Monthly Archives: December 2015

Tasting Notes: Australian Sparkling Ale

When tasting as opposed to merely drinking a beer I always go back to the question, “Does the beer taste like it is supposed to taste?”. This Australian Sparkling Ale is the first example of the style I have tasted, but drinking the beer it feels like it does. Australia in the 19th Century wasn’t too dissimilar to the American West. This is a beer I can imagine drinking out of the bottle in the sweltering heat of the Australian Outback.

The beer pours an orange-ish copper. The head is foamy and white with very good retention.  The clarity is brilliant when this bottle-conditioned beer is poured carefully.

Honey and melon esters are prominent in the aroma. Hop aroma is low and blends nicely with the esters. As the beer warms there are low notes of bread crust consistent with the high percentage of pilsner malt.

The mouthfeel is medium-low bodied, carbonation is medium to medium high, and the finish is balanced nicely. Any more corn sugar in the boil would have made the beer a bit harsh. The malt flavor in the beer is understated. There is some low caramel notes overplayed with a graham cracker flavor. Like a graham cracker with a little extra honey. The hop flavor is medium-low, but assertive and unique. I would describe the hop flavor as a mix of pine and spearmint.

The Pride of Ringwood hops are not like any American, British, European, or Southern Hemisphere hop that I have brewed with. It is an acquired taste to a degree, but a flavor I have learned to enjoy. The last hop addition in this beer was at 20 minutes left in the boil. I have seen clone recipes for Cooper’s Sparkling Ale, the preeminent example of this style, that call for hops at five minutes and flameout. It would be interesting to try someday, but I am skeptical how it would work.

This recipe is perfect based on the description on the website. This beer is “patterned after a descendant of Burton Ale”. After brewing and drinking the beer it reminds me of Bass Ale, but with the distinctive Pride of Ringwood hops. I suspect if I swapped out the Pride of Ringwood hops with an English hop like Goldings, the beer would be pretty close to a Bass clone.

It was an easy beer to brew and it is enjoyable to drink. Regrettably when I tried to review the kit on the Northern Brewer website it appears the kit is no longer available. The PDF of the instructions is still online. There is nothing to stop someone from buying the ingredients ala carte and brewing this up. I would encourage anyone looking to brew something easy or something different to give this a try.

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Dry Yeast vs liquid yeast

Like glass versus plastic equipment, there are pros and cons to using dry yeast or liquid yeast. I eluded to some of them when I purchased my stir plate.

Most brewers start with dry yeast because it’s the easiest to work with. The instructions on the sachet say to sprinkle the yeast onto the wort and call it a day. Most brewers, myself included re-hydrate their yeast. Essentially you add the yeast to some water about half an hour before pitching the yeast. This gives the yeast time to reconstitute itself into it’s natural, liquid form before devouring all the sugars in the wort.

Another aspect to the ease of using dry yeast is that if does not require a yeast starter. Unlike liquid yeast, most dry yeasts contain more than enough cells in the package to ferment most worts. If brewing a high-gravity beer all you need to do is buy another package.

It’s always good to have a few packets of dry yeast on hand at your homebrewery. Whereas liquid yeast loses most of its vitality after a few months, dry yeast is good for up to two years if kept cool in a refridgerator or freezer. If you have a spontaneous brew day and haven’t prepared a starter of liquid yeast, dry yeast is always ready to go. If there is something wrong with your liquid yeast, dry yeast can always be used as a Plan B like with my recent Curly’s Milk Stout brew day.

The dry yeasts available today are excellent. They are every bit as good in quality as liquid yeasts. Many commercial brewers use dry yeast. I spoke with one at a local bottle shop who described the huge bricks of Safale S05 they pitch into their worts. Many home brewers have followed suit. My cousin and occasional co-brewer Andy uses dry yeasts almost exclusively in his recipes and kits that he brews.

Dry yeast is less expensive, but dry yeast manufactures do not recommend reusing dry yeast. If you have several batches lined up that are similar styles or will use the same yeast, liquid yeast can be more affordable if you reuse it.

Marshall Schott aka Brülosopher, developed a method of overbuilding and harvesting yeast from his starters to save for future. It is also possible to freeze liquid yeast. I have a frozen container of The Yeast Bay’s Vermont Ale Yeast from the summer of 2014. With any luck I’ll be able to thaw it out and slowly step it up with a series of yeast starters on my stir plate next time I want to use it.

Regular readers of the blog will know, but a lot of other people might not realize the profound effect yeast can have on the flavor, aroma, and appearance of the beer. There are many more varieties of liquid yeast available than there are dry yeast. The Geary’s clones we brewed a few months ago would have been perfectly good if fermented with dry yeast, but the beer wouldn’t have been as close to the commercial versions if we didn’t ferment it with Ringwood Ale yeast. Ringwood is only available in liquid form.

There are plenty of commercial and homebrewers that use Chico (1056/WLP001/S05) as their house strain. As a brewer I like to differentiate my beers by using different yeasts. For that reason and the reusability I gravitate more toward liquid yeasts. The last couple beers I made that called for Chico like my Celebration Ale clone, I used the dry S05 version because it was cheaper and easier.

Every brewer should have a few packets of dry yeast on hand. I try to keep at least one packet of S05, Safale S04 which is a versatile English strain you can never go wrong with, and Nottingham which can be used in almost any style depending on the fermentation temperature.

With liquid yeast you can have a yeast bank at home. You can do this via Brülosopher’s method of overbuilding and harvesting, or you can harvest yeast from a finished beer, rinse it, and repitch it into a future batch. This is what most commercial breweries do. They also have the technology to make sure the yeast they are reusing hasn’t been overly stressed or mutated. For a homebrewer I would suggest freezing any yeast you don’t plan on using within the next four to six months.

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Brew Day: Curly’s Milk Stout 1.4

After Ales for ALS I was probably overdue to brew my next batch of Curly’s Milk Stout, my flagship brew. I still have about six bottles left from Batch 1.3, I found four bottles from Batch 1.2, and still have a 22 ounce bomber from the beer’s first iteration Batch 1.1. Once this batch is complete I’ll have to do a vertical tasting of all four versions and notate any perceived differences.

Recipe-wise I had to make some last-minute changes. Whenever I buy a lot of ingredients at once I always forget at least one. This time it was the Medium English Crystal malt which augments the sweetness of the lactose. Instead of going out of my way to buy one pound of grain I substituted a half pound respectively of 60L American Caramel Malt and German Caramel Wheat Malt. These were leftover malts from earlier batches. Since I mill my own grain at home they were still fresh. I don’t anticipate this having much of an effect on the flavor, but I could be wrong.


One change I do think will have a noticeable effect is that this batch will be fermented with a different yeast. I haven’t used the Burton Ale yeast the recipe calls for in several months. I had a jar of yeast that I harvested from the Midlands Mild back in July. I tried to use it to make a yeast starter for this batch to build up enough yeast cells for fermentation and to save for future batches.


The first problem I ran into was that I couldn’t find a yeast stir bar. That’s the pill-shaped magnet that goes inside of the flask and stirs the yeast. In a year and a half I have lost three of them. I still thought I could make my starter without one by adding pure O2 to the starter and shaking it every so often. After two days there was no sign of krausen inside the flask, and there was a noticeable sulfur aroma. At this point I didn’t have time to buy new yeast and build a yeast starter.


Situations like this is where dry yeast can be a lifesaver. All you need to do is hydrate the yeast and pitch it into the wort. I used a packet of Nottingham yeast that had a “best by” date of February 2016, so it is good that I used it beforehand. Nottingham has a much cleaner profile than Burton Ale. When I do my vertical tasting of all four batches I can decide which yeast works the best in this beer.


Procedurally I experimented with boiling more of my wort. My electric stove-top isn’t capable of boiling the full volume of the batch. I tried to boil four gallons in my eight gallon kettle when I brewed my English Golden Ale. The boil was very soft and the resulting beer was cloudy. When I reduced my boil volume in my Cream Ale, the clarity greatly improved. Here I mashed in my right gallon kettle before transferring to my five gallons kettle to boil. I was able to brew about four and a half gallons this way. The lack of airspace in the smaller kettle and smaller diameter (which placed more of the wort over the burner) made a huge difference.


I still plan to make coffee and chocolate variants.  I will use half the amount of coffee and double the amount of chocolate I used last time as I perfect the amount of both to add.

Click here for full recipe

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Tasting Notes: Curly’s Chocolate and Coffee Milk Stout

It is coming up on time to brew another batch of Curly’s Milk Stout, my flagship beer. After Ales for ALS I was down to a half dozen bottles. I have been hoarding the chocolate and coffee variants since I ended up with about eight bottles of each. Overall I am happy with how both came out.

The coffee in the aroma of the coffee is dominant. It is earthy with notes of fresh pot soil. The velvety dark chocolate aroma in the chocolate variant plays a supporting role with the other aromas from the base beer.

The chocolate has an frothy, off-white head with fair retention. The coffee has fizzy, a soda-like tan head that disappears almost immediately.

The chocolate version doesn’t have an overpowering chocolate flavor. It compliments and enhances the chocolate notes from the base beer. If I wanted more chocolate flavor I might try to add more chocolate at the end of the boil, during primary fermentation, as well as secondary fermentation as I did during this batch. That of course would require brewing a separate, chocolate-only batch. For a split batch I could add some chocolate extract at bottling. I think the beer is perfect as it is. The level of chocolate flavor is a matter of preference.

As the aroma and appearance would suggest, the coffee flavor is dominant in the coffee version. Adding an extra scoop of coffee may not have been the best idea. The beer is good, especially if you enjoy rich, black coffee. Jennie preferred the coffee version. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference. Next time I probably would dial back the amount of coffee just a little.

After drinking both side-by-side I blended the dregs from the bottles together. I blended approximately one part coffee, two parts chocolate into a tasting glass. This mocha blend was quite good. The bitterness from the coffee was muted, but there was still plenty of coffee and chocolate flavor.

For my next batch I think I am going to tweak the coffee and chocolate variants. I think I’ll use less coffee and more chocolate to compare with this batch.



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Time for my beer to grow up

This carboy is full of beer, the way it should be!

This carboy is full of beer, the way it should be!

I have four five-gallon glass carboys for secondary fermentation. At the time I would rack my wort into a secondary and free up my primary fermenters to make more beer. I was also brewing lagers at the time which would sit in the carboy for secondary fermentation of up to eight weeks.

There is great debate about whether a secondary fermentation is necessary. Technically in most cases a secondary fermentation is not an actual fermentation; it is more about the beer aging and maturing. I feel my beers are clearer and brighter when I use a secondary, but over time I have gotten away from doing it. Most of my beers are low enough in alcohol that they do not need extended time to age. Skipping a secondary is also just easier; it’s one less step.

Frequently now when I do rack to a secondary it is when I am too lazy to bottle, and just want to get the wort off the trub and avoid any associated off-flavors. This is precisely what we with the Geary’s HSA clone we brewed. Andy’s kegs were full so we decided to bottle. After four weeks in the primary we racked to a carboy until we would have time to wash enough bottles. When we racked the beer to the secondary I was scared the beer was ruined by autolysis, an off-flavor caused by the beer sitting on dead yeast. We racked the beer and hoped for the best. The beer sat in Andy’s basement for another month before bottling day.  When I tasted the beer on bottling day I’ll be darned if it didn’t taste like an HSA!

Bigger beers like Hampshire Special Ale need time to mature. The high levels of sugar that is fermented also creates a high level of byproducts which give the beer off-flavors. Additional time to mature gives the yeast time to clean up those byproducts. Even after being racked to a secondary vessel, there is still enough yeast in suspension to do the job.

A high gravity beer with a lot of flavors is a lot like a lasagna. It is great when it is fresh, but often times it is even better after it has sat in the fridge for a couple of days. The same can apply to a beer. The higher alcohol levels in a bigger beer can make the beer taste and feel hot and alcoholic when it is young. That character will mellow with time.

The HSA was the first beer I have brewed that was over 7% alcohol in a long time. For the most part my five gallon carboys have been sitting empty for months. If they are going to take up space, they may as well have beer in them!

The other nice thing about higher gravity/higher alcohol beers is that they age well. If I brew five gallons of IPA, the hop character will dissipate over time. After a few months in the bottle, the flavor and aroma will be so degraded I won’t want to drink it anymore. It is almost a race to drink it all. A strong stout or scotch ale will age nicely in the bottle. I won’t have to worry about drinking it all in a short period of time.

These are beers I am exited to brew, give as gifts, and see how they evolve over months and years. I may even buy a new computer and printer so we can design and make labels for these brews.

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Brew Day: 1905 Holiday Ale (Pre-Prohibition Amber Ale)

I was extremely happy with how my Hot Stove Porter came out last year. I actually still have a few bottles left. I recently popped one open that had been in my beer fridge. The hop aroma was gone, there was still some hop flavor, but the malt flavor was much more prominent. The beer has aged nicely.

For some reason though I felt like brewing something different for the winter this year. I am also downsizing the amount of beer that I brew. That I still have bottles of last year’s Hot Stove Porter demonstrates that I have been brewing too much beer.

In September I came across this article on the Brew Your Own website with two Pre-Prohibition recipes from a brewery in Connecticut. Prohibition was certainly a cataclysmic event in American brewing. There has been a perception that Pre-Prohibition beers made in America were bold and flavorful, unlike mass-produced lagers that dominated after Prohibition and into the second half of the 20th Century.

There is a romance to Pre-Prohibition beer, the notion that we have a lost history of brewing flavorful beer in America. When I came across this recipe for 1905 Holiday Ale, I wanted to try it. Eyeballing the recipe I expect the beer to have no hop flavor or aroma. The high volume of corn sugar in the recipe makes me think this beer will finish dry and harsh. The high amount of dark caramel malt must be where the balance comes from. The fact I am so unsure of this recipe makes it perfect for a one gallon batch. If the beer is terrible, I am only out a few dollars and I can dump the beer.

In the article the author said he used an English yeast, which seemed like a solid choice given the British influence on American ale makers of the time like Ballantine, but he said he wished he used an American yeast like 1056. I used the dry version of Chico, S05. I brewed this at the same time I brewed my Celebration clone. It was easy to hydrate the dry yeast, pitch most of the liquid in the Celebration, and the rest in this beer. My first choice would have been to use Old Newark Ale, or 1272 American Ale II. For a one gallon batch the dry yeast was easier and cheaper.

On brew day I noticed I only had 0.1 oz of Cluster hops. I used some leftover Perle and Liberty hops from Pa’s Video Board Lager. These German-derived hops are two hops that are not entirely dissimilar to the hops that were available back then. As it is, the beer should have little to no hop flavor.

Historical beer recipes were records for the brewer at that time. They tend to have a lot of short-hand making them not always easy to read and decipher for a modern brewer. Ingredients also change and evolve over time. For example, the brown malt used to make London Porter in the late 1700s no longer exists. Replicating the flavor of a historical beer involves a certain level of conjecture and comprimise. I am curious to try a taste of re-created history!

See the full recipe here

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Goose Black Friday

I am not a patient person. The longest I will wait for anything is usually 20-30 minutes. I also loathe waking up early. Goose Black Friday combined both.

My aversion to waiting usually extends to beer. I am not the type of person who will typically wait in line to buy a rare beer. Even when we drive up to Maine a few times a year I think the longest I have ever waited at Bissell Brothers is probably half an hour. Last week I made an exception.

Every Black Friday Goose Island releases their Bourbon County line of beers. These beers are highly sought after and sell quickly. These beers are in excess of 12% alcohol by volume and aged in used Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for at least six months.

The Bourbon County Brand Stout was one of the first barrel-aged beers when it was first released in 1992. Since then Goose Island has added several variants, and every year releases different ones. The variants are harder to come by than the stout. Last year I was able to buy the stout and barleywine locally in Beverly. I wasn’t able to buy and bottles vanilla rye or coffee, but I was able to find the coffee on draught at Sylvan Street Grille.

This year I saw online that Redstone Liquors in Stoneham was having a Goose Island sponsored event on Black Friday. They would be selling the stout, coffee, and regal rye. Redstone probably has the best selection of craft beer and bourbon on the North Shore. They recently moved to a new space. The new location actually has a classroom for tastings. The first event in the new classroom would be a special Goose Island tasting event. When I was able to score Jennie and I a couple of tickets on Wednesday I decided to make the trip down for the release at 6:00 a.m. That was when the line started, the store didn’t open until 8:00 a.m.

We arrived at Redstone right around  six and there may have been 5-10 people in front of us in line. Goose Island brought donuts and coffee. There was enough stout to go around for the folks who arrived early, but the variants were very limited and there were games to determine who would have the opportunity to buy one.

They started with trivia. The first question was where was the original Goose Island brewpub located. Jennie yelled out “Lincoln Park!” which was correct. She had her choice of Coffee or Regal Rye. I told her to get coffee, so she chose rye. Welp. After that chuckle I asked how she knew the answer. While we were driving to Stoneham, she was reading about Goose Island on Wikipedia.  Luckily I was able to win the chance to buy the coffee playing cornhole so it all worked out.

In the end we were able to buy both variants, four bottles of the stout, and a bottle of the stout from 2014. Redstone also has a tap system in their new store for sampling. Going forward the plan is to charge $2 per sample of rare beers with all of the proceeds going to charity.

The classroom session was excellent. We viewed videos produced by Goose Island showing how Bourbon County is made, The Grit and the Grain, while sampling brews. Seeing the effort that goes into producing these beers gave me even more appreciation for them, especially as a brewer myself.

We got to try two previous Bourbon County beers, and several of the even more elusive “Sour Sisters”. The Sour Sisters are sour beers made by Goose Island in even lower quantities than Bourbon County. They were all exceptional and it was a great experience to try them.



I can’t ever see myself hunting for “whalez bro” or being an avid beer trader. More often than not I am content to buy beer at the store that is readily available. I told myself if I only resort to waiting in line for beer on special occasions I am not like those retail customers that I used to hate who waited for hours on Black Friday to buy a crappy TV.

Out of curiousity I looked to see if there were any Bourbon County clone kits available. An all-grain kit was $82.95 and extract was $118.25. In contrast my typical 5-gallon batch costs anywhere from $20-45. That is just a small example of what goes into making these special beers.

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