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.

Red Oak Ale

Most of my beers recently have been fairly down-the-middle, aiming-for-a-particular-style kinds of brews. Most have turned out quite well, but I’m really feeling the need to do something a little wild and crazy. To heck with BJCP guidelines; let’s brew something interesting!

So, I searched around a bit, searching inspiration from various recipes and beer kits. Then, my eyes landed on the Fire in the Hole Ale kit from More Beer. It had everything…ample hops, ingredients I hadn’t used, a different yeast strain, and even some oak chips for good measure. I modified the ingredient list a bit for what was on hand in the brew store and in my hops stash, and came up with Red Oak Ale. It’s a bit of a kitchen sink beer–gotta get rid of those spare hops in odd quantities after all–but at the least it will be something different.

Red Oak Ale

  • 11 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting)
  • 1 lbs. 80° crystal malt
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 0.5 lb. Munich malt
  • 0.5 lb. rye malt
  • 0.15 lb. Carafa II malt
  • 1.15 oz. Magnum hops pellets (12.5% alpha), boil 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Northern Brewer hops pellets (7.8% alpha), add at flame-out
  • 1 oz. Willamette hops pellets (5.2% alpha), add at flame-out
  • 0.59 oz. El Dorado hops pellets (12.6% alpha), add at flame-out
  • 0.41 oz. Magnum hops pellets (12.5% alpha), add at flame-out
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss, boil for 10 minutes
  • 2 pkg. Pacific Ale liquid yeast (WLP041), in 1.5 L starter prepared 24 hours in advance
  • 2 oz. Willamette hops pellets (5.5% alpha), 14 days dry hop
  • 2 oz. French oak chips, 7 days in secondary
  • Because the yeast were ~2 months past prime, I used two vials and made a 1.5L starter (4 oz. DME to 1.5 L water). The starter was a little slow to krausen, but within ~16 hours it was satisfactorily foaming on the stir plate.
  • I mashed in with 4.5 gallons of water at 169°. This hit a mash temperature of 157°, which was down to 155.5° after 15 minutes and 153° after 40 minutes.
  • I added .36 gallons of water at 200°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 2.8 gallons of wort.
  • I added 3.15 gallons of water at 180°; the mash bed rose to 168°. After 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected the remainder of the wort.
  • All told, I collected 6.25 gallons of wort at 1.059 s.g. This works out to ~72% efficiency. A little lower than normal; I wonder if this is because I skipped the pH 5.2 stabilizer? Or maybe because it’s a fairly high gravity recipe with a lot of flaked ingredients?
  • Once reaching a boil, I added the Magnum hops bittering addition.
  • After 50 minutes, I added the Irish moss.
  • Over 60 minutes, I boiled the wort down to 5.5 gallons; at flame-out, I added the aroma hops. These are partly randomly chosen to accentuate earthy aromas, and partly chosen to use up spare stock.
  • I cooled the wort down to ~76°, and transferred to my fermenter while aerating with the Venturi pump. I pitched the yeast, and sealed everything up. I’ll be fermenting at 66°.
  • Starting gravity was 1.070, with ~4.75 gallons into the fermenter.
  • I plan to ferment for ~10 days, transfer to the keg, and dry-hop for 14 days. For the last 7 days, I’ll add the oak chips (boiled in water to sterilize them). Then, carbonation!
  • I brewed the beer on the evening of 15 May 2015. Within 8 hours, the beer had krausened nicely and was fermenting along at a good clip. I expect I’ll agitate it a bit in a few days (as some have recommended for WLP041) to help fermentation along.
A note on refractometer calibration
  • I’ve been noting that the specific gravity scale on my refractometer is not terribly reliable, at least relative to my hydrometer. For instance, the refractometer read 1.065 when the hydrometer read 1.070, and for another batch 1.049 and 1.052, respectively. I had initially assumed a 0.02 difference, but the relationship is not strictly 1:1. So, I gathered up readings from a few batches, and came up with this equation:
    • h=1.1037604457r-0.105597493
      • Where h = hydrometer reading and r = refractometer reading
  • I plan to investigate this a little more thoroughly to come up with a quick-and-easy conversion.