Monthly Archive for December, 2010

Kegged the spruce ale

I kegged the spruce ale tonight and was very pleased with the results. I crash-cooled one of the carboys to see if that helped with the abundance of yeast still in solution when I racked to secondary. Just from a visual check, there wasn’t any noticable difference, but the flavor of the warm carboy was much more interesting. No surprise there, but both had a really nice, unique citrus sweetness. The warmer beer had much more of it, and as luck would have it, that’s the keg that I’ll be bottling from for gifts.

Now, we just need to find a name. “Just the tip” won’t work since I obviously used more than just spruce tips, and, well, it’s a little crass for something that we’ll pour at Christmas dinner. Michelle is looking for alliteration, so we’ll see soon what the name is. Current favorite? Santa’s Sprucey Sauce.

iGrill or iMash?

iGrill just released a bluetooth enabled meat thermometer that can send updated temps of grilling meat to your iPhone. Now, if my luck with electronic themometers hasn’t been so bad, I’d say that this would be an awesome remote mash thermometer.

Current cost of a batch

My cost to brew 10 gallons has been around $30 for the last 2 batches. (that’s roughly $0.30/bottle) The cost is largely the cost of malt, though the last two purchases have also included some yeast packets, and in this recent batch, $4 for spruce essence. The last two batches have also been on the “larger” side, so I could easily drop the price even further.

Hops are not a cost I consider. And I’m glad. I recently visited two brew shops for parts and ingredients and I was kind of floored by the cost. $3.50 for an ounce of Amarillos or Cascades? Jeez! My Cascadian Dark Ale used a total of 11 oz of hops (not including the home crop). That’s nearly $40 in hops alone! So… Thanks Doug!

The benefit I suppose is that with the batch only costing around $30, I save an estimated $90 on beer. Now, clearly I don’t do this to save money, but that’s satisfying. Half a dozen more batches, and I’ll have paid for a stainless steel conical fermenter.

Spruce Ale update

I racked the spruce tip ale to secondary fermentation. I’m a little surprised at all the foam – it’s been a long time since I’ve had krausen push foam out the airlock. There was a ton of trub, and lots of stringy protein, so hopefully everything is still in order. The gravity at the time of transfer was already down to 1.014, so my precious Safale US-05 is on the spot again.

The taste, while very yeasty still, has a nice, fairly big but not off-putting spruce taste. Good. I think I’ll have it in secondary through this week then crash cool it to drop some of the yeast out for the beer that will be kegged. We’ll see about the beer bound for bottles. I may actually keg both batches and bottle from the keg to have it carbonated in time for Christmas.

Spruce Tip Brew

holding some frozen blue spruce tips

Handful of spruce tips

While planning for a holiday brew, I discovered that spruce tips can only be gotten in the spring when the trees are budding. While I read of some folks experiences using old needles (and branches), the result wasn’t something I wanted to shoot for. So I started formulating for a bigger dark winter beer. Then a coworker posted a comment about completing a spruce beer, so I pinged him to see where he’d collected the spruce from. He’d harvested in the spring then frozen it, and he offered what he had left. Score! The following day he showed up with a frozen bag of adorable green buds that had a wonderful citrus aroma. He also shared some tips for brewing with them, such as the decay rate of the pleasant flavors coming from the spruce tips.

Anyway, I reformulated my beer and tried to bring the body down to much paler malt profile as to not overwhelm the spruce tips.

Grain bill

  • 14 lbs 2-row
  • 8 lbs Gambrinus pils
  • 2 lbs Munich
  • 1 lbs Crystal 10L
  • 1 lbs Victory

Hops

  • 2 oz Newport  (8% alpha) @ 60
  • 2 oz Crystal (4% alpha) @ 10
  • 1 oz Crystal @ 5 & 2 min

Other

  • Unknown quantity of spruce tips (Tim, where’s my scale?)
  • 2 packs for Safale us – 05
  • 2ish tablespoons of Spruce essence (use sparingly)

I also picked up some spruce essence to bolster the fresh tips if needed, as well as two packets of dry Safale, which Steinbarts seems to have marked up significantly from the last time I purchased any. The price increase can’t have had anything to do with a shortage (yeast, exponential growth…), so I think it was just realization that the product is great and (used to) cost $5 less per unit than the liquid yeast. But I’m rambling.

Anyway, day of the brew, I mashed in  at around 6:30 am, and Alan showed up with some treats for later. My strike temp was on pretty well for a change and we mashed for 45 min @ 156F. After sparging, the kettle had just over 10 gal of wort, and we proceeded with a normal boil until around 10 minutes, at which point we gradually added the bag of spruce tips in over the total of ten minutes until flameout. I also added between 2-3 tablespoons of spruce essence at around 30 minutes hoping that the boil my eradicate the sodium benzoate. On Scott’s advice, I used less than 1/4 what the bottle recommended.

The wort actually tastes pretty good. It’s got a nice sprucely flavor, and my samples all had needles in them, but the flavor was clean, citrusy and hopefully, that carries to the final product.

Again, thanks to Gabriel for the tips (spruce), Scott for the tips (advice), and Alan for the help and company.

Holiday Ale Fest 2010

Michelle, my dad and I made a quick visit to the Holiday Ale Festival last night to take in some big winter brews. We were a little later than expected, which was entirely my fault. I had to stop at Steinbarts for some grain and traffic was wretched. We got to the event just after 5pm, usually about when I’d be wrapping up. The crowds were out in full force, and it was a bit of a challenge (as usual) to get yourself up to some of the beers. Luckily, there were several that were well worth the wait.

My favorite pour of the evening was the 2007 Baltic Porter from Cascade Brewing. It was rich, thick, smokey, liquory, and just a smidge tart. Maybe it was the 2-ticket cost, but this was no line for this beer. Cascade Brewing’s Sang Noir was tops again this year as well, though I think my next favorite might have been 10 Barrel’s Pray for Snow. Their Sinister is probably one of my favorite beers of 2009, and this was also deliciously dark, rich and robust.

My least favorite was Widmer’s Black Dynamite. Initially I thought there was mint in it, but have learned otherwise. I feel bad mentioning it since I deeply appreciate that Widmer takes consistent risks on beers at festivals. Some have been bad, but some have been the most memorable beers. Tis’ better to try and fail than to Hell or High Watermelon.

Yeah, so, that’s about it. Loved Lost Glove, Ill Tempered Gnome and that pretty much wraps up my festival for the year.