Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homebrew #4.5: Barleywine Round Deux

As this is my first contribution to this blog, I feel like it'd be appropriate to start with beer. I got started homebrewing during October of 2009 with my friend Chris, who has been doing it for a couple years now. Making beer is a fun process, and surprisingly easy - it's basically like making 4 gallons of tea at a time, diluting it a little, and then letting it sit around for a few weeks while it becomes alcoholic.

Okay, so that's a little oversimplified, but it's not that far off the mark. Beer usually requires about an hour of boiling time, though this can vary depending on the recipe. Before the boil you add any crushed grains you're going to use and let them steep up to about 170ºF (any hotter than this and the grains will start to leech out tannins, bitter aromatic compounds that will make the final product taste gross). Once the beer hits a boil, you add any dry or liquid malt extracts the recipe calls for. Malt extract is basically sugar extracted from malted barley; roughly the same end can be achieved by steeping an enormous amount of grains, but I don't have the facilities for that, and I doubt that the final product tastes that much different. Once the hot, sugary bath reaches boiling again, you add a round of hops and start the timer. Over the course of the hour more hops will be added; hops added earlier in the brew will contribute to the bitterness of the beer, which balances the sweetness of the malt and barley, and hops added later will contribute to your final product's aroma. Once the hour is up and all the ingredients have been added, you cool the sugary, hoppy broth (known in the biz as wort) down to about 70º, and then add your yeast. Depending on the beer style, fermentation will take anywhere from one to four weeks.

The basics of brewing out of the way, let's get to my latest concoction:

Gnarly Vine Barleywine

Though the recipe mainly comes from the book Extreme Brewing by the fine people at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, I feel justified giving it my own name on account of how I'm using a different kind of yeast for the primary fermentation (which will significantly alter the flavor) and I'll be aging it for a week with toasted oak chips soaked with red wine.

I first tried this brew with my brother a few weeks ago when he came to visit me just before Christmas. The brewing process went fine (though I messed up on the hops additions a little - this recipe has something along the lines of 8 ounces of three different kinds of hops), so we transferred it to my fermenter, put it in my front hallway, and went back to Iowa for Christmas. Unfortunately, the yeast got a little greedy with the gigantic amounts of sugar in this brew, and it decided to kick up some of the sediment at the bottom, which clogged the airlock and caused my carboy to blow its top.

With what must have been an awe-inspiring eruption, the fermenter's lid apparently blasted off with cannon-like force, ricocheting off the ceiling and splattering my walls, ceiling, floor, and carpet with gooey, sugary, yeasty, brown gunk. Instead of coming home to a nice clean apartment where I'd be able to add the next round of yeast and hops, sit down, and watch a movie, I had to throw away four and a half gallons of booze on the hoof and spend my evening wiping up my hallway.

Obviously, I'm trying to avoid such an event this time around, so I had in mind to use a blowoff hose, which is a length of plastic tubing you can attach to your carboy to provide a conduit for excess yeast foam. This didn't work out, but I'll get to that in a bit.

For a barleywine, the recipe is simple enough. I'm not sure about Dogfish Head's copyright policy, so I can't post the whole recipe here, but I'll give a basic rundown of the business:

2 lbs. 20-Lovibond Crystal barley
9.9 lbs. extra light malt extract
2 lbs. light brown sugar
1 lb. golden raisins (rehydrated in a separate pot and blended with 1/2 oz. Cascade leaves)
1/2 lb. light brown sugar (added at start of secondary)

1 1/2 oz. Cascade whole-leaf (pre- and post-boil)
2 oz. Warrior (bittering)
3 oz. Centennial (aroma and dry hopping)


Wyeast 1098 British Ale
Wyeast 3021 Champagne (secondary)

4 oz. American oak chips, toasted and soaked 5 weeks in Cabernet Sauvignon

Starting Specific Gravity: 1.108
Finishing Gravity: 1.030
% Alcohol: 10.5

Brewed: 1/9/10
Secondary: 1/15/10
Racked: 1/30/10
Bottled: -

As you can see, not the simplest beer in the world, but not prohibitively complicated. At least, I was able to brew it in my tiny kitchen. This is going to be a long project - it'll need to age for about a year before the flavor smooths out due to the alcohol content (a target of 11%) and ridiculous amount of hops.

In order to avoid another explosion I had had in mind to ferment it in my new carboy, a 5-gallon glass jug my parents had gotten me for Christmas, and to attach a blowoff hose through which the yeast could siphon its nasty byproducts. Unfortunately, the carboy got knocked over while it was draining and shattered into a million pieces on my kitchen floor. At this I uttered an ungentlemanly oath, and my friends and I grumpily swept up the shards and cleaned out my old fermenter. It's not that big a deal, aside from the shattered glass and loss of a gift, but I hope this recipe isn't cursed. I don't think the old fermenter will explode again, though - I have a lower volume this time (4 as opposed to 4 1/2 gallons), and I made sure to strain the raisin and hop-leaf residue out of the wort as I transferred it. I think that might have been what clogged the airlock over Christmas.

Still, I'm excited about this beer. At the very least, it'll make a great Christmas gift next year. Now I just need to find another glass carboy ...

- Andrew

Edit 1: Got home last night and added the second yeast, a dry Champagne Pasteur yeast, to the fermenting beer, along with another half pound of light brown sugar and a final ounce of hops. This is the first time I've dry-hopped a beer. Everything looked and smelled great - the beer is a pungent, deep brown, and the aroma of alcohol is noticeable. I'll be interested to see what the SG is when everything finishes fermenting. The Champagne yeast is supposed to take up where the British Ale yeast leaves off, since it has a higher alcohol tolerance and thus dries out the beer, which otherwise would have a cloyingly sweet flavor (and not enough ethanol to justify calling it a barleywine). And no explosions yet!

Also, as a note, it seems like under my desk is a good place to ferment beer - the temperature appears to be pretty stable, keeping the brew between 64º and 68ºF. Ideal.

Edit 2: Just added the red wine-soaked oak chips to the now fully-fermented barleywine. In order to avoid having the beer sit on the trub for too long ("trub" refers to the settled out yeast proteins that will, with time, add some nasty bitterness and off-flavors to the beer) I transferred most of the liquid to my bottling bucket and cleaned out my fermenter. There was about an inch of trub and hops on the bottom, which clogged my siphon a couple times, but damned if I wasn't going to transfer every drop of this stuff that I could. I was able to rescue almost all of the clear, deep amber liquid, and I took the opportunity to sample some for testing.

At a (nearly) finished specific gravity of 1.030, this beer is now about 10.5% alcohol, and it tastes like MAGIC. The hops really come through in a long, spicy bitterness that is set off by the sweetness of all the malt. The alcohol flavor is a little hot still, but this should mellow out after sitting around for about a year. I can't wait to see what the wood and wine flavor does to it.

Edit 3: I just pulled the bag of oak chips out of the aging beer, and this stuff tastes even better. Definite oak tones reminiscent of bourbon, with an aftertaste of banana esters and raisins. The red wine flavor definitely comes through and was amplified by the raisin-hops purée that I added shortly before the end of the boil. The alcohol flavor is still a little hot, but after a year of aging in my closet this beer will be liquid gold.

I also took the liberty of renaming this beer. End of the World Party Barleywine just doesn't roll off the tongue that well, and I thought that the flavor combination of red wine-soaked wood chips, raisins, and lots of hops justifies the new title.

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