December 2013 Troubleshooter's Corner Notes
Possibly Too Thin Porter
Next up was a porter that the brewer was worried was "too thin" and not to their liking. The beer presented with an obvious fruity ester (apples, plums) that was completely yeast derived. After looking up the yeast strain, it was discovered to be the Ringwood strain - one of my least favorites because it has a nasty habit of being a dirty yeast that leaves it's mess laying around in the form of excess diacetyl and other characters (and yes, it's an ester bomb). Fortunately, this beer didn't have any of Ringwood's characteristic diacetyl butteriness. After talking with the brewer and their expectations, it seems less like the beer has any overt flaws, even the ester profile falls at the outer edge of the style, and more like the recipe just wasn't what they were wanting. The body did fall out to a thinner side towards the finish (as I would expect), but it was lacking in any of the harsh acrid roast notes. Brewer was advised that if they wanted a "thicker" beer, they should consider increasing the amount of mid range (40-80L) crystal/caramel and add a body boosting adjunct like unmalted barley or oats.
West Coaster Flabster Amber
This was a beer that had the brewer worried mostly because it wasn't what he was expecting. The initial nose was toasty with a grassy grain character stopped by a mild phenolic approach. At first the focus was on the water - did it still have chlorine or chloramine in it? - no. Moving on the beer itself continued to have a clean toasty malt presence, but more of the phenols and a very watery feel to the beer. So, this points to a few things in our minds - the phenols are likely to be from the hops, they're mild and are paired with a tannic tea-like note that I usually associate with hops. The watery middle and finish to the beer makes you wonder if there isn't an issue with the mashing temps - as in the beer was mashed too long at too low a temperature. Brewer was advised to check their thermometer to make sure their hitting their actual mash temps.. (I believe this was the first all grain batch as well, so you know how that goes).
The next two beers were from the same brewer and I think really helped us cleave his problem in twain. The first beer was a marzen that presented with a number of great marzeny characters. It had sufficient body to support a rich Munich malt flavor without being cloying and obnoxious on the palate. However, the beer presented with a very clear medicinal chlorophenol aroma that screams "water issue". The brewer procures his water from a commercial RO machine setup. If those machines are properly maintained, then they work fantastically, the problem is that many of them aren't. Even maintaining a home RO system is a pain, let alone one that's filtering unknown gallons of water per day. Brewer was advised to buy some chloramine test strips (find them as aquarium test kits) and check the water coming from his commercial RO source. Also, I'd recommend keeping some campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite on hand to be sure to drive off any chlorine/chloramine.
Shop Brew Porter
This was the second brew from the Marzen brewer and came from a Shop Brew. This batch was dandy and just fine. No phenols, no esters. It had a light hammy, smokey thing going on, but I find that a lot in dark beers with minor yeast health issues. The Kiln Coffee used in the recipe really shines through. So why did this beer help us focus on the brewer's issues? Well, it proved that they can pull of fermentation and packaging without introducing any problems. This helps us focus on that first part of the hobby and helps indicate that the issue lays a little earlier in the mix. So - useful tip - having issues? Frustrated? Try brewing outside your normal space, either with a friend or at one of our Shop Brews.
Hazed Up IPA
A tale of two beers and the importance of maintain a smooth control over fermentation. This was a beer that while waiting for packaging experienced a chest freezer outage. The temperature wildly flucuated and I believe ultimately the temperature crashed due to the weather outside (my notes don't indicate - if I got this wrong, please let me know!). The IPA brought for sampling was cloudy and hazy where it's cousin, pulled from the chest freezer before the conkinating, wasn't. There was also an issue with diacetyl going on - probably from the yeast failing to have suffcient clean up time. The brewer was advised - steady temps are better than colder temps and you can use US-05 to clean up the diacetyl. Brewer should have also been advised that Gelatin or Super-Kleer are your friends when dealing with hazy beers. (I plead the 3 big samples of Falconsclaws prior to the tasting)
Kaffir, a staple of Thai cuisine, always seems to be on the verge of "popping". Instead, it's been relegated to a background player appearing from time to time when a brewer stumbles on it or wants to make a "different wit" - seriously go look, I think 3/4's of the brew applications of kaffir is in wit biers. This brewer mostly wanted feed back on was it too much. The answer is no. They used 2 grams in a 3 gallon batch and held it at 64F in the beer for 1 week. I liked where the kaffir character was - it was there, but not "HI! I'M KAFFIR - DO YOU WANT TO BE FRIENDS?". However, the brewer wanted a little more character, so we advised caution and at a try and 2.5 gms for three gallons for the next batch and keep using Wyeast 3711 since I feel that will better compliment the "tropical" nature of Kaffir.
Lavender Honey Blonde
Last beer as the meeting was called back to order. As opposed to the Kaffir beer, this was a Lavender bomb. Almost, but not quite Tsar Bomba Lavender Bomb. This was made with 3/4 oz of lavender added to the secondary of a 5 gallon batch. Too much and I like Lavender a lot. The base beer was dandy and therefore the only adjustment needed is a touch less of the lavender.
And that was your troubleshooter's corner for the month of December! As always, if you have a beer you'd like close feedback on, just bring it to the club meeting and wait for the call to adjourn to Troubleshooter's. We promise to give your our honest opinions with an eye towards improving your brewing process or how to tweak a recipe!