudier than I thought it would be, but that is a direct result of my not boiling the wort aggressively.  The second batch that I brewed was boiled more aggressively and was noticeable clearer going into the carboy.

I cannot go all Sideways with a flavor profile.  I could not tell you if there were hints of citrus or spice or ramen noodles unless the single flavor was so potent as to smack me in the face.  Instead, I would describe the flavor as subtly.  Particularly the flavor of hops was muted, which is good considering I halved the time that the hops were boiled in the wort.  There was a hint of that American craft beer “hopiness” that I dislike.  Not enough to be objectionable.  I believe that this will be corrected in my next batch because I chose not to include Cascade or Willamette hops, opting instead for a U.S. Tettnang varietal.

Both the brown 22 ounce and Grolsch bottles produced well carbonated, skunk free beer.

On Friday the second batch will make its transition from carboy to bottle.

Brewing Day

The day has arrived!  I have looked at my equipment enough, viewed the DVD included with my starter kit, double checked my ingredients, and prepped my family for the beginning of my adventure in making my own beer.

The steps are pretty simple: boil water, add malt extract syrup, add hops at certain intervals, stir until your arm hurts, stir some more, cool wort, pour into carboy, add yeast, and wait for the magic to happen.  Granted, a person can make the entire process of brewing beer at home as complex as they would like to but I chose to keep it simple for now.  Brewing with malt extract syrup is the gateway drug of homebrewing.

After collecting the necessary water and setting to boil I settled in for one of the most important steps in the brewing process:

If one cannot enjoy a beer while making a beer the entire endeavor is suspect.  With the malt extract syrup fully incorporated into the boiling water a person has made wort:

It is said that brewers make wort and yeast makes beer.  This is true in that without the magic biological reaction of yeast and wort there would be no beer.  Note to anyone planning on making beer at home—be prepared to spend a lot of time stirring boiling liquid.  A lot of time.  I had the advantage of using a large All-Clad kettle with a heavy bottom that retained heat well and helped to prevent scorching.  The even heat also helped to prevent the wort from boiling over and making an unholy mess.  Here is what can happen when the wort boils over.

Once the wort has cooled it is poured into a carboy.  Some brewing kits use brewing buckets with snap lids, but the large surface area of the lid presents a lot of opportunity for air to penetrate the brewing bucket and spoil the product.  The carboy’s thin neck and opening reduce the chance for this from happening.  Better beer through better design.  With a rubber stopper and fermentation lock in place the carboy is ready to spend the next two weeks in a cool, dark location:

For this batch I am using an American wheat recipe kit from Northern Brewer.  Included in the kit are two 1 ounce packages of Willamette and Cascade hop pellets.  I prefer my beer to have a less potent hop profile than most, so I reduced the amount of time that each of these ingredients was boiled.  After adding the Cascade hop pellets and getting smacked in the face with the “hoppy” aroma I am going to replace this variety with something a little more mellow.  Apparently, according to Northern Brewer, Cascade hops provide the signature aroma and flavor of many American ales.  This tends to be the aroma and flavor that I feel are overdone by many American ales.  This is the beauty of brewing your own beer—you can make it to suit your tastes without having to wander the aisles of the liquor store hoping to find something that satisfies your palate.