Belgian Tripel Home Brew (Tasting)

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

There are few nights I look forward to more than Tasting Night. In fact if I had to list my five favorite nights it would go something like this:

1. Fantasy Football Draft Night
2. Poker Night
3. Tasting Night
4. Breakfast for dinner night
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night

Tasting night should basically be called ‘Judgment Night’. It is when you see, smell and taste if all your hard work is rewarded with a delicious brew or a plastic bucket of rank swill.  Imagine if you went out and bought two cases of beer then waited a month before drinking any of it only to find out the beer was skunked. So now you have to go out again and purchase two more cases of beer but have to wait another month before trying it again.  That’s what is at stake here. Now, of course, the easy solution would be to have multiple batches of beer fermenting so if something turns out skunky you only have to wait a week or two to try a new batch.  Unfortunately I am not there yet as neither a brewer nor a Time Lord in order to have the resources, energy, or time to brew more than one batch a month.

Pushing my minor anxiety aside I grabbed a bottle, my favorite beer glass, and popped the cap. The first thing I noticed was the carbonation escaping the bottle. To anyone else that sound would be but a whisper but to me it could have been the home crowd of a World Cup match after they scored. This is one of those sounds that are usually only noticed when it’s not there. In my first batch I made the n00b mistake of forgetting to include my priming sugar in the brew before bottling.  It wasn’t until a couple of days later after reading more about the procedure that I realized my crucial mistake. I then had the important learning experience of uncapping over two cases of homebrew, dumping them into a bucket, adding the priming sugar mixture and then rebottling.  The batch still turned out pretty good but I was never satisfied with the head of the beer it dissipated rather quickly. This might have had something to do with the style of the beer I was brewing at the time but it certainly didn’t help forgetting that crucial ingredient.

So when that bottle cap popped off and I heard that unmistakable sound it was almost like my beer was saying to me. “psssst good job”.

wpid-IMG_20130609_212450

The next attribute I noticed was the color.  The brew changed my favorite beer glass from clear into a brownish dark red with a thick frothy head. As the beer settled I was happy to see the head decided to hang out.  The beer was slightly cloudy but there was no sign of gunk at the bottom of the glass.

The aroma was strong but I was expecting it to be. This was definitely a different smell than I was used to. I’m hesitant to use the word ‘pungent’ because that word sounds like I’m being critical of the smell but in truth that is the best word to describe the brew due to its sharp strong aroma. So, yes, the beer smelled pungent but in a good beer smelling way.

After my first sip I realized a couple of things:

1.  Yowza, this beer has a lot of alcohol in it.
2.  This is probably why they are sold in those big single 750ml bottles.
3.  CRAP, I forgot to take my final alcohol measurement before bottling these again.

If I had to guess I would say the alcohol percentage for these were somewhere north of 10%. Since I forgot to take a final measurement I can only go with my own personal ‘Asian Glow Early Warning System (AGEWS)’.  The system goes something like this:

Asian Glow Early Warning System

AGEWS DEFCON I – (1 to 3 beers) No immediate outward changes with the exception of an improved personality and overall tolerance towards the little things like strangers and other people’s children.

AGEWS DEFCON II – (3 to 5 beers) Cheeks become rosy and beads of sweat begin to form around my hairline concentrating on my forehead. Improved conversationalist and attitude but with increased volume and enthusiasm.

AGEWS DEFCON III – (5 to 8 beers) Face is in a nearly fully red. Body temperature has increased causing noticeable sweating. Loss of volume control is imminent. Most conversations are now me overly excited and laughing. Noticeably slurring words. Usually is parallel with ‘Wife’s Annoyed With Me (WAWM) DEFCON III’ (NOTE: There is no ‘WAWM DEFCON I or II’)

AGEWS DEFCON IV – (8 to 12 beers) Face basically on fire, dripping sweat on people and countertops, Slurring noticeable to everyone but me.  I’m only shouting now and I’ve probably dropped my phone twice already. Eyes are bloodshot but people can’t notice because they are cartoon-like slits. Wife has leapfrogged into ‘WAWM DEFCON VII’.

AGEWS DEFCON V– (12 to Infinity beers) I’ve turned into a fusion reactor that now only glows, sweats, and babbles in an incoherent mixture of laughter and drool or I have possibly developed a Jamaican accent. If I were on Star Trek: The Next Generation Jean-Luc Picard would be ordering Data to eject me into space before I destroyed the Enterprise. Most likely I can be found with complete strangers who are now my best friends or fast asleep fully dressed on top of the covers of my bed.

So following the system above after just one Tripel I found myself at a low level AGEWS DEFCON II with a slight tickle of warmth beginning to coax the sweat glands of my forehead to wake up.

As for the taste I found this Belgian Tripel true to its style with strong but smooth malty flavor.  I enjoyed this beer but would not make a night of drinking them.  To me Tripels are beers I would like to enjoy when I knew I was only planning on having one (*cough* one 750ml bottle *cough*).

I did purchase some of these 750ml bottles and plan on a taste test with them all. I might need some assistance though because if I do this solo it’s going to be work holiday party/AGEWS DEFCON V all over again and I’m only really allowed one of those a year.

Cheers!
Ray

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Advertisements

A family that bottles together…

It’s not every day that you’re able to trick family into helping with manual labor but when you do be sure to do it on bottling day!

The last time we left our fermenting friend he was tucked into the cool dark confines under my stairs.  Unfortunately for my slumbering pal I am his wake up call and I’m afraid there’s no snooze button.

After lugging my 5-gallon bucket of liquid happiness up the stairs and onto the kitchen counter I began the anxious process of peeling off the 5-gallon bucket’s lid. This moment causes a little anxiety in me because this is only my second ever batch of beer and because my previous batch turned out so well that I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The moment I remove the lid from the bucket a smile began to stretch its way across my face.  The flavorful aroma of my Belgian Tripel floated up my nose and immediately I am reminded of the spices that were steeped in my spice bag weeks ago while creating the wort.

By far the part of the bottling process I find the most tedious is cleaning and sterilizing of the bottles.  This is mainly due to the fact that I am obsessed with removing the old labels. I like my bottles to look clean and new. I want them to look like all they need is for someone to slap a brand new label on them and they’re ready for shipment.  Perhaps it was too many old episodes of Lavern & Shirley.

So after soaking the bottles in hot soapy water many of the labels just fell off and I was able to remove the leftover glue with a sponge and some elbow grease.  I found that the labels for Dogfish beers came off the easiest (In case anyone needed an additional reason to drink Dogfish Raison d’Etre).

This part can be very time consuming so I spread it out over a couple of nights.  Soaking and scraping a little over a case a night. Then I sanitized all of the bottles right before I brought up the fermentation bucket. By the time I removed the lid I had just over 50 label-free, clean, and sanitized bottles ready to go.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

The most important lesson I took from my first bottling experience is that this is a two person job.  Luckily I was able to secure the services of my Director of Marketing (AKA my sister) who was very interested in seeing and participating in the bottling process.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

First thing first, I started boiling some water and added the priming sugar.  In case you were wondering this little package is responsible for providing the beer with its carbonation.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Once the priming sugar water boiled for about five minutes I poured it into a new (clean and sterilized) 5-gallon fermenting bucket. Then with the help of my sis we siphoned the brew from the fermentation bucket into the bucket with the priming sugar.  Making sure to not siphon any of the sediment and gunk at the bottom of the bucket.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This can take a couple of minutes so this is always a good time to enjoy a beer.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I might have left too much beer at the bottom but for me I’d rather have less gunk and two less beers than more sediment in all my beers.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Don’t forget to sanitize those bottle caps!

Bottling these individual beers can be a two person job but photographing the bottling beer process is definitely a three person job but I promise you it was as exciting as you can imagine it.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After about 30 minutes I now have 48 beers. This quickly became 47 because my Director of Marketing demanded to be paid with a bottle.  These guys will head back downstairs in order to sleep and carbonate for a couple more weeks.

See you guys at the tasting!

Cheers!
Ray

Once more into the breach, beer friends, once more…”

henry-v1296876451

“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”

The first 20 seconds of this clip from “Henry V” captures exactly how excited I was to start my second home brew batch.

After the relative success of my first batch of home brew I have been looking forward to mixing up my next one. Luckily I knew exactly the type of beer I wanted to brew, a Belgian Tripel.  Now my personal experience with Tripel’s is not particularly extensive and to be completely honest the two reasons why I chose this style of beer is because:
A) It was classified as ‘Easy’ on the kit I bought.
B) I really enjoyed New Belgium’s Trippel Style Ale.

I know I know there are obviously dozens if not hundreds of Tripels I should/need to try. Have no fear. Trust me with the variety of beer I drink I have total faith that I will get to them all eventually (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments and I’ll start with those first).

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Like I mentioned earlier I purchased a kit from the always helpful My Local Home Brew  Store (MLHB).  For my first batch a kit was put together for me. This time around I went with one of the Brewer’s Best kits I saw at MLHB.  I highly recommend these kits for beginners like myself.  They are around $50 but contain everything you will need with easy to follow instructions.  I imagine these are the types of kits n00b homebrewers (me) use to get their proverbial feet wet.  I can see after a few more batches, when a homebrewer gets much more confident, that they would prefer to be a little more creative.  With only one batch under my belt I am not at that point yet.

So, time to christen my brand new 3 gallon pot and let’s get started…

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This first great thing about this kit was it allowed me to try something new in my brewing career.  I had the opportunity to use my first grain bag filled with crushed grains to create wort.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I brought my water to the recommended wort steeping temperature of 150º – 165ºF…

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

…and much like a cup of tea just added the bag of crushed grains into the water.  It is important to make sure that all the grains are saturated within the grain bag.  I let the grain bag steep for 20 minutes.

While my wonderful wort is working it’s wagic…I mean magic I took a look at the rest of my ingredients.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

First thought:  I had one of those “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” moments concerning all these ingredients and my 3 gallon pot.  No wonder this comes in a kit I can’t imagine as a n00b brewer trying to put this together.  In my first home brew I dealt only with dried malt extract but today I had the pleasure of working with both the dried stuff as well as the liquid malt extract.  Well, liquid might be a stretch.  If you’ve never worked with pure malt extract a word of advice.  Before you open it and try and add it to anything run the containers over some hot water for a few minutes.  If you do then it’s like pouring syrup into your pot.  If you don’t than it’s like trying to pour Nutella into your pot.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

I also had two new ingredients to play with:
Blanc Soft Sugar (White)
Maltodextrin.

I googled Blanc Soft Sugar (White) and the top five links all had the exact same definition word for word.

Blanc is a white Belgian Soft Candi Sugar ideal for Tripels, Saison and Bière de Garde or anywhere increased gravity is required.

Wikipedia tells me that Maltodextrin is also used in the brewing process for beer to increase the specific gravity of the beer….so it’s got that going for it.  Maltodextrin also…

improves the mouthfeel of the beer, increases head retention and reduces the dryness of the drink. Maltodextrin has no flavor and is not fermented by the yeast, so does not increase the alcohol content of the brew.

Hey, who doesn’t like their beer to have good mouthfeel?  Umm…errr…anyways, moving along…

By now my wort was ready and I gently lifted the grain bag out and let the excess wort goodness drip back into the pot.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Now that I have created my first wort I happily mixed in my dried malt extract (3 bags), pure malt extract (2 containers), a bag of Blanc Soft Sugar, and of course our mouthfeel friend Maltodextrin.

[SIDE NOTE:]  If I have another son I am going to lobby my wife to name him Maltodextrin.  He sounds like a super hero.  I AM MALTODEXTRIN!  BEWARE EVIL DOER OF MY MIGHTY MOUTHFEEL AND INCREASED HEAD RETENTION!!…..Hmm, perhaps I haven’t thought this through.  [END OF SIDE NOTE]

After stirring in all the above ingredients we have our wonderful cauldron of brew.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After an hour of gently boiling the time came to add our hops.  The kit came with two different hops:
Northern Brewer (1 oz)
UK Golding (o.5 oz)

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This is what the BeerAdvocate.com told me about these hops:

Northern Brewer: Northern Brewer is a bittering-type cultivar, bred in 1934 in England from a Canterbury Golding female plant and the male plant OB21. Northern Brewer has been used in the breeding process of many newer varieties. This cultivar is grown in England, Belgium, Germany and the USA. A strong fragrant hop with a rich rough-hewn flavor and aroma, ideal for steam-style beers and ales. Northern Brewer has a unique mint-like evergreen flavor. (alpha acid: 8.0-10.0%/ beta acid: 3.0-5.0%)

UK Golding: Golding is a group of aroma-type cultivars originating in England. U.K. Goldings, which are grown in such parts as Kent, Worcestershire, Hampshire and Herefordshire. This is a premier English aroma hop. Superb in English-style ales, and lend a unique character to fine lagers as well. This hop has a unique spicy aroma and refined flavor. (alpha acid: 4.0-6.0% / beta acid: 2.0-3.0%)

With the hops added it was time to cool down my brew.  I tried a new technique to cool down the brew this time.  Instead of what I did last time which consisted of me taking a temperature every half an hour to see if it cooled on its own I filled my sink with ice and dropped the pot into the ice cold water.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

[SIDE NOTE:]  When trying out this method it is a good idea to purchase some ice for this specific task so not to use all the ice in your freezer’s ice machine.  This is especially important if you are having people over later that day and everyone only gets a single ice cube.  [END OF SIDE NOTE]

Hey, you know what’s a great thing to do when you’re waiting for your brew to cool?  Why have a beer.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

One of my new favorite summer beers.  You can read my review here.

{{{time travel noise}}}

Okay, it’s impossible to siphon beer from the pot into my sterilized fermenting bucket and take pictures of it so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I finished up my batch by taking a gravity measurement, adding the yeast, and finally sealing my new best friend up.  Here he rests snug as a bug under my stairs patiently waiting to be awoken in a couple of weeks.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

See you again during bottling!

– Ray

iHeartHomebrewing Part 3 (Taste test)

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Not going to lie.  I have been very nervous about tasting my first home brew.  If it turns out my batch tastes like the sweat off a monkey’s balls I’m going to beyond disappointed.

I waited exactly two weeks to the day and threw a six pack from under my stairs into my fridge to chill.  Finally the moment of truth has arrived.

I got out my favorite beer glass.  I have a couple of these old beer glasses from my wife’s late grandfather.  They hold nearly a 12oz beer but I just love the shape of them.

Once I started pouring my beer one of my fears went away.  I was concerned about the carbonation but once I started pouring the beer into the glass a nice foamy head formed.

action-shot

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Look at that.  It’s a thing of beauty.

But now the real test. …

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

And SUCCESS!  My first home brew is a smashing success.  WHEW! What a relief!

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Now I can’t wait to start my next batch but first I’m going to finish this and perhaps one more.

Cheers!

iHeartHomebrewing Part 2 (Bottling)

Well, last we left our 5 gallon hero he was sleeping peacefully beneath my stairs gently fermenting himself into a delicious German Hefeweizen. Finally after much anguish the time has come to awaken him, separate him into roughly 48 individual bottles and quickly return him back to his lair for an additional two week of slumber.  Yes folks, today is bottling day!

After reading a bit on the process of bottling your home brew two things stuck out immediately.

1. Sterilization is key (still).
2. This is a two person job.

The sterilization part was essentially the same process used in sterilizing the equipment used in Part 1.  Only this time we will be sterilizing 48-55 beer bottles.  The book suggested that you could use a tub to create your mixture and place your bottles in there. My wife, who has been a peach during this entire endeavor of mine, suggested not to fill the tub that our kids bathe in with two cases of empty beer bottles and iodine.  Sensing her hesitation and still needing her for my bottling I decided to use one of the fermenting buckets and sterilize them in bunches of 12-14.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After soaking for about 2-3 mins I transferred them to my drying rack.  Now, I don’t have an official home brewing drying rack so I had to use my regular dish rack which worked fine.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After sanitizing all the bottles now it was time to start siphoning the beer.  So I cracked open our hero.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Still looked like beer.  Definitely smelled like beer.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Siphoning….

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This is a lot easier when you have a buddy.

bottling4

Don’t forget to sterilize your caps.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Capping was more nerve racking then I was expecting it to be.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Learned a couple of things while capping beers.

1. Stay away from Pilsner Urquell and Stella Artois bottles.  The generic bottle caps you buy at your local home brew store do not cap properly on these bottles.  They either don’t properly cap or in the case of one bottle they will explode when you try and force it.

2. Don’t try and force the cap on.  Bad bad exploding things happen when you do.

bottled

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Looking good!

bottled2

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Beautiful….

Now, tuck these puppies back under the stairs for another couple of weeks…

bottled3

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Coming next, Part 3 of iHEARThomebrewing: Drinking!

iHeartHomebrewing Part 1 (WTF am i doing?)

I believe the next natural step for certain beer lovers is to take a leap of faith from beer consumer to beer consumer/beer creator.  As a lover of beer I was surprised by my hesitation at attempting to brew my first batch of home brew.  To be quite honest if it wasn’t for having coworkers who are experienced in home brewing I never would have had the stones to give this a shot.

So, after weeks of discussing it with coworkers I pulled the trigger one rainy Saturday morning.  I loaded the wife and kids into the minivan and headed to Jay’s Brewing in Manassas, Virginia.  Upon our arrival I made the suspect decision of taking my 3yo into the store with me.  Since neither of us had ever been to a home brewing store I had no idea what to expect.  Luckily my 3yo was caught off guard by how there was absolutely nothing in the store that interested him and stuck to me like he was a tiny human knee brace.

When I walked in I met Jay and told him that I have never brewed before in my life and was hoping to buy a kit.  I could tell right away that he had given this speech countless times. He started asking me what types of beers I like as he grabbed white buckets and plastic tubing.  I was actually caught off guard.  Even though I am a self described ‘lover of beer’ being put on the spot of being asked what sort of beers I like my mind went completely blank and I just blurted out ‘Lagers?’.  Now, I have nothing against lagers.  I like lagers as much as the next guy but the whole thing was a lot like that scene in “The Christmas Story” where Ralphie completely chokes while sitting on Santa’s lap and instead of asking for his Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle he agrees that he just wants a football.

Sensing my awkwardness and noticing my 3yo was getting more comfortable with his surroundings by the second (he had begun to softly bang on the white buckets full of hops like a tiny Jack Costanzo) he recommended for my first brew that I try a hefeweizen. By this time I snapped out of my daze by the rhythmic tapping of half filled hops buckets to remember that A) I loved hefeweizen and B) I needed to wrap this transaction up. (Side Note #1 – I am not going to lie. I had no idea who Jack Costanzo was until I googled “famous bongo players” but my 3yo was loosening up and we were headed in this direction).

One good thing about having a 3yo in a store with things people don’t want him to put his skittles stained hands on is that people tend to be very attentive.  So Jay put together a nice kit for me complete with fermenting buckets, plastic tubing, dried malt extract, hops, yeast, a bottle capper, sanitizing solution, and a copy of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing with a recipe for a simple hefeweizen bookmarked.

Back at home I read and reread the pages of instructions on brewing the hefeweizen until I felt like I understood the process and wasn’t going to get in the middle of it and realize that I am missing something. So I added water to a 4 gallon pot and mixed in the dried malt extract/wheat and hops.  The book called for malt extract that was in a liquid form but my new buddy Jay said the dried stuff was just as good and apparently easier to handle than the liquid stuff.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After adding the dried malt extract and hops I brought it all to a boil.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Well I guess first a simmer.  I forgot how long it takes to bring 2 plus gallons of water to a boil.

simmer

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Here we go.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

This first thing I noticed of course was the smell.  Immediately I thought of my wife and attempted a surprise countermeasure before she could complain by saying “Wow, won’t the house smell great around the holidays when I brew a Christmas beer with cinnamon, cloves, oranges, and other aromas you might find appealing?” Luckily though she didn’t mind the smell but I do suggest opening the windows and turning on the ceiling fan.

I let this cauldron of hefeweizen bubble like a Shakespearean witch, minus the ‘poison’d entrails and eye of newt, for about an hour. (Ugh, I just watched that MacBeth clip perhaps something a little less creepy)

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Now while I was reading and rereading the dos and don’ts of brewing the one thing that was a constant was the importance of sterilization.  Basically anything that is going to touch your brew needed to be sterilized, rinsed, and air dried.  Don’t make the mistake of doing the first two and taking your nasty dish rag and drying off your equipment.  If you start this while everything is boiling you’ll have plenty of time to let it air dry.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

After your beer has boiled for a hour you need to filter your brew from your pot into your (sterilized/rinsed/air dried) 5-gallon bucket.  The bucket should contain around 2 gallons of cool water. The filter will catch any of the hops/gunk that you don’t want in your beer.  I just used a sterilized mesh strainer.  I would have included a picture of this process but I had my hands full at the time.

Once the brew is in the bucket you will need to let it cool to 70-75 degrees.  (Side note #2:  One of the many things I learned was the letting gallons of boiling liquid cool on its own takes a surprising large amount of time).  I of course being the n00b home brewer that I am I would check the temp every 15 mins and probably threw out a couple beers worth of brew before I finally got the hint and left it alone for a couple of hours.

Once the temp is less than 75 degrees you should take your gravity measurement and record it in your handy dandy notebook.  Notice I said ‘should’.  Again, being the eager beaver/n00b that I am, I was so excited at the fact that my brew was finally below the 75 degree mark I instantly dumped my yeast in….

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

…and sealed that puppy up.

Image by iHeartBeer.com

Image by iHeartBeer.com

It wasn’t until after that I realized that I forgot to take the gravity measurement.  Being terrified of contaminating my hard work I decided that I didn’t want to open it.  I’ve learned since that it is totally okay to open your bucket every once in awhile to check things out.  As long as whatever touches the brew is properly sterilized and you’re not over doing it.

So now my 1st home brew sits under my stairs patiently waiting for 3/17 (St. Patrick’s Day ironically enough) for bottling.

Until then keep your fingers crossed.  See you in a couple of weeks!

Ray