Saturday, November 5, 2011

Second Homebrew Batch : Bad Santa Chocolate Cherry Stout

With one solid batch under my belt I was ready to start planning my holiday brew. After trying a delicious Stone Brewing Co. collaboration Cherry Chocolate Stout, I decided that was the direction I wanted to pursue.

I started with a Brewer’s Best English Stout base and added 1 lb of chopped Baker’s Chocolate at flame out. Brew Camp had just started ordering a line of pasteurized fruit purees from Vinter’s Blend and recommended the sweet cherry puree for secondary fermentation. A few recipes I read suggested cherry extract, but again I was much against adding artificial flavoring for fear of that “cough syrup” aftertaste. Vanilla beans were also a key part of this recipe. I used one chopped bean during the boil - the chopping helped extract the flavor, versus throwing it in there whole. In the secondary I sliced the bean lengthwise and scooped out the “caviar” insides, adding both to the secondary fermentation.

I followed the same schedule here - 1 week in primary, 2 in secondary and a month in bottle fermentation.  Because of the style of stout this one ended up being much lighter than I expected. I also found that the natural cherries were a bit tart. People definitely seemed to like the combination of flavors, but I definitely learned some ways to create more balance for the future when using fruit.

For the labeling I hired my very talented illustrator buddy Matt Synowicz to bring my “Bad Santa” to life. In addition I was really interested in trying wax bottle sealing a la Maker’s Mark. Much to my dismay it turns out that craft stores such as Michael’s and Joanns no longer carry wax beads for candle making and I found them to be outrageously expensive online plus the color choices were limited. Because the internet is amazing I was able to find a link to a homemade wax seal recipe using melted hot glue gun sticks and crayons, which allows you to customize the colors to pretty much anything you want. With the help of a very brave friend, we embarked upon the adventure of melting wax and glue in a soup can over my kitchen stove. There was a very fine balance of the right ratio of wax:glue, the right temperature and the ability to work extremely fast without burning yourself. It became a bit addicting to get “the best drip”. We did about a dozen of the bottles and were pretty happy with how it turned out. I will say though the feedback from friends was that the wax was extremely difficult to cut off, so it is probably something I’d do only for show and good photo opp in the future.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

First Homebrew Batch : Punkim Ale

With fall approaching, I decided that I wanted my first batch to be my all time favorite seasonal beer - a pumpkin ale. Now, in my opinion flavored beer needs to maintain a fine balance of authentic (not artificial) flavor that isn’t over powering. I’m not particularly a fan of sweet beers, more so of complex flavors and “mouth feel” from the beginning to end of the taste. Having such characteristically high expectations was going to make this an interesting challenge.

I decided to start with a Brewer’s Best Brown Ale base. The Brewer’s Best kits (which I highly recommend for beginners) have a combination of both grains and malt extracts, as well as hops and yeast to give you a good introduction to the grain steeping process. This is important if you see yourself transitioning into a serious hobbyist. Many other starter kits such as Mr. Beer are strictly extracts and powders (thumbs down!).

In addition, to achieve the pumpkin flavor I desired I decided to keep it au natural. I roasted 2 pounds of cut pumpkin and squash and added to the boil. Because I was brewing pre-fall it was rather challenging to find pumpkins, which is why squash was used. In reality the vegetables were just adding sugar to boost the alcohol. The pumpkin flavors would come through in the pumpkin pie spices I added to the wort - cinnamon stick, clove, vanilla, allspice.

I let the wort ferment for 1 week in a 5 gallon glass carboy (most fun if you want to see the action happen). After a week I syphoned the wort into a secondary bucket for a 14 day secondary fermentation process. At 2 weeks it was time to bottle! I prepared the priming sugar which will activate carbonation once bottled, poured into the bottling bucket and syphoned the beer on top of it, mixing gently but well.

Bottling is an adventure. The bottling bucket has a spigot, which attaches to a hose with a spring loaded bottle filler at the end to fill the sanitized bottles with. It is definitely as messy as people say. But that being said - though my kitchen was covered in sticky fermented wort, it has also never been quite as clean as before and after brewing. SANITIZATION IS KEY to a successful beer outcome!!

Bottling is technically two weeks, but I found that a month was a good amount of time. The flavors were really starting to come through at that point and the beer was very nicely carbonated. Let the tasting and sharing begin!

Labeling: I designed my own labels, of course! I found a beer & wine label specific printer paper by found at any beer supply store or website. It is dry gum backed and made to withstand moisture and temperature change. Because of the texture the saturation of colors wasn’t quite what I had hoped, but it worked for now. Once printed I sprayed the pages with a clear fixative as an additional sealing measure. Once the labels are cut they need to be wet slightly with a sponge or paper towel to activate the glue and then quickly applied to the bottles. For the most part they stood up. A few corners started to peel up over time, but no ink bleeding occurred at all!