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8 Quick Questions About Aged Hops and How to Age Hops

Aged cheese, aged wine, aged liquor…aged hops? When and why would you used aged hops?

1. What Are Aged Hops Used For?

Aged hops are used in beers that are spontaneously fermented, which means that they are exposed to open air to allow natural yeast to enter the wort and ferment it. No yeast is added by the brewer. These beers are fermented in wood barrels for at least a year, sometimes several years, and take much of their flavor from the wild yeast and bacteria that enter during the open-air exposure and that exist in the wooden barrels.

This style of beer, known as Lambic, is not known for its hop bitterness. Its unique, sour flavor actually requires minimal hop bitterness. When hops are aged they lose their bittering properties, but they do not lose their ability to prevent infection in the beer. This is why aged hops are perfect for brewing Lambic: they protect against wild bacteria infecting the batch, but they do not give the beer much bitterness.

2. How Are Hops Aged?

Hops are aged by simply letting them sit in a dry place, such as an attic, for one to three years. Home brewers most often place the hops in a brown paper bag and then leave them to age.

3. Why Do Hops Have to Be Aged for So Long?

As the hops age they go through phases that are described as “funky” and “cheesy” due to their aroma. After sufficient aging, though, the hops will lose any aroma and flavor that they once had. A full year of aging will diminish flavor and aroma in most cases.

4. What Type of Hops Are Aged?

Whole leaf hops are used for aging because hop pellets do not age quickly.

Some sources recommend aging hops that are low in alpha acid, which is what causes the bitter flavor in hops. Essentially any variety of hop can be aged, however, because the goal is to rid the hops of flavor and aroma anyway.

5. Is There A Way to Accelerate Hop Aging?

You can rapidly age hops by heating them to 150 degrees F in an oven for up to twelve hours, but with a caveat: it will make your house smell horrible and the smell may linger for days!

6. Is There An Alternative to Aged Hops?

If you are brewing a Lambic but can not find aged hops, or do not want to wait a year or two for them to be ready, there is another option. Replacing the aged hops in your recipe with a very low-alpha acid hop variety will give similar results. If you do this, aim for a final bitterness between 10 and 15 IBUs for the beer.

7. How Many Ounces of Aged Hops are Necessary for a 5 Gallon Batch?

Recipes vary, but Lambics often use 3 to 4 ounces of aged hops. If the Lambic is going to become a fruit beer even fewer hops are used – only 1 or 2 ounces.

8. Where Can I Buy Aged Hops?

Try these home brewing suppliers for aged hops:

Hops Direct
Freshops
Seven Bridges Cooperative

Have you ever aged hops? What process did you use and how did it turn out?

4 Questions and Answers About First Wort Hops

A slightly advanced technique that you might come across if you begin brewing using “partial mash” or “all grain” techniques is called “first wort hopping.” This is a technique that caught me off guard when I bought my first partial mash kit – good thing I actually read the instructions for that brew!

What Are First Wort Hops?

“First Wort Hopping” refers to adding hops to the boil kettle and then running the wort in on top of them as you sparge. This all takes place before the boil, where you would normally add the hops. This is actually an old technique that was re-discovered in the last twenty years.

Why Use First Wort Hopping?

There are two big advantages to first wort hopping: it increases the overall bitterness of the beer by about ten percent without adding extra hops, and it produces a more uniform bitterness rather than a “sharp” flavor. Both of these changes take place because the hops are added when the wort is hot but not yet boiling. This causes some processes to occur within the wort to increase hop utilization and prevent some of the more aromatic oils in the hops from boiling off.

What Hops Are Best For First Wort Hopping?

Hops that are low in alpha acid work best as first wort hops because they do not cause a sharp increase in bitterness. Instead, they enhance bitterness while producing a smoother flavor and smell.

Most sources recommend using about 30 percent of your hop schedule as first wort hops. Some say to simply move your first hop additions from the beginning of the boil to the first wort hopping phase, but most (including John Palmer) recommend taking the hops from your late (“aromatic”) hop additions. The later hop additions are typically lower in alpha acid and work better as first wort hops.

What Beer Styles Should Utilize First Wort Hops?

The best styles for using first wort hops are those that emphasize the hop profile of the beer. Typically this includes pale ales, IPAs, ESBs, and some pilsners, but experimentation can be done with other styles. I have even heard of first wort hops working well in Belgian tripels and wit beers.

Do you have any experience with first wort hopping? How has it worked for you?

What is Belgian Lambic Beer?

In our last post we took a look at “sour” beers. One of the beer styles that is most often made into a sour is the Belgian Lambic. This beer, with a dry flavor and sour aftertaste, is not very common, so you might not know much about it.

What Makes Lambics Distinctive?

Belgian Lambic beers are only made in one small area: in the Senne Valley of Belgium, southwest of Brussels. The most significant characteristic of Lambic beer is that it is fermented “spontaneously,” meaning that the beer is brewed and then exposed to open air for a time to allow the yeast and bacteria naturally floating in the air of the Senne valley to enter the beer and start the fermentation. Yeast is not added by the brewer as a part of the brewing process.

The bacteria naturally occurring in this region, including strains of Brettanomyces yeast, are what give Lambics their distinctive flavor. Lambic can only be brewed in the colder months of the year, from October to April. The air during the summer months contains too many strains of bacteria that would be detrimental to the beer.

In addition to the open-air fermentation, the beer is aged for one to three years in wood barrels made from oak or chestnut and which had previously aged port, sherry, or wine. This provides even more wild bacteria from the wood to condition the beer. It has been found that Lambics contain more than eighty different bacteria due to these fermenation and aging processes.

What Ingredients Are Used in Lambics?

Lambics are fermented and aged with a unique process, but they also use ingredients that set them apart from other beers. They are brewed with a base that is about two-thirds malted barley and one-third unmalted wheat.

Large quantities of hops are used to brew this beer, but not for bitterness. Because the fermentation and aging process is especially long for Lambics the preservative qualities of hops are very desirable. However, the distinctive flavor of the beer would not be well-served by hop bitterness. To get the protective qualities of the hops without over-bittering the beer, aged hops are used. These hops have lost much of their bitterness but still provide protection from infection by wild bacteria.

Using aged hops also changes the aroma of the beer. Instead of the citrus or herbal odors that are generally associated with hoppy beer, the aroma from aged hops is described as “cheese-like.”

Using Lambics In Blended Beer

Gueuze

Lambic can be enjoyed on its own, but this style is actually more often used as the base in a mixed beer. Sometimes these mixtures are of Lambics of a different age. It is difficult to produce Lambic with a consistent flavor from one year to the next due to the dependence upon the wild bacteria and yeast in the air and in the aging barrels. Mixing older and younger beers can produce a Lambic with a more consistent flavor from year to year. This blend of various Lambics is called “Gueuze.”

Gueuze is actually aged for about a year after it is bottled because the younger Lambics in the mixture are not finished fermenting yet. A secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle during this time. Even after aging for a year in the bottle, Gueuze actually gets even better with more age. It is not uncommon to have Gueuze aged for ten to twenty years and still be good.

Faro

Another common blended beer made with Lambic is called Faro. This beer is a blend of young Lambics that is sweetened using a candy sugar. The beer is then pasteurized before being bottled so that further fermentation does not take place in the bottle. This beer has a very sweet character due to the unfermented candy sugar.

Fruit

There are many variations of Lambic in which whole fruit is added after fermentation to change the flavor. The sugar in the fruit encourages a secondary fermentation. Wild bacteria on the fruit skins add to the character of the beer. Typical fruits used to make this style include cherries, raspberries, peaches, and strawberries.

Do you have a favorite Lambic? What is it?

5 Things You Should Know About Sour Beer

Every few years a different style of beer becomes the new darling of home brewers and takes over the discussion of the craft beer world.

For a while it was the IPA, and there was a time that everybody was talking about and brewing Russian Imperial Stouts. There was even a period of Belgian beers.

Lately the trend has been sour beers.

Sour beer historically has been difficult to find and expensive to buy in the United States, so many craft beer lovers are unfamiliar with it.

1. What Is Sour Beer?

Sour beer is specifically brewed and fermented to have a sour taste, which can range from the slightly tart to the very sour. Some varieties even described as having qualities similar to the face-puckering candy “Warheads”.

These beers have a high acidity and improve with age over the course of several years.

2. What Are the Characteristics of Sour Beers?

The color of sour beers ranges from a pale golden color to brown. The hop flavor in these beers is usually subdued, coming in at only 20-40 IBUs. The carbonation is usually very noticeable, and the mouthfeel of the beer is light to medium.

There is a large range of alcohol contents between sour beers, but they usually fall between four and nine percent alcohol by volume. The beer styles most often associated with sour beers are the Flanders red ale and the Belgian lambic.

3. How Are Sour Beers Made?

There is a heftier price tag for sour beers because they are very difficult to make well, almost impossible to reproduce consistently, and take a long time to brew and ferment.

Sour beers are brewed like a normal beer but they are typically aged in a wood barrel, often a wine barrel. A strain of yeast called Brettanomyces is most often used to give the beer a unique flavor, and a couple of specific strains of bacteria are added to help the beer acquire the sour flavor.

Some brewers will even expose their beer to the outdoors to allow wild strains of yeast to work on the beer. The beer takes a long time to ferment and pick up the sour taste – at least six months, but more often between one and three years. The brewmaster will taste the beer periodically during that time and can make adjustments to the flavor by adding different strains of bacteria.

4. Why Are Wood Barrels Used to Make Sour Beers?

The wood barrels are important to the sour beer making process. The barrels contain bacteria from the wine that they had previously held, and this bacteria aids in the aging and souring of the beer.

The wood allows some air to permeate and diffuse into the barrel, which feeds the Brettanomyces yeast and helps it to do its work on the beer.

5. Why is There Inconsistency In Sour Beers from One Batch to the Next?

There are so many variables at play in sour beers – the beer ingredients, the bacteria that are added, and the bacteria in the barrels, among others – that it is tough to reproduce a sour beer consistently. Even within the same batch different fermenting barrels will produce different flavors.

The brewmaster can make adjustments with bacteria, but even then some barrels from every batch have to be dumped because they simply do not turn out well. This is what drives up the price of sour beers and makes them discouraging for breweries to produce.

Even with all of the difficulties in producing sour beers, and the long wait from brew date to enjoyment date, we are seeing and increasing demand for this style and an increased supply from breweries as a result.

Have you tried a sour beer? Which is your favorite?

Batch Sparging, Fly Sparging, and Continuous Sparging

We recently talked about the processes of mashing and sparging while home brewing beer and what they involved. We only lightly touched on the process of sparging, which is also called “lautering.” There are actually a couple different types of sparging.

Batch Sparging

Batch sparging is the most simple form of sparging. After mashing you completely drain the liquid from the mash tun. More water is added to the mash tun, stirred, and then left to sit for at least half an hour before it too is drained. The two drained batches are typically combined to create the wort.

 

While batch sparging has historically been seen as less efficient than other methods, modern grains prepared specifically for brewing beer have allowed the efficiency of this process to become equal to other sparging methods. Batch sparging is desirable because it is a much faster process than other sparging methods.

Batch Sparging: Parti-Gyle Brewing

It is possible to create multiple different beers with the batches emptied from the batch sparging process because each successive batch will have a lower specific gravity than the previous and will create a lower-alcohol beer. Brewing in this fashion is called “Parti-Gyle Brewing.”

Usually in Parti-Gyle brewing the first batch that is sparged, called the “first runnings,” is used to create a strong beer, maybe a stout or IPA or a strong Scottish ale. The second runnings are used to create a middle-of-the-road beer,  such as a lower-strength Scottish ale. Any further runnings would be used to create a very light, low-alcohol “session” beer.

Fly Sparging

Fly sparging, also called “continuous sparging,” is a process that was created to maximize the efficiency of the brewing process by getting as much of the sugar out of the mash as possible. A “sparging arm” is used to slowly sprinkle water into the mash tun and the liquid in the mash tun is allowed to drain out at the same flow rate as the liquid is entering the container.

Equalizing the input and output flow rates allows the liquid containing the sugars from the mash to be drained from the mash tun equally, rather than allowing a “channel” to develop which allows water to flow out of the container while bypassing most of the grains and sugars. Channeling reduces the efficiency of the process.

Fly sparging is much more hands-on than batch sparging because it requires the brewer to monitor the input and output flow rates to keep them balanced, as well as monitoring the specific gravity of the water mixture in the mash tun. Usually when the specific gravity has dropped between 1.008 and 1.010 the sparging is stopped to prevent tannins and other undesirable material from entering the wort.

Have you tried either type of sparging? Which do you prefer and why?

Brewing Beer With Bourbon and Oak

I recently brewed a be that is a little different than anything I have brewed before. I have dry-hopped beer and I have added dried fruits and honey to beer before, but on this beer I will be adding oak cubes and bourbon.

Unusual Home Brewing Supplies

If you stop in to your local home brewing store you will probably see a whole section of unusual brewing ingredients that you might not have realized can be added to beer. Dried fruit is a popular one, especially for the Christmas season or in the hot days of summer, and honey and coffee are also popular additives. There are many spices such as coriander and anise that can be added. I have even seen such things as rose hips, spearmint, ginger, and lavender at the store down the street from me, though I would have to think that most of those are actually better for adding to wine.
I have even tried a stout that was fermented with spruce tips, although I would have to say that it was not a phenomenal beer in my estimation. I have also heard that some breweries, like Alaskan, use spruce tips in a few beers with great success. This is something that I might have to try out sometime.

Wood As A Home Brewing Ingredient

Occassionally you hear about beer being aged in used bourbon barrels or in other styles of barrel. This seems to be an especially popular practice with porters and stouts. Used barrels are not cheap to acquire, though, which is why home brewing stores offer cubes of different types of wood to use in flavoring your beer.
The wood cubes that you buy from a brewing supply shop are not going to be pre-conditioned with a flavor like bourbon as an aging barrel would be. How do you get the same flavor then? The instructions in the kit that I bought say to soak the cubes in bourbon for one to two days and the add the cubes to the secondary fermenter for two weeks or so. This is after the beer was conditioned in the primary fermenter for two weeks and then transferred to the secondary fermenter and conditioned for two to three more weeks.
At the same time that you add the oak cubes you also add a pint of bourbon straight into the beer. This intrigues me quite a bit. Although the bourbon will be diluted into five gallons of beer it will surely contribute to the alcohol content of the beer and, of course, the flavor. Part of me wants to do an experiment – bottle some of the porter without the bourbon or the oak cube conditioning, condition some with just oak cubes (no idea how I would pull that off unless I used a growler or picked up an inexpensive one-gallon experimental brewing kit to use for the conditioning) and condition the rest of the beer with both the bourbon and the oak cubes. It would be very interesting to see the subtleties of difference between all three.
Have you ever brewed with any type of wood for conditioning the beer? How did it work for you?

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Extract Recipe

Without a doubt my favorite beer of all time is Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA. 9% abv and 90 IBUs. Perfection.

To find a bottle of this beer I currently have to drive at least six hours to get to a state where it is distributed, so I decided to try brewing an extract version of this beer last weekend to see if I could make some for myself. There are a couple of recipes for this beer out there online, but they are mostly partial-mash and all-grain recipes. I was able to find one beer recipe that converted the partial mash into an extract recipe, so I went with their recommendations.

Finding an Extract Recipe
The ingredients called for in the extract procedure that I found required all dry malt extract (DME) for the boil, with a few pounds of crushed grain being steeped at the start. There was some controversy online about what type of malt to use – pilsener? Light? When I went down to the local home brewing store that was solved for me – they were wiped out of DME. Not ideal. I could have driven across town to a different brew store, or I could have ordered some online, but with a baby due any day now I wanted to get the brew done. The original recipe called for 8 pounds of DME, but I ended up with 9.15 pounds of liquid malt extract (LME), which is less efficient than its dry counterpart, and a pound of DME. The liquid extract does not produce as much fermentable sugar as the dry, but I was not sure what the exact conversion was at the time. The amount of specialty grains being steeped is pretty huge compared to what I usually use, so I was hoping that would also compensate some.

This is what I ended up brewing with. The expected original gravity of the beer was said to be between 1.080 and 1.088. The batch I made came out at 1.072. Oops. I am guessing that this would have come out closer to the expected gravity if I had used all DME instead of LME. The beer will be less alcoholic than it is supposed to be, but we will see how the flavor compares.

Here is the procedure I ended up using to brew the extract clone of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA:

Ingredients (5 gallon batch):
Grains
1.5 pounds of crushed 2-Row Malt (steeped)
1.7 pounds of crushed Amber Malt (steeped)
9.15 pounds of Gold LME
1.0 pound of Golden Light DME

Hops
2 oz Amarillo
1 oz Simcoe
1/2 oz Warrior

Dry Hops
1 oz Amarillo
1/2 oz Simcoe
1/2 oz Warrior

Yeast
Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread Ale)

Other
1 tsp Irish Moss

Procedure

-A day ahead of time begin a yeast starter. Usually it is recommended that you create a 2 Liter yeast starter for expected original gravity of 1.080 or higher, which I did. This used 1 cup of golden light DME and 4 cups of water to create some “wort” for the yeast to begin working on so that it could multiply and be ready for the heavy-duty wort it would have to ferment after the brew. I also used a stir plate for the first time to encourage even more growth of the yeast, and I loved it!

-Steep 1.5 pounds of 2-Row grain and 1.7 pounds of Amber grain (27°L) at 150°F for 20 minutes.

-Bring to boil and add 9.15 pounds of Gold LME and 1.o pound of Golden Light DME.

-Boil for 20 minutes before adding hops. This helps to rid the wort of extra proteins that hinder hop utilization, so hops will be used more efficiently when they are added.

-Mix all of the boiling hops together. Start the 90 minute boil, and add the mixed hops evenly throughout the boil. Dogfish Head has a shaker set up to continuously add hops throughout the 90 minutes. What I found recommended, and what I did, is to add 1/4 oz of hops every 8 minutes throughout the 90 minute boil. This works well.

-Add 1 tsp of Irish Moss with 15 minutes remaining in the boil.

-Cool the wort as rapidly as possible. For a five gallon batch it is easiest to do this with an immersion wort chiller. An ice bath can work but is not recommended because it is inefficient and can cause side effects such as off-flavors in the beer because of this.

-Place in primary fermentor 1-2 weeks, until fermentation stops. (It has been bubbling like crazy for three days as I write this).

-Transfer to secondary fermentor and add dry hops for 5-7 days.

Thoughts After Brewing
It is obvious that there are improvements that can be made to this recipe. I was short on time and wanted to give it a shot, so we’ll see how the above procedure comes through. Once I try the beer I will come back and update this post.

Update: Thoughts on the Finished Product
We left this beer in the primary fermentor for two weeks and then racked it to a secondary fermentor for what ended up being three weeks. The dry hops were in the secondary for about five days, I think (it’s all a little fuzzy because we had a couple-day-old newborn in the house by then).

For the first few weeks after bottling I was worried. After two weeks of bottle conditioning I tried one, knowing that it would probably still be a little green, but the aroma of the beer was awful. I was very worried that there was some type of infection in the beer. If you have tried the real 90 Minute IPA you know that it has an almost sweet aroma. The way most avid beer drinkers describe it, and I apologize if you have not heard this before since you will think of it every time you drink the beer, is the aroma of cat urine. That is the smell that the hop style is supposed to give the beer though, so that is a good thing. This beer did not smell like that. It smelled like garbage. I gave it a try anyway and the taste was actually pretty decent.

I had a friend try a different bottle of it on the same day and he had the same results. I saw some potential in it and I didn’t taste any off-flavors so I decided to wait a little longer to see what would happen.

Now, a month on, the beer is fantastic. It does not quite have the same potency of the real thing, which is expected since I did not convert the measurements for the malt extract precisely. It also lacks a little bit of the aroma out of the glass. I think this might have something to do with the duration of the dry hopping. I have read all kinds of ideas about how long to dry hop: one day, three days, five days, seven days….I will just have to try some different durations in the future.

The taste of this clone is awesome. You can tell that it is not the real thing but you can also tell that it is close. I will try a few tweaks on the ingredients in the future and probably get it closer. It would probably be easier to achieve the exact flavor by brewing it all-grain or partial-mash, but I have some satisfaction from making a pretty good clone using extract brewing methods 🙂

Do you have any recommendations for improving this extract clone of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA?

What In The World Am I Drinking? Ed. 2: Uerige “Alt”

Last time we looked at what beer from around the world I was drinking it was from the brewery Uerige Duffeldorf-Altftadt, and it was their “Sticke” which is a stronger version of an altibier. This time I tried the same brewery’s “Alt.”

It took me a while to figure out which beer I was drinking this time. For one thing, the label is all in German. In the same spot that the label said “Sticke” on the last bottle, this one said “Dat Leckere Droppke” and I could not find a beer by that name online. With a little bit of digging my wife was able to figure out that this is actually a slogan or motto for the brewery. With a little more digging we determined that I was drinking the “Alt.”

Drinking this beer side-by-side with the “Sticke” I would not have been able to guess that they were similar styles. The Alt was very fruity – the aroma made me think of grapes and the taste did as well. Once I got over the shock of the flavor I didn’t mind it, but I did not love it as much as the Sticke.

Here is what the beer looked like:

Uerige Alt

Uerige Alt

And here is my Beer Tasting Log Book entry for this beer:

Uerige Alt - Beer Tasting Log Entry

Uerige Alt – Beer Tasting Log Entry

Have you tried Uerige “Alt”? Leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

What In The World Am I Drinking? Ed. 1: Uerige “Sticke”

My wife had a brilliant idea the other day: we needed to use resealable beer bottles to package some of our Christmas gifts. It meant we needed to run down to the liquor store and find some beers that came in bottles with the little silver handles and rubber-sealed caps that seal the bottle tightly shut. It also meant I had to empty the bottles (aw shucks).

The coolest part about this process is that we picked up some beers that we otherwise would not have. The first few we got are from a brewery in Germany called Uerige Duffeldorf-Altftadt. All of the descriptions on the beers are written in German, so I had no idea of what kind of beers these were until I got home and looked them up.

Here is tonight’s beer, called Uerige Sticke, in a large photo so you can try to read it (if it looks illegible it may be the blurriness, or it may be that it’s in German):

Uerige Sticke

Uerige Sticke

 

Uerige Stick Top

and here is how it looked poured out:
Uerige Sticke

The style of this beer is “altbier” which translates to “old beer.” It is a style that originates from Dusseldorf in Germany, which is where the brewer of this beer is from. Altbier is a type of brown ale that is conditioned longer than usual, and a “sticke” is a stronger version of this. If you glace through the ratings by style on BeerAdvocate.com you will see that this altbier by Uerige is actually one of the higher ranked beers in this category in the world. Other beers that represent this category are Alaskan “Amber,” Widmer Bros “Alt,” and Terrapin “Tree Hugger.”

In my own estimation it is obvious why this particular beer is rated so highly. The color, flavor, smell, and mouthfeel of this beer are outstanding. Every sense that this beer affects it leaves happy.

I’ve been keeping my reflections on the tasting of beers in the Beer Tasting Log Book, so I just took a picture of my notes there to summarize my thoughts on this beer:

Have you tried Uerige Sticke? What did you think of it? Or have you ever tried a beer without knowing anything about it? How was the experience for you? Let us know in the comments section below!

Brewing Beer to Welcome Baby

With our baby two months away from being born we decided that it was time to brew some good beer to enjoy once the child is finally here. My wife hasn’t had a beer in quite a while so she got to pick the style. She is quite a hop-head so she wanted an IPA, but she also likes really dark beers so we got a beer kit that is both hoppy and dark – a black IPA. I went down to the local home brewing supply store yesterday and picked it up, and I am quite excited about it. Check out what this beer contains (this is an extract beer kit):

Beer Ingredients:

-1 pound of specialty grains (1/4 lb Wyeremann Carafa III, 1/4 lb Chocolate malt, 1/2 lb Briess Caramel 80)
-9.15 pounds of Dark malt syrup (3.15 pounds boiled for 60 minutes, 6 pounds late addition – 15 minutes left in the boil)
-1 pound of corn sugar, late addition

And my favorite part, the hops:
-1 oz Summit (60 min)
-1 oz Chinook (15 min)
-1 oz Centennial (10 min)
-1 oz Cascade (5 min)
-1 oz Centennial (0 min)
-1 oz Cascade (dry hop)

This should be a great beer! There is going to be a lot of information to keep track of with this beer, so I will make sure to keep plenty of notes in my brewing journal (I use this one) in case I want to repeat the beer later.

Have you ever brewed a “welcome baby” beer? What type of beer did you make?