Thursday, May 30, 2013

Light Beers a rip-off?

Light Beers - A Rip Off?

I certainly like a light beer on a hot day. Yes, it's mostly water, high amount of carbonation and much less alcohol. However, it's refreshing to the tongue and seems to cool you down a bit. 

If you brew your own beer like me, your probably making hoppy IPA's, ales and the sort. If your more advanced and brew lagers, or better yet German beers as I do, then your certainly going to enjoy a wonderful refreshing beer. However, unless it is a lager, your brew has some buttery and butterscotch taste that takes away from the freshness a lager can provide. Or, a heavier malty or adjunct and caramel malt laden beer. This certainly has a difficult time comparing with a light beer, which is why many of us keep light beers in our fridge, right? As a disclaimer: Yes I know, your ale is as refreshing as a light beer - It's not worth arguing about. I'm not trying to compare the two, just trying to bring to light that many of us are light beer drinkers. Or, keep a few light beers in the fridge for the right mood, or when friends come over that will "only drink a bud/bud light."

The question is this: There is certainly much less grains and hops in a light beer, so why doesn't it cost less than a regular beer? The fact is; the large beer companies have figured how to give us less, charge more and make it cool by calling it "light," "lower calories" or "it won't weigh you down" etc. Wow, what a concept. 

This is part of the American corporate culture. If you noticed, Oreos are smaller, hot dogs are smaller, packages at the grocery store are smaller along with smaller portions, some with the word "light," not because of lower fat or calories, but because it's smaller in size or portions, sometimes by half!

The fact is that we are all being misled at times by corporate giants, and sometimes the small guy. I'm not advocating any actions against corporate beer and food giants. However, I think it is important to bring to light their misbehavior. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Competition Ready Beers and Unseen Problems for Entrants

Competition Awards
I personally enjoy submitting my beers for competition. I always go into it thinking I'll win big. However, its usually followed by disappointment due to a competition worksheet with comments about how to improve my brew.

The fact is that after attending my clubs competitions and tasting the beers, I realized that most beers get a score around 30 out of a possible 50 if it is half way palatable.

One of the problems faced in submitting your beer is that it will sit in a warm room for one to several weeks. If there is any infection, it grows creating beers that either gush , or taste sour and nasty. I know, I tasted them.

Infections are a major problem with brewing beer, especially if you brew in a garage like myself, where winds blow wild yeast around your brew. I had so many infections, I created a closed system where the beer travels from the brewing vessel, through hoses to a heat exchanger, and to the fermenter without ever being exposed to elements within my garage. This has worked out perfectly.

The key to keeping my fermenter closed is to clean it, close it and add a homemade carbon filter to allow clean
air exchange, add a disinfecting agent, swirl the disinfectant, drain it and close the drain. From that point on, the air is allowed to pass in and out of the fermenter through the filter as temperature changes and/or wort is added. However, rarely do I see an infection.

The other key to submitting beers is to make sure you place your entry that is rubber banded to the bottle in a sandwich bag prior to banding it to the bottle. My club numbers the bottle and doesn't need this step. However, many competitions include the paper banded to the bottle. The problem is that text is often printed on color ink printers, which can run.

There are often problems with the judges themselves. When a competition is overwhelmed with entries, often judges with little to no experience are allowed to judge. This may be the case with clubs that have few competent judges. 

Another important issue is Palate fatigue and inebriation. The tongue starts to lose its ability to define the finer points of your wonderful brew when faced with issues like large amounts of hops or other ingredients that seem to overwhelm and won't leave the palate, like pomegranate or high acid adjuncts.

The final thought is that it doesn't matter how good of a brewer your are. Or, how wonderful, or rock'n, your brew came out, part of it is just good old luck. Your judge might just fall in love with your brew for whatever reason. However, I think the biggest issue is that a judge might be faced with multiple beers that are all good. What makes him choose yours over another? Sometimes its just adding an extra ingredient without taking it out of its style category.

Some have figured out that it is a numbers game and often send multiple beers. Until the most recent beer limitations at the National Homebrew Competition, many submitted as many as 60 entries! Based on the entrants and the number of entries in the 2013 National Homebrew Competition, it roughly appears there were an average of seven entries per person. However, there was a limitation this year and I can guarantee that multiple entrants submitted their limit. I entered seven and won a 3rd place award.

How to prepare for upcoming competitions

Know your competitions: 

You need to get a calendar and note when each competition will be held during the year. 
Are your competitions local or out of state, which require shipping.

Schedule your competitions on a calendar to correspond with brewing:

Many beers need to be fresh. Some take long periods to mature. Make sure you mark your calendar to allow the brew day, maturity, bottling and a holding period to correspond with your competition.

Admittedly, I am not big winner at all the competitions. However, I've thought a lot about it and have taken action on the above to make sure I can enter my beers at all the competitions that I believe will be a big benefit to me. Good luck, and if you have any additional ideas, please post them in the comments below.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Helles Bock - My Quest for the Holy Grail of Beer

Helles Bock

My Quest for the Holy Grail of Beers

This is one of my favorite beer styles. I love the rich, full malt profile from the Pilsner and Munich malts that taste of grain, bread and toasty notes. Unlike the normal Bock, which is drier and uses primarily Munich malts with strong bread and toasty flavors. Helles uses primarily Pilsner with less Munich, which is sweeter and maltier with bread and toasty flavor accents.

I am in the process of creating not only a classic style of a Helles Bock, but to produce something that quenches your thirst, has a small bite (carbonation), nice malty and bread/doughy flavors and hops that are evenly balanced with the sweetness. However, my experimentation has led me away from the classic style, which will be my third attempt.

This is a beautiful beer that requires advanced all grain brewing and temperature controlled fermentation. This
Traditional Bock
style is similar to regular Bocks (Shiner Bock is an example), however higher in alcohol, maltier and has less hop character, however balanced with the malts.

Here's a simple fact: If you use German Bock yeast, German/Munich Pilsner Malt and a Munich malt, you will get some form of a Bock. The key is in the details.  The key here is to create the correct flavors using "base malts" only (base malts make up the majority of the malt grist, e.g. in a beer like Budweiser, Coors etc, it is made of 2 row and/or 6 row Barley, which is a base malt). Adding any type adjuncts (rice or corn etc) or caramel malts would be out of style (beer type).
Michael Jackson's Book
After making mistakes with my first and second attempts, I have consulted the books from Michael Jackson - The Beer hunter for better details of the classic style.

My first attempt was slightly over malty and the hops were lost in the sweetness. However, it won Silver at the recent 2012 ASH Oktoberfest Homebrew Competition out of nine entries. My second attempt ended up boozy, peppery (due to high alcohol), malty bready etc. However, didn't fit the style very well. Although submitted to a competition, it didn't place. My third attempt is in progress, which I believe will hopefully zero onto the style correctly and I'll explain why:

My First Attempt: 
Michael Jackson

My first attempt was closer to a Helles Bock than my second attempt. However, there were some crucial errors in the recipe formulation. To view the recipe, select this link with the right mouse button and select open new window or tab, the return: Helles Bock recipe - first attempt. I realize now that the use of only Pilsner Malt as the base malt, along with Carapils Dextrin Malt for a bigger mouth feel missed a key ingredient - bread and toasty flavors, which comes from the Munich Malts. By the way, roasty flavors are not to style.

My first thought after reviewing my first attempt was, although it was seriously an awesome beer, it was more of a pilsner, and it was missing the bread and toasty notes in the background. In my thought process I thought it would be best to add some biscuit malts and Victory Malt for toasty flavors. However, this is the long way around finding those toasty and bread type of flavors. The fact is that I just had to add the Munich malts, but only about 35% so they would be in the background, not the forefront like you would find in the traditional bock. And this is the KEY! more Pilsener malt means lighter and maltier, which gives it that beautifully intoxicating (not a pun, e.g. alcohol, but euphoria) malty flavor that is wonderful in warm weather.

My Second Attempt:

In my second attempt I added the Munich malt, but wanted to try to make it "drier," which I knew would take it out of style, but hell, I'm still in the learning stages and wanted to experiment with lower mash temperatures. So, I went to the extreme in mashed the grains (mashing is holding the grains in water from 143F to 160F for a period of time to force the starch in the grain to break down into sugars) by moving the temperature down to 144F for two (2) hours from the preferred 155-156F range (lower temps converts most of the starch to alcohol leaving little starches and unfermentable sugars for sweetness. And, I changed the bittering from 27 IBU to 34 IBU (international bittering units, e.g. Budwieser is around 12 IBU, highly hopped IPA beers are 45 to 100 IBU).

After the beer completed its fermentation and was ready to drink, what I got was a beer that was very boozy, with alcohol almost 8%, very peppery and although malty, it wasn't complex enough because they were mashed at a temperature that leaves little remaining malt and unfermentable sugars for sweetness.

Now, if you were to taste this beer from my second attempt, you would say hey what a great beer. It has no flaws, it's slightly malty and one beer puts you near the point that you need someone else to drive you home!

I went ahead and submitted my second attempt with my low temp mash, big alcohol beer to the Maltose Falcon's 2013 Maifare Competition. My final score from two judges came out to 31.5 of 50, which translates to: Beer in the range may have a minor flaw, or may be lacking in balance or complexity. The reason is that I submitted it before it was done "lagering" (held at cold temperatures for long periods of time).  The comment that the off flavor (bad flavor at back of the tongue) was an Acetaldehyde, or green apple-like aroma or flavor), "otherwise a nice maibock." The second judge said "A good beer that misses some of the stylistic marks." He also said it was too sweet, hops too bitter, need to be dryer on finish e.g. less residual sugar.

The judges comments mean that the beer either stopped fermenting too soon and left too much remaining residual sugars, or most likely, the yeast didn't attenuate enough (I realize now that the yeast I chose doesn't attenuate enough). If it were to ferment out the sugars as it was supposed to do, it would be the correct dryness. Therefore, on my third attempt, I am changing the yeast from Bevarian yeast to German Bock yeast that is supposed to attenuate better, create more dryness, give a nice balance of malt and hops, which I think was a problem in both the first and second attempts.

My Third Attempt - No More Experimenting

This third attempt is about drying out the Beer. In the past attempts I mashed the grains as low at low temperatures to get a dryer beer. However, it just made the beer too thin and boozy. I realized recently that drying out the beer is not the mashing temperature, but the yeast and water chemistry. In the past, I didn't use enough healthy yeast. I read a comment from Jamil Zainasheff that in order to make this beer dryer, I need to make sure there is plenty of yeast, healthy and will ferment out the beer to full attenuation. I tried building a stir plate, but that failed, so I went to my brew shop, Home Beer Wine and Cheese Making Shop in Woodland Hills CA, and purchased one. I also went to Mr. Malty's yeast calculator to determine how much yeast is needed for this batch. With a stir plate, I needed two "Smack Packs" of yeast on approximately 0.75 Gallons of starter. The fermentation took off like crazy and was done in 48 hours. There is plenty of yeast at the Bottom for use.

On this attempt I used 84% Pilsner and 16% Munich. I moved the IBU down to 25. In addition, I used 3 grams (approx 2 tsp) of Gypsum in the Mash Tun.

I used Magnum hops since it uses less hops, therefore cheaper, and Hallertouer hops, which produces the flavor of German Bock beers. The Magnum hop is strong, but has doesn't have strong flavors like the Hallertouer. This style has some hop bitterness, but are not forward enough to worry about using all Hallertouer hops. In fact, because the Hallertouer hops are so low in bittering units (IBU), it takes a lot more of them to get the IBU higher, costing more money.

On this attempt I mashed the grains at 154 and sparged at 170. I didn't do a Saccharification rest because I got my strike temperature higher than I wanted, passing up the opportunity. I'm not sure I care since the grains are most likely fine without it.

I did make one error. I added 1 Tblsp. and 1/2 tsp of Phosphoric Acid, which turned out to be too much. My pH went town to 4.8, which is not a beer killer, I just prefer 5.2. In fact, 5.2 is the pH of many beers on the market. By the way, I'm using a 25% dilution rate for the Acid, which would change the amount used if you find one that is higher or lower than what I used. I use Phosphoric Acid to balance the pH because it leaves the least residual flavors, and is typically used in sodas.

My recipe is based on an 82% brewhouse efficiency. My system is pretty dialed in and I can count on the efficiency. If you don't know yours, it should be between 65% to 72%. If you don't change the recipe, your ABV should be around 6.5%, which is perfect in my opinion.

Here is my recipe and I will come back to update the flavor when I'm done. I Brewed this last weekend and the fermentation is on its way.

Hellofa Beer - 3rd Attempt

05-A  Bock, Maibock/Helles Bock

Min OG:  1.064   Max OG:  1.072
Min IBU:    23   Max IBU:    35
Min Clr:     6   Max Clr:    11  Color in SRM, Lovibond

Recipe Specifics

Batch Size (Gal):         6.00    Wort Size (Gal):    6.00
Total Grain (Lbs):       12.50
Anticipated OG:          1.063    Plato:             15.49
Anticipated SRM:           4.0
Anticipated IBU:          24.8
Brewhouse Efficiency:       82 %
Wort Boil Time:             90    Minutes

Pre-Boil Amounts
Evaporation Rate:      15.00    Percent Per Hour
Pre-Boil Wort Size:    7.74    Gal
Pre-Boil Gravity:      1.049    SG          12.15  Plato

   %     Amount     Name                          Origin        Potential SRM
 84.0    10.50 lbs. Pilsener (Weyermann)          Germany        1.037      1
 16.0     2.00 lbs. Munich Malt I                       Germany        1.037      6

   Amount     Name                              Form    Alpha  IBU  Boil Time
  0.30 oz.    Magnum                            Pellet  12.30  13.0  60 min.
  0.90 oz.    Czech Saaz                        Pellet   3.50  11.8  60 min.

White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager

Water Profile
Profile:           Reverse Osmosis Filtration
3 grams:         Gypsum (2 tsp)

pH: 4.82

Mash Schedule
Mash Type: Single Step

Grain Lbs:   12.50
Water Qts:   38.25 - Before Additional Infusions
Water Gal:    9.56 - Before Additional Infusions

Qts Water Per Lbs Grain: 3.06 - Before Additional Infusions

Saccharification Rest Temp :    0  Time:   0
Mash-out Rest Temp :         154  Time:  60
Sparge Temp :                     170  Time:  30

25% Phosphoric Acid 2 Tsp. equating to 4.8 pH.

The Beer is Lagering in my fridge at 30°F. I tasted it and I think I zoned in on the perfect beer. I think using German Bock yeast, and plenty of it, and the use of Gypsum has finally made the beer I was looking for. I'm not sure how the lower pH plays into the tasting, but I'll finish this out and have a few BJCP judges take a taste and give me an opinion.

How to brew beer
how to brew lagers
how to brew bock beer
how to homebrew a bock beer
how to brew a helles bock beer
how to homebrew a helles bock beer