Cerveza de Jamaica

I’m feeling experimental, and I’m feeling summer-y, and I need some good homebrew to sip on the porch on a warm Saturday afternoon. I discovered agua de Jamaica (a hibiscus tea often just sold as Jamaica) when I moved to California, and finally made my own last summer. This hibiscus-based tea is tart, tasty, and refreshing…which is a perfect accompaniment for a witbier! [For those who aren’t familiar, it’s pronounced roughly as “huh-MY-kuh”, not “juh-MAY-kuh”.]

My base recipe is a pretty standard witbier, with a grist of 50% pilsner malt and 50% flaked wheat. I’m using WLP400 as the yeast, and a small dose of Hallertauer Mittelfrueh for the bittering hops. Because I want to highlight the hibiscus flavor and avoid any clash with coriander, I’m just using some fresh navel orange peel for steeping. I decided to add the dried hibiscus flowers at flameout, basically the same as if I were making tea. I kept hopping levels towards the lower end of the witbier style, because I expect that the flameout additions may add some bitterness.

Dried hibiscus flowers

Cerveza de Jamaica

  • 5 lbs. pilsen malt (Briess)
  • 5 lbs. flaked wheat
  • 4 oz. rice hulls
  • 0.75 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • Peel of two medium navel oranges, 10 minute steep after flameout
  • 3 oz. dried hibiscus flowers, 10 minute steep after flameout
  • 1 pkg. Belgian Wit Ale yeast (WLP400), prepared in 1L vitality starter

Target Parameters

  • Infusion mash to hit target of 152°, 60 minutes, batch sparge.
  • 1.050 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.1% abv, 11 IBU, 3 SRM
  • Water built from RO to hit target of 48 ppm Ca, 85 ppm Cl, -34 ppm RA.

Procedure

  • I built my mash water with 3.5 gallons of reverse osmosis water and 6 g of CaCl. I mashed in at 164°, adding 7.5 mL of 88% lactic acid, and hit a mash temperature of 150°.
  • After a 60 minute mash, I added 1.5 gallons of RO water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I then added 3.5 gallons of water at 185°, let it wait for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 6.8 gallons of runnings, with a gravity of 1.039, for 73% efficiency. I’ve learned that adding an extra half gallon of sparge or mash water is important for these beers that have lots of flaked grains, both to keep up volume under the extra absorption and to ensure I get better efficiency.
  • I boiled for 60 minutes, adding the various ingredients per the schedule.
  • At flame-out, I added the fresh orange peel and dried hibiscus, and let them steep for 10 minutes. They stayed in while I chilled the wort, to extend the flavor extraction.
  • The wort is really awesome in appearance and flavor; it has a deep purple hue, a slightly tart flavor, and an aroma that mixes all of the additions in a tasty way. I can’t wait to try this after fermentation!
  • While mashing, I made a 1L vitality starter for the yeast. It ran on the stir plate for about 3 hours, and it showed signs of fermentation by then. After I pitched the yeast, solid signs of fermentation were visible within 18 hours.
  • I brewed this on 28 April 2018, and starting gravity was 1.048. Initial fermentation is happening at 68°; I’ll let it free-rise after 3 or 4 days.

Big Batch Update: Saison, Amber Ale, Pilsner

There’s lots to report with kegging and fermentation for a few recent batches. So, here’s what’s new:

  • Thumbspike Saison 2.0
    20170528_144954

    • This might have had the quickest turn-around on any kegged beer I’ve ever done! I brewed the beer on 12 May 2017, starting with an 80° fermentation temperature. On 16 May, I raised the temperature to 85°. Everything really churned along, from start to finish (as you might expect with fermentation at those temperatures)! I kegged the beer on 20 May 2017, with a final gravity of 1.004. That works out to 6.7% abv. I’ve had it on tap for about a week, and it’s a pretty interesting and enjoyable beer. All of the ingredients melded together quite nicely, and I am pleased with the results. It’s a very refreshing brew for a warm afternoon on the patio.
    • My first impressions are that it has a very lightly fruity aroma, with a slight tartness on the flavor. Head retention seems pretty miserable at this point, but I don’t know if that’s a real feature of the beer or because I didn’t wash my glass from a previous beer before pouring this one.
  • Hell Creek Amber Ale 1.1
    • I brewed this beer on 14 April 2017, with a starting gravity of 1.060. I kegged the beer on 7 May 2017. Final gravity was 1.016, which equates to 5.8% abv.
  • Czech-ed Out Pilsner
    • This batch has the honor of being my first dumper, ever. I’ve weathered warm fermentations, low gravities, and incomplete fermentations, and have always soldiered through in the end. Alas, this particular batch just wasn’t any good. The culprit wasn’t infection, bad fermentation, or anything like that. It was bad hops! As noted in my original post, the late hop addition smelled really grassy. I should have known better than to add them to the kettle, but wasn’t quite that smart. So, I kegged the beer, carbonated it, and pulled my first sample…to a whiff of pilsner that smelled pretty much like freshly mown lawn, and not in a good way. It was almost reminiscent of jalapenos, but in any case was not reminiscent of what a good European pilsner should taste or smell like. Lesson learned!
    • In terms of fermentation history, I started fermentation at 50° on 9 April. I raised the beer to 65° on 21 April, and then dropped it to 33° on 30 April 2017. I kegged the beer on 14 May, at which point it had a final gravity of 1.011. This equates to 5.6% abv.

Beer Tasting: Raspberry Belgian

20170423_154842My first attempt at a fruit beer was fairly decent…it was quite refreshing on a hot day, and the two gallons or so got depleted pretty quickly. I did squeeze in a tasting before it was all gone, with plenty of ideas for next time.

  • The Basics
    • O.G. = 1.039; f.g. = 1.011; 3.8% abv; 3 SRM; 15 estimated IBU
  • Aroma
    • A very nice raspberry aroma front and center!
  • Appearance
    • Clear and pinkish-red. The head is off-white, low, and modestly persistent.
  • Flavor
    • Slightly tart and dry, with not much in the way of malt character. The raspberries come through as mild and a nice complement to the tartness.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Fairly thin, with moderate carbonation and a dry finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • I like where this recipe is heading, but it needs some pretty heavy modifications. I think the low starting gravity (1.039, versus 1.043 as requested by the recipe) hurts things a little bit, and so a bit more attention and adjustment to the starting wort to match the higher gravity is in order. I don’t think mash temperature needs much adjustment–I would likely just add in a bit more base malt and perhaps double the oats to add a bit more mouthfeel. Next time, I might also consider swapping out some or all of the pilsner malt for 2-row, to give the beer a touch more malt character. The raspberry comes across quite nicely; I think the amount and the technique worked out well. I’m pleasantly surprised in particular by how clear this beer turned out! It’s really pretty. Finally, the beer is less tart than I expected. Next time, I might do a 24 hour kettle sour before boiling.
  • Overall
    • 5/10

Beer Tasting: Red Oak Ale

After about a month of conditioning, it’s time to review the red oak ale I brewed in mid-May. As previously described, I oaked it with oak chips for a week, and have been dry-hopping it ever since.

Red Oak Ale

  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.070; final gravity = 1.015; abv = 7.3%; estimated IBU = 45.
  • Appearance
    • The modest head is tan, finely bubbled, and moderately persistent. The beer is a burnt umber shade and quite hazy.
  • Aroma
    • Light and crisp oakiness when freshly poured; as the beer warms up there is a background of alcoholic aroma and raisin/currant notes. Very subtle spicy aroma (presumably from the Willamette dry hops?).
  • Flavor
    • A modest, but not overwhelming, oakiness at the forefront of the beer, backed by a subdued but not insubstantial malt backbone. Very slight toasty notes and a hint of rye crispness. The finish has a smooth hoppiness and oakiness that fade slowly.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Delightfully fine carbonation and quite smooth to the feel. There is a very mild tannic finish from the oak. I could perhaps expand the body just a small touch, but that is a minor issue.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! As a type of recipe outside my usual styles, this one was a pleasing success. The level of oakiness is just about perfect for my taste, and truth be told it is nice to have oakiness alone, rather than the bourbon-soaked oak chips that most people use. The only minor tweak might be to fill out the body just a shade; a slightly higher mash temperature could do the trick. If I did that, I also might oak it for an extra day or two, to compensate for the greater body.
  • Overall rating
    • 8/10

Brewing Update: Old Speckled Hen Clone and Red Oak Ale

Red Oak Ale sample

Tonight I transferred the Old Speckled Hen Clone and the Red Oak Ale (right) out of their respective primary fermenters and into their kegs. Visible fermentation had long since ceased for both.

Old Speckled Hen Clone
This beer had been in the primary fermenter for 10 days, with a reasonably vigorous fermentation. The Nottingham dry ale yeast was a little slow to start relative to the liquid yeasts I’ve been using lately, and didn’t display signs of active fermentation until nearly 24 hours after pitching.

This beer had fermented down to 1.011, and is still a little hazy. I’m expecting that should settle out as the beer chills. The beer has a nice toffee color, and was a little more bitter than I expected. I think it is mainly because I had memories of a much more malt-forward beer; I expect this will come back to the fore as the beer conditions and the yeast continues to drop out. The distinct hops flavor is also probably due to the “spicier” English hops (where I usually have been using American hops in my other beers–I had forgotten how big the difference was!). Starting gravity was 1.055, which works out to 5.8% abv.

The kegged beer (~4.5 gallons) went directly into the keezer, where it is force carbonating under 13.5 psi at 42°.

Red Oak Ale
This beer showed vigorous fermentation within 9 hours of pitching the yeast. I agitated the beer a bit after 3 days (and once or twice more after that), following notes from yeast reviewers that the WLP041 strain tended to slow or stall out if left alone. I figured this was a good idea given the relatively high starting gravity, too (1.070).

The beer had fermented down to 1.015 over the past 18 days, with a gorgeously clear burn umber color (see above picture). This works out to 7.3% abv, one of the “bigger” beers I’ve done in some time. So far, I’m pretty happy with how it is turning out.

Before sealing up the keg, I added a mesh bag with 2 oz. of Willamette hops pellets for dry hopping. They’ll stay in for ~14 days (or maybe even permanently). Tomorrow, I’ll add 2 oz. of French oak chips (medium toast), boiled in water and contained in a mesh sack. Those will stay in for just a week before being pulled. I’m leaving the keg at room temperature for at least the next week.