Axe Grinder: Hoppy pale ale for the coming cool months.

 

 

IMG_1825.JPGAs the nights start to cool and I find myself shopping for the little one’s school supplies, I know that summer is ending and fall is closing in on us. Late August is hop season. This is the time of year that the hops on the farms and in the backyards of the very avid home brewer are maturing and are ready to be picked for beer. I don’t have a hop farm or even a rhizome or two in the yard (yet), but I do love hops. The fall, to me, signals the time to brew something hoppy. Though, admittedly, I am not as big of a hophead as some of people (I’m looking to you on the West Coast), but I do love that big hit of hop flavour and aroma. I love a great balance beer with big notes of citrus, pine, and even a bit dank.

So, whats left to do, but brew a hoppy pale ale.

I worked out a recipe a while back, but never got to brewing it until recently. I was looking for something that was moderate in strength (mid-5% or so) and moderate in bitterness, but big in hop flavour and aroma. I always like to try new things and my local home brew shop started to carry Falconer’s Flight, a blend of Pacific Northwest hops from Hop Union – loads of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral notes, by all accounts – so I thought that would be perfect for a pale ale.

Brew day was two weeks ago and went great, no problems or anything. The beer was fermented at 19 C and was finished up in about 10 days. I gave it a couple of extra days and then chilled to 2 C for a day or so before putting it into a keg.

Since its fresh in the keg I will give it a few days to get carbonated, but I can say that out of the fermenter it was pretty awesome. The aroma was almost pure grapefruit, so much citrus with just a touch of the grains. The favour was much as the aroma, loads of citrus – grapefruit, lemon, and some tropical hints. With a pretty solid bitterness and just enough of the malt backbone to keep things in check this beer is balanced nicely.

I can’t wait to see how it is in a few days, but I think I may have hit on my perfect “house” pale ale recipe after more than a few tries. Stay tuned for some tasting notes in the near future on this one. Click here for those who want to try it check out my recipe for the now named Axe Grinder.

-Cheers!

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Who would have guessed a nation would tire of flavourless beer?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the shrinking beer market in Canada, but a rise in craft beer sale. I’m not sure how this really comes as a surprise considering what there is as an alternative – flavourless, pale lager being pour down our throats by mass-marketing, flashy ad campaigns.

Canada, like the US and much of the world, has been inundated over the past few decades (a generation or more) by the macro brewery producing a same old pale, adjunct filled, flavourless lager. The Canadian beer market has been dominated by Molson’s (partnered with Coors), Labatt’s (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), and Budweiser, with Moosehead being the largest Canadian owned having 5.5% of the market. Together this is 90% of the market. Sad.

The good new, people are waking up and are realizing this is not a bad dream, but really what they have been sold as beer and wanting something better. We are growing up and our palates are as well. We are looking for something better and in many cases that is something other than beer (hence, the shrinking beer market). In other cases some of us are making our own – board with what was available and too far from good craft beer, what choice do some of us have? But more and more good craft beer is popping up, all across the country. BC is leading the way, but the rest of the nation is quickly catching up. With actual good beer becoming more readily available its no wonder the craft beer market share is growing hand-over-fist.

-Cheers!

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Rare Bird – Full Steam Stout

 

IMG_1740.JPGRare Bird brewery, located on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore in Guysbrough, is one of Nova Scotia’s newest breweies, but is already receiving rave reviews. Full Steam Stout is a dark, roasty coffee stout – one of their regular offerings made with Authentic Seacoast (the maker of Rare Bird) Full Steam coffee.

From the brewery: “Here’s a hearty brew built for the Authentic Seacoast. Take our nicely hopped East Coast Stout with notes of licorice, chocolate and roasted malt, add our freshly roasted certified organic, fair trade Full Steam Coffee to the brewing process and you have a richly flavoured, creamy coffee stout that pours black as a starless night, capturing the unique seacoast spirit of the Maritimes. “

And what did I think?

Appearance: As a stout should be, this is a pretty dark beer – dark with ruby highlights when put up to the light. Nearly opaque, but not quite.

Aroma: The aroma is somewhat mineraly. There is also some fruity and dark roast (coffee and dark chocolate) aromas coming through.

Taste: This first thing that is apparent are the alcohol notes. At 7% this is a strong beer and those notes come through, but fade as the beer warms (probably best drank at an elevated temperature). There is a bit of fruitiness and some hops. Not as roasty or as much dark roast/coffee character as would be expected. There is also a slight licorice flavour that appears after the second or third sip.

Mouthfeel: The body is lighter than it looks – light to medium body. Light to medium carbonation.

Overall: Not too bad. Light and easy to drink – not heavy on the palate. Better as it warms, I would place this one on the counter for a bit and not drink it right from the fridge. Probably would be a great one to age for a few months or years. Also, theres a nice buzz from that hit of coffee.

75/100

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Sea Level Brewing – Southern Cross IPA

 

IMG_1552.JPGTravelling through Nova Scotia there are many small villages, fishing outports, and quant towns. Port Williams is one of those small villages and home of Sea Level Brewing. Adjacent to the small town of Wolfville (not as small when Acadia University fills up in the fall, not as sleepy either) they hold that small town feel and state-of-mind. On my recent visit I was treated to great hospitality by the staff, including an impromptu tour of their small brewing facilities.

From the brewery:”Inspired by a funky New Zealand Hop and CS&N song called “Southern Cross”. It is layered with resiney spiciness that gives way to a fresh squeezed citrus aroma with subtle pine notes”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Golden with orange and caramel highlights. Creamy but not long lasting head.

Aroma: The first thing that is noticeable is a very sweet note, like candied cherries. There is a bit of orange and grapefruit, but it’s not nearly a dominate as the sweet aroma. The aroma is fragrant, but I can’t place it as hop or malt dominant – very nice, very interesting, and unique.

Taste: The bitterness is right upfront. As the bitterness starts to fate in the palate the hops come through as pine and resin, with notes of orange peel. The bitterness starts to lighten by the second sip and becomes softer and the malt shows a bit. The sweetness is there from the nose, but the bitterness keeps it in check. There are also hints of leather.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation (which is pretty great considering the growler travelled a bit too long with me back from my Nova Scotia vacation – so many great beers). The hops add their oiliness to the palate and a drying sensation on the tongue.

Overall: A pretty good beer. Honestly, with the sweet aroma I was expecting more of the malt to show through it maybe more hop flavours, but I can’t say I was disappointed with the beer either. It certainly is balanced towards the bitter side, but it’s also quite drinkable.

78/100

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Bugs In My Beer?? Adventures in Mixed Fermentation, part 1

 

IMG_1684.JPGA year-and-a-half ago, in January of 2013, I brewed an English styled Old Ale using a limited release Old Ale Blend from Wyeast – which was a yeast blend that included a culture of brettanomyces. This was my first encounter with brettanomyces, or brett (known as the king of wild yeast).

Brett is cousin of saccharomyces, which is what typical brewers yeast is (and the same as bakers yeast, just a different twig in the same branch of the family tree). Both are in the same family of fungus (yes, fungus!) and will ferment sugars into CO2 and, most importantly, alcohol. Most of the time brewers do their best to keep brett out of their beers, avoiding it like the plague for fear of contaminating their “clean” beers. Brett creates flavours that are typically referred to as “funk” and are described from “fruity” to “barnyard” and “horse blanket”. It sounds pretty bad, but is one of the main flavour contributors to Belgian and American styled sour ales, changing flavour over its long maturation period (months to years). It can be manipulated, somewhat, with the conditions set out by the brewer in the wort/beer, temperature, time, and brett strain (like yeast, they’re not all the same).

So, why would anyone want to tempt fate and contaminated beers? Flavour, experimentation, to prove you can, sheer insanity – somewhere in there.

After my initial brett beer I did nothing more in the way of “mixed” fermentations until recently when I decided that I wanted to go back down that road. (Mixed fermentation is when not just brewers yeast is added, but brett and/or bacteria cultures to sour the beer – my original brett Old Ale, for example, had brewers yeast and brett). I had been reading a lot on The Mad Fermentationist blog about his experiments with brett, as well as, lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterial fermentations as is done in traditional sour beers from Northern Europe and by newer breweries in the US. This sparked that urge in me to try it. I’ve had several sour ales before and love them, and I’m not afraid of trying new experiments (nor am I afraid of contaminating my other, clean beers – basic sanitation and common sense should help).

So, what did I do?

First thing I did was culture up the dregs from my Old Ale using first a small amount (250mL) of unhopped wort in a mason jar covered in tinfoil to see what would happen. After two weeks it was smelling and looking good, pH and gravity had dropped, so I had a taste and it was nice and fruity (cherry-like). Next, I added it to some lightly hopped wort (900mL) and put in an airlock, and this is where it sits as I’m writing, sill fermenting/aging. I hope to use this culture to ferment out an pale ale and added it to some other fermentations.

The next bit of experimenting came from inspiration after reading American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (also the operator/writer of The Mad Fermentationist). I made a small (300mL) lightly hopped wort (13 IBU) and added nothing but 10 or so ripe blueberries from my bush in the backyard. I have no idea what I will grow in this one, but if the test come out (pH, gravity, smell) its probably safe enough to taste and then we’ll see if it was a success (note of caution – attempting to grow something from the wild can be dangerous. There is a possibility of mold or E.coli or other nasty things growing in that wort. There are some indicators that its safe or not, but I’m no expert and I don’t advocate following my word on this). My hope is to capture some local wild yeast and souring bacteria that will make tasty beer. We’ll see how it goes, wait for a future post on this.

I have also purchased ingredients for a lambic beer, including Wyeast Lambic Blend, which is a blend of brewers yeast, brett, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. This will be a more traditional attempt at a sour ale. I also plan on a red type ale as a side experiment with the lambic blend, my house cultured brett blend, and a standard ale yeast. I will post on this once they are made.

So, as I start out down this long road to sour ales, I feel like I’m part brew master and part mad scientist. I can see the need for more airlocks and jugs of various sizes (and space for them, and understand/tolerance from my wife) in the near future. The path to great beer is always exciting, but now that I’m on this path I feel a new brewer, excited like a kid in a candy shop with cash in his hand. Look for upcoming posts as I brew and experiment.

-Cheers!

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Propeller – American Red

 

20140807-183140-66700093.jpgPropeller is a great craft brewer located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for their ales and lagers, they have been brewing beers from traditional ales to modern, cutting-edge craft beers.

American Red is their latest release in their One Hit Wonder series, this modern red ale has a firm bitterness and lots of hops. Perfect summer beer.

From the brewery: “Propeller Brewing Company has released their latest One Hit Wonder series brew – American Red Ale. Weighing in at 5.7%ABV and 70 IBU’s. Inspired by the modern red ales produced along the southern west coast our American Red Ale utilizes specialty malts to create depth of color and flavour, and is aggressively hopped with a variety of American hops.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: The colour is a deep amber with off-white, long lasting, creamy head. Beautifully clear with ruby highlights.

Aroma: The first thing in the aroma is citrus, mainly orange, but some other lemon rind notes. There is some sweet caramel notes and in the back there is s bit of the malt.

Taste: Firm bitterness with some malt. There some hints of leather and less hop character then in the aroma.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and carbonation. Creamy texture.

Overall: A great red ale. Lots of hops and a good malt backbone to balance. This is one that I would love to see all year, but the short-run makes it that much more special. Try to get some before its gone.

79/100

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