Early in 2019, I made an English bitter that turned out exceptionally. Hoping to capitalize on that success, I did a second iteration at the end of November. The overall recipe is pretty similar, although the base malt brand was Crisp instead of Bairds. Also, I dropped the crystal 90 and used just crystal 80. Finally, I fermented a very slight touch warmer, at 67° instead of 66°.
Farke’s ESB 1.1
8.5 lb. Maris Otter malt (Crisp)
0.75 lb. 80°L 6-row caramel malt (Briess)
0.25 lb. 80°L caramel malt (Briess)
1 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (6.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
1 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (6.0% alpha), 5 minute boil
1 pkg. London ESB English Style Ale Yeast
60 minute full volume infusion mash, 152°
1.043 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.2% abv, 28 IBU, 11 SRM
Claremont tap water
I mashed in with 7.5 gallons of water at 168°, to hit a mash temperature of 153°.
After 1 hour, I vorlaufed and collected the runnings.
In total, I collected 6.5 gallons of wort at 1.040 s.g., for 73% mash efficiency. This was a bit better than expected for a full-volume mash, so I adjusted the boil accordingly to try and hit my target starting gravity.
I boiled for 60 minutes, adding hops and whirlfloc as scheduled. Then, I chilled down to ~75°, pitched the yeast, and put it in the fermentation chamber. The temperature was set at 67°.
Starting gravity was 1.045, with the batch brewed on 25 November 2019.
I kegged the beer on 23 December 2019. Final gravity was 1.008, a bit lower than I expected. This works out to 82% attenuation and 5.0% abv.
This yeast is described as poorly flocculent–and it was. For the first week or so, the beer poured as a hazy, yeasty mess. It wasn’t terribly pleasant to drink, although it got a bit better as the yeast started to settle somewhat. On January 3, I decided to speed things along and add gelatin, with 1 tsp. in 1 cup of water. Within two days, the beer was pouring (and tasting) much better. It wasn’t perfectly brilliant, but it was much clearer.
Light amber color, somewhat hazy, with thin off-white head.
Slight caramel aroma, bready, with light fruity ester. Not much for noticeable hop aroma.
Light caramel and toffee notes on the flavor, with modest (but not over-the-top) bitterness.
Off-dry, light bodied, moderate carbonation.
Would I brew this again?
Although I really liked this recipe last time I brewed it, I am less of a fan this time around. I’m not sure why it ended up so dry (1.008 final gravity); maybe the mash temperature dropped too quickly, maybe it’s the brand of malt, or maybe I got some contamination that took off on fermenting the sugars? I don’t really taste any off flavors, but the beer is indeed a bit drier than I might like. I think the overall malt character is pretty good, and the ester character is a bit more where I want it on this batch. However, the ESB yeast is a horrible flocculator. I noticed this last time I brewed it, too, and it’s a bit on the ridiculous side, especially for a beer that I think should be drunk more fresh than not. For any future use, I would definitely cold crash and throw in gelatin right at the start, or else try a different yeast strain. I do think the overall package would be better, too, with going back to the original malt bill.
I missed doing this last year, but might as well try again for 2020.
I often bring my lagers on-line before they are as conditioned as well as they could be. That means that the keg is okay when I start, pretty good for the middle part, and might reach fantastic only during the last third. This is often a planning issue, and sometimes a space issue. For 2020, I will try to better plan my brew cycles so that I can hold off on tapping lager kegs until they are better conditioned. A month (minimum) of lagering would be great…and if I can get to 6 or 8 weeks, even better!
2020 will be a year to explore the world of North American “noble hops”, for purposes of pilsners and such: Crystal, Liberty, Mt. Hood, Sterling, Vanguard, and U.S. versions of Hallertau and Tettnang. In the last week of 2019, I made a German-style pils with Crystal and a red rye lager with Mt. Hood, so I’ve got a head start!
I want to do something, either large or small, for beer communication this year. Maybe pitch a new article. Maybe just submit a small note. 2019 was fairly dormant on this front, so I want to do better in 2020. I enjoy talking and writing about beer, and would like to do more.
I want to keep brewing fun! This means sharing more beer with friends (both at my home and by sending growlers out into the world), taking some quiet moments to truly savor a beer, and experimenting with new recipes and new-to-me styles. Small-batch (3 gallon) brews have been a good strategy in the past, and I might keep that up as a way to continue experimentation on styles and recipes of uncertain drinkability. No resolution should get in the way of my enjoyment of beer, and I’m usually pretty good at holding to this. On to 2020!
As we turn over not just one but two digits in the calendar year, from 2019 to 2020, it makes me reflect on how I’ve grown as a brewer. So, what happened in the ten years of 2010 through 2019?
At the start of 2010, I was doing extract-only, partial volume boils in a 5 gallon pot on my stove. I had no fermentation temperature control, so was limited to brewing during the cooler months of the year, and bottled exclusively. Some of this was due to space (I was living in a one-bedroom apartment), some of it was money (I hadn’t yet bought the full assortment of equipment), and some of it was skill–I hadn’t yet practiced that much!
As we close out 2019, I’m doing all-grain, batch-sparge, full volume brew days. I’m using two temperature-controlled fermentation chambers, and then kegging my beers to serve via a three-faucet keezer. 2014 was the biggest year for this, as we moved into a new place that had much more space to set up a brewery.
In 2010, I was brewing with a limited supply of ingredients from a very small brew shop supplemented by mail order. The world of ingredients was quite a bit narrower then, and things like Citra and Mosaic and craft malting weren’t even in my vocabulary. Because I was only brewing with extract, I was heavily reliant upon a narrow selection of extract products.
In 2019, the world of ingredients is scarcely recognizable. Some of this is due to my process changes, as I get to know new malts. Much of this is due to a new array of suppliers and products. We have a truly excellent, well-stocked local homebrew shop very close by (Pacific Brewing Supplies of San Dimas), so I can easily get 95% of what I might ever need via them. There are so many new hops and yeasts and yeast suppliers and malting companies that I can’t even pretend to keep up. It’s awesome!
In 2010, I was brewing a variety of fairly “traditional” ales–brown ales, pale ales, wheat beers, etc. I was severely limited by space and temperature control!
In 2010, I was brewing totally solo, perhaps having friends over from time to time. I didn’t have much to challenge me (beyond myself), and it was hard to get honest feedback from trained palates.
In 2019, I am active in a local homebrew club, and know a fair number of brewers outside that circle. This has added considerably to my enjoyment of the hobby, helped me meet new people, and has also opened up new ways to challenge myself and get helpful feedback. I love club contests that push me to try new styles, and I like getting comments from a friendly yet critical crew of tasters. In the bigger sense of community, I’ve had opportunities to contribute to Zymurgy magazine and present at HomebrewCon. I never would have imagined this being a possibility back in 2010!
In 2010, homebrew comprised only a small percentage of my beer consumption. I made four or five batches annually, and as a result had to make up the rest with commercial purchases. The commercial landscape for local craft beers was quite narrow at the time–we only had two or three breweries within a reasonable drive, and the reasonable drive didn’t exactly encourage sampling much (unless I had a driver!).
In 2019, there are so many local breweries that I can’t possibly sample them all. Access to Lyft helps a lot, but between money (it’s expensive to go to breweries constantly), liver (I drink less than I used to, and breweries just ain’t doing much less than 5% abv), and time (we’ve got two kids now), I don’t get out as much as I might. I would say 95% of my beer consumption now is my own homebrew. I brew enough that I can usually keep plenty on tap, and I can also brew lower alcohol beers and styles that don’t get as much attention in local craft breweries. It’s virtually impossible to find a quality German-style lager locally (and imports are incredibly hit or miss), so I gotta make ’em myself!
If I had to pick one recipe to represent each year, what would it be?
Premium Oatmeal Stout — the brew session was a bit of a scramble, but it was (in my recollection) a pretty nice beer.
Vanilla Voay Porter — another one of my early dark beers. These styles tended to be more enjoyable, because they tended to cover up the sins of the learning process more than a lighter beer could.
Pannotia White IPA — you just don’t see this style on the market, which is unfortunate. I find it far more interesting and drinkable than your average haze-bomb. It’s got plenty of fruit and citrus character, but also still tastes like a beer.
2019 marked my eleventh year brewing out in California, and I feel like I’m squarely in the comfort zone of homebrewing. Yet, I didn’t let myself get too comfortable, either. This was a year to push myself with more lager recipes and some new styles. I’ve improved my packaging of oxygen-sensitive beers, and overall this has paid off handsomely. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights!
This was a great year, with several batches I really loved. Favorite batch for 2019 is a hard choice, but I think I’ll give a slight edge to the Alta California Lager. It was a virtually perfect beer, and I hope I’ll be able to get something close to it again in a future incarnation!
Least Favorite Batch
I didn’t have any complete disasters this year, so this is another hard choice. My recent brown ale was a bit of a disappointment, so that’s probably what I would nominate. I also haven’t gotten quite to the perfect Bohemian pilsner. Something to shoot for next year!
Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
I made a Breslau-style pale schöps, and it was just plain fun. I loved the challenge of creating a recipe for a style taste-unseen, and the result was really nice. It was a treat!
Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
Stygimoloch Bock turned out great in its inaugural run, and with a little more tweaking it’s going to be pretty darned amazing. I had fun working with the artist on the commemorative design, and had just as much fun enjoying the beer with friends.
Best Technique Added to Repertoire
I’ve perfected a partially closed transfer, to reduce oxygen exposure for sensitive beers like dry hopped IPAs and light lagers. Just like a totally closed technique, I purge the keg with CO2 by filling it with StarSan solution and pushing out the liquid. Rather than pushing the beer in with CO2 also, I just siphon in via the out port. As long as I don’t disturb the surface of the fermenter’s beer too much, I figure that oxygen introduction is quite minimal. I feel this is a touch safer than even minimal pressure added to a glass carboy, and the process also involves less equipment.
Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
Comet hops! I liked how my Comet Pale Ale turned out, and will be looking to try this again for future IPAs and pale ales.
I read the somewhat old Bavarian Helles volume by Hornbusch (from Brewers Publications), and rather enjoyed it. I picked up a few from this style-centered series when they were on sale, and have been working my way through them. The oldest date back to the early 1990s, when brewing and homebrewing were completely different worlds. Some of the recipes have value, and some I take with a bit of skepticism. Even so, the histories and background are super interesting, with more detail than the typical brewing article. The books are also a nice length to finish in one or two sittings, which is a rare sweet spot for the beer writing market.
This is the year that I finally figured out lagers. Around a quarter of the beers of 2019 were lagers, including everything from Munich dunkels to German pils to Mexican-style lager to bocks. I had more hits than misses, and can foresee even more lagers next year!
I brewed around 25 batches this year; not as much as some years, but certainly not too shabby. There were times where I ran a little short on homebrew (mainly when I had extensive stretches of no-brewing due to work/family schedules), so next year I’ll try to plan things out a bit more.
For Christmas this year, I wanted a special small-batch beer to sip on a cold, dark evening. I usually buy some barrel-aged commercial beers (Firestone Walker’s 2019 Old Man Hattan is particularly nice), so that flavor profile didn’t terribly appeal to me as a homebrew, especially not in larger volumes. After a bit of thought, I settled on a smoked ale. I’ve done a handfulof thoseover the years, trying out the porter and brown ale styles previously. For this iteration, something in the Scottish ale space was appealing. I could get plenty of malt and plenty of body, and it would (hopefully) stand up well to any smokiness. Thus, the Yule Log Smoked Scottish Ale was born!
The recipe is built around the Scottish Export Ale BJCP style, which according to my reading sometimes is made with smoked variants. My version was based in part on Brulosophy’s Short & Shoddy Wee Heavy Recipe. To add a bit of smoked character, I put in two pounds (~16% of the total grain bill) of Briess cherrywood smoked malt.
In the spirit of the Short & Shoddy series, I cut a ton of corners in the brew day. I only did a 30 minute, full-volume mash, and a 30 minute boil. I used some oldish yeast, which meant I needed three packages total.
Yule Log Smoked Scottish Ale
9 lbs. Maris Otter malt (Crisp)
2 lb. Cherry wood smoked malt (Briess)
5 oz. Biscuit malt (Dingemans)
5 oz. Caramel 120° malt (Briess)
5 oz. CaraPils malt (Briess)
4 oz. Crystal 75° malt (Bairds)
1 oz. Whitbread Golding Variety hop pellets (8.7% alpha), 15 minute boil
2 pkg. Tartan yeast (Imperial Yeast #A31)
1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast (US-05)
1.063 s.g, 1.019 f.g., 5.8% abv, 21 IBU, 15 SRM
3.25 gallon batch
Full volume infusion mash, 156° target temperature
Claremont tap water, with Campden tablet treatment to remove chloramines
I mashed in with 5.35 gallons of water at 165.5°, hitting a mash temperature of 155°. By the end of the 30 minute mash, temperature was down to 152°.
I vorlaufed and collected 3.75 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.068, for 56% mash efficiency. This is a bit “thicker” than targeted, so I added 0.5 gallons of water to get 4.25 gallons of wort at a slightly lower gravity.
I boiled for 30 minutes, adding hops at the 15 minute mark. I then chilled down to 70°, transferred to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast.
Starting gravity was 1.066, on 24 November 2019. I fermented at 67°.
I kegged the beer on 10 December 2019. It had a final gravity of 1.014, for 6.9% abv.
Copper colored beer, moderately hazy, with a thin but persistent head.
Faint smoke aroma, but not overbearing. Slight caramel note, and very mild fruity esters as the beer warms up.
Modestly smoky, balanced nicely against the caramel and bready aspects of the malt. Bitterness is moderate, clean, and just about perfect for this beer. There is a very slight but pleasant sweetness to the beer. As I finish a glass, the smoke disappears behind the rest of the beer. On the one hand, it would be nice to smokiness be a bit more prominent, but on the other hand I think the drinkability would suffer. This is a rare smoked beer that can stand up to multiple pints!
This beer has a reasonable bit of body, and a medium-sweet finish. Carbonation level is moderate.
Would I brew this again?
I liked this beer pretty well! I find commercial smoked beers to be hit or miss, and I think the very moderate level of smoked malt I use paid off. Pretty much everything works about this one, and it’s a nice beer to enjoy on a cool SoCal winter day. I wish the clarity was a bit better at this point, but I never bothered to cold-crash the beer, nor did I use gelatin or even hot-side finings. I expect a combination of these would clear things significantly. I might also mash just a touch higher, as this beer would benefit from a slight bump in body.