Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tasting Notes from Basement Breweries

Now that the Hombrew Shindig is in the books I've had time to look at everyone's comments and general reaction toward many of my beers. In addition, I've been able to sit down with each beer available at the tasting and with the help of other people's comments, make my own decisions on how to alter, or not alter their recipes in the future. The following goes over all the beers from the Shindig and the direction I'd like to take them in.

Overcast Island Ale - I think this beer is a big improvement over its previous incarnation, much of the candy-like sweetness that plagued the original batch is gone. Indeed, of all the partial-mashes I've made (combination of grain and malt extract) this one probably has the least residual sweetness. My main problem with this beer was the amount of time it took to make, the lager yeast took months to finish and then many weeks more to finish carbonating. For the limited lager characteristics it imparted, I'd probably go with an ale yeast next time to speed up the process. As with all the other partial-mash beers I've made I'd like to see how this one came out done in an all-grain brew. Although this beer performs better than many other beers I've done with malt extract, it still has a certain one-dimensional character to its malt that could be improved. I like this beer's bitter finish and steam beer-like hops and if I made this again I wouldn't change them, just apply them to an all-grain recipe.

Rye Revival Roggenbier - More so than with the Overcast Island Ale this beer really seems to suffer from its employ of malt extract. Its residual sweetness and lack of complexity are perfect examples of why I'm moving away from this style of beer making. If I did make this beer again I would also increase the amount of rye in its recipe, maybe even doubling it, as I found the spicy character was much too subtle. In fact, if I made another rye beer I would be tempted to completely shift gears and brew a rye IPA. The success of Phillips Brewing's Krypton Rye PA, the star of the Hop Box mixer pack, goes to show how awesome a rye IPA can be.

The Harvester Belgian Saison - This beer finished a lowly 7th place at the beer tasting, the lowest of the all-grain beers available. I was surprised by this as it seemed to be received quite well and a number of people came back repeatedly for more. Much of its lowly placing I attribute to its nature as a simple easy-drinking saison; it was the extreme and the unusual that stole peoples hearts. Nonetheless, I would like to make this beer again and there are some changes I feel that could improve it. I felt this beer's dryness was too much and had planned to add some crystal malt in the next batch, but friends of mine have successfully convinced me otherwise. Crystal malt is probably not quite subtle enough for this beer anyways, although perhaps a slightly warmer mash temperature would take the edge off its dryness. I like this beer's lager like drinkability and don't want to mess with it too much, but its aroma seemed a little plain, with just a hint of frutiness. To add complexity I think some light spice additions and the zest of a Seville orange will get me right where I want to be.

Woodsplitter Espresso Stout - This beer is unusual in that I preferred its earlier incarnation to it present one. The previous batch had its beans steeped and added to the secondary, which gave it a light espresso finish that didn't interfere with the smooth, dry flavour of the stout. For the current batch the beans were put straight into the primary, which brought the coffee flavour right upfront and led to too much roasted astringency between the beans and the roasted barley. I've no plans to brew this again in the near future, but if I did I would return to the earlier recipe and possibly add some oats to improve this beer's mouthfeel.

Frontiersman Pale Ale - I already covered the changes to this beer in my previous post on the new batch of this brew. In summary, although its hoppy character made it successful as a partial-mash I thought it could be improved as an all-grain. Its newest version also has more front end hops to increase its citrusy Northwest hop character and uses more dry-hops to intensify its aroma.

Saison du Cornwall - This unusual beer featuring rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage was a surprising hit at the tasting. Nonetheless, I would like to scale back the herbs in its recipe by half to keep them more restrained, similar to the Saison du Buff. Additionally, despite adding only the barest amount of rosemary, it was still the most prominent herb, and I would consider changing it for cilantro, as I believe this would be an excellent addition to this unique beer.

Beast of Burden Brown Porter - I'm not sure exactly what to say about this beer, another surprise hit at the party. Dave from Beer in BC said it "tastes like toasted tootsie rolls," which pretty much sums it up. An unusual beer that I'm not sure I'd brew again, but it was unlike any beer I've had before so I'm definitely glad I made it.

The Half Pounder Double IPA - I subscribe to the theory, if it ain't broke don't fix it. About the only negative comment I received was "too hoppy," which is really kind of the idea here. One friend of mine asked me if I could make an entire batch of this at his house, for him to drink this summer. Sorry John, the recipe remains a secret, you'll have to wait. I've just made a new batch of The Pounder, and the recipe stayed the same with the exception of some of the bittering hops being used for first wort hopping.

The Beard of Zeus Imperial Stout - This is another beer I'm pretty happy with, and its score at the tasting reflected that, tying the Half Pounder for first place. Nonetheless, I still feel an increase in bitterness would help perfect this beer's balance and a slight reduction in carbonation would allow full enjoyment of its complex malt character. Look for a new batch of The Beard  in the very near future.


  1. I just wanted to say that I don't think cilantro would be a good addition to the Saison du Cornwall. It can take on strong soapy characteristics that overwhelms other flavours if not used with care. Second, I will get the Half Pounder, John. It will happen.

  2. Thanks for the advise on the cilantro there John... I mean, Milo. As for the Half Pounder, ha ha get your own recipes!

  3. Sounds like a fun event. I may have to do something like this soon as I have 40 gallons of stuff that I'm about to bottle or keg!

    For that Saison...I think Amarillo hops really complement that yeast... and adds a great spicy, cinnamon, orangy complexity! I think you absolutely wanna have that thing finish dry though. Other suggestion to add complexity is to ferment it at extremely high temps!



  4. Hey Dankster, good to hear from you. Ya the Shindig was a blast, an even better turnout than last time. It was awesome to walk around the group and hear a dozen different beer conversations. If you've got 40 gallons of brew hanging around you should do it for sure.

    Ya Amarillo's would be good for a Saison, maybe Simcoe too. I brewed the new Harvester yesterday and stayed with noble hops but added some grains of paradise and the zest of a seville orange for aroma. Hopefully it turns out okay, I'll put a post up on it later today.

    So what's the word on Dank Brewing? Haven't heard much from your beer works in awhile.


  5. I know...a little slow in brewing right now because all of my fermentation vessels are full. I have three lagers going, and three sours. All need plenty of time in aging. I'll be kegging the lagers soon and a Black IPA so I'll have 5 empty carboys opening up. What should I brew next?

    Just had a Rye IPA where my buddy finished it with a bunch of orange peel and the fragrance is amazing and a really tasty beer! Should go really well with your Saison!

  6. How about a Belgian IPA? Its a an emerging style that combines two of my favourite beers. I made mine with spicy and fruity hops to complement the Belgian yeast. Tried it the other day and I think its gonna be a winner.