April 26, 2016: Tasting Notes – Amber Ales, Belgian Blond, and Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter

Wanted to provide updated tasting notes on the dry-hopped Amber Ales, Amber Ale version 2, Belgian Blond, and the Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter (VBIP). The Belgian Blond and VBIP were initially tasted during the height of allergy season and the only thing that could be determined with any certainty was beer was being consumed. The dry-hopped Amber Ale was first tasted in mid-March prior to dry hopping. Under attenuated, under hopped, these beers were almost undrinkable. We combined the kegs and dry-hopped with 2 oz of Amarillo pellets. Finally, the Amber Ale version 2, brew day was discussed here. In a perfect world the tasting notes would have been posted two weeks ago, but clarity issues existed.

VBIP: %ABV – 9.8, IBU – data not captured

Aromas of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla. Mouth feel is creamy. Roasted flavors with hint of vanilla and bourbon. No alcohol burn despite ABV.

Belgian Blond: %ABV – 4.9, IBU – 10

Aroma is phenolic, reminiscent of cloves. Flavor is dry, slightly astringent, with phenol character. Color is darker than expected, and is very similar to the amber ale in color.

From left to right: dry-hopped amber ale; amber ale version 2.0

Dry hopped Amber Ale Combination: %ABV – ~4.79, IBU – 41

Aroma is citrus, with orange being prevalent, and malty. Sweet, but not as cloying as it was prior to dry hopping.

Amber Ale, version 2: % ABV – 6.3, IBU – 100

Aroma is citrus and malt. Flavor is sweet, with lingering bitterness that is not unpleasant. Some chill haze. Tasting notes were delayed due to microbiological haze (yeast). During transfer to the keg, some yeast was siphoned off from the secondary fermenter. Took a couple weeks for yeast to settle and to be purged from the fermenter (poured and dumped pints until clarity improved). Remaining haze is chill haze as concluded from the observation that the beer becomes clear as its temperature increases. We are pleased with this beer.

Yeast responsible for microbiological haze of amber ale, version 2.0
Yeast responsible for microbiological haze of amber ale, version 2.0

March 26, 2016: Amber Ale v. 2.0

Back to beer! After reliving Abby’s (the RV) mechanical breakdown issues in couple of posts we decided that we needed a drink. So it seemed logical to post about our Amber Ale, version 2.0. The grain bill on this recipe is the same as what our previous amber ale brews, with increased hops, single temperature mash, and a new yeast strain.


  • Starting gravity: 1.055
  • Final gravity: 1.007
  • Approximate %ABV: 6.3
  • Approximate IBUs: 100

Grain bill:

  • All grains Great Western Malting and purchased through More Beer.
  • 10 lbs 2 row domestic (#46080)
  • 1 lb 2 row pale (#45958)
  • 1 lb crystal 75L (#45744)

Hops (Pellet):

  • 2 oz Magnum 12.4% alpha acids (#45958)
  • 2 oz Amarillo 8.2% alpha acids (#46117)
  • 2 oz Cascade 6.8% alpha acids (#46014)


  • Wyeast 1450 Denny’s Favorite 50 (#0742020, mfg 1/20/2016)


  • pH of water was determined to be 8.2; 57 g of gypsum was added to 47L of water in the hot liquor tank which decreased the pH to 7.7

Procedure: Yeast was propagated in 1 L of media (0.5 c DME in 1L/~1qt water, boiled) in a 3L flask with stir bar that had been sanitized with boiling water. Media was inoculated from Wyeast Smack Pack. Propagation culture was grown at room temperature with stirring for 72 hours and was then transferred to a 4 degree Celsius for 24 hours.

Strike temperature was 74 degrees Celsius. A ~2:1 water to grist ratio was achieved with 11.5 liters of water. Mash in temperature was 63.3 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees below target. Mash out was conducted at 76 degrees Celsius. Mash was fly sparged at 79 degree Celsius until the volume of sweet wort in the boil kettle was approximately 8 gallons. Hydrometer reading of the last wort remaining in the mash tun was 5.0 Brix.

Sweet wort was brought to a vigorous boil. Magnum hops were added at 60 minutes, Amarillo hops added at 5 minutes with 1/2 tablet Whirlfloc, and the Cascade hops we added at heat off. After the trub settled, the hopped wort was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius with a counter-flow plate chiller with a recirculating ice/water slurry. Cooled wort was aerated with 90 seconds of oxygen through a sinter. Liquid was decanted off the top of the settle yeast, and the yeast slurry was pitched into the Speidel fermenter and left to ferment at room temperature.

Primary fermentation was complete after 72 hours and the diacetyl rest was allowed to proceed for 24 hours. The green beer was then transferred to secondary fermenter and allowed to stand at room temperature for 72 hours. The fermenter was then transferred to -1 degree Celsius for 6 days prior to kegging.

The amber ale was transferred to 1/3 keg and pressurized to 30 psi. The keg was placed on its side and rolled for approximately 2 minutes. The keg was then pressurized to 30 psi again and rolled for 5 minutes. The keg was pressurized once more to 30 psi and placed in the kegerator. We hope to have tasting notes in the next 24 to 48 hours.


  • We whirlpooled twice. We did not double check the position of the boil kettle outlet, and had to turn the kettle to prevent the hoses from pinching. In turning the kettle, we disturbed the trub and had to repeat the whirlpool. This may result in a DMS problem in our beer.
  • Fermentation was conducted at room temperature because the incubator was occupied by the Belgian Blonde and Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter being cold crashed.
  • Vigorous fermentation was observed, complete attenuation reached in 72 hours. We did a much better job collecting well spaced hydrometer readings to determine gravity. For our next batch we will also take pH readings to track the fermentation progress. More DATA!

    Graph of Amber Ale, version 2.0 specific gravity over the course of fermentation.
  • We discovered that our freezer became unplugged during the cold crash. We don’t know when, the fermenter did feel cold to the touch.
  • IBU values are higher than anticipated. Unfortunately, we do not have the equipment to perform an accurate assessment. We will have to determine during tasting if we decrease our hop additions.
  • The microscope is a fun tool. The picture below is yeast at 6 hours post pitching. The yeast looked happy. Happy yeast makes good beer.
Yeast from our Amber Ale version 2.0, 6 hours post pitching.

March 31, 2016: Tasting Notes – Belgian Blond and Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter

Belgian Blond (left) and Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter (right).

These are the tasting notes from our Belgian Blond (BB) and Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter (VBIP) extract/grain combination brew days. It should be noted that with this tasting Jess is suffering from allergy related stuffiness and could only be confident she drank beer; we are relying on Dave’s impressions since he is the less allergy-struck party. We will re-taste when our sinuses clear and most things no longer taste like well-chewed paper.

Belgian Blond

  • Original gravity: 1.043
  • Final gravity: 1.006
  • % ABV: 4.9
  • IBU: ~10

Visual Impressions: BB was darker than we were expecting (straw). Chill haze. Initial pour had good head, but foam stability is poor.

Aroma Impressions: Smelled strongly of cloves. No hop character. This was consistent with the aromas noted during fermentation.

Flavor Impressions: Dry. No hope bitterness. Phenolic after taste.

Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter

  • Original gravity: 1.083
  • Final gravity: 1.010
  • % ABV: 9.8
  • IBU: Data for calculations not captured

Visual Impressions: VBIP is dark. Initial pour had some head, but foam stability poor.

Aroma Impressions: Vanilla. Bourbon. Hint of leather (phenolic). No prominent hop aroma.

Flavor Impressions: Vanilla and bourbon present, but not overwhelming. Bitter after taste, but not harsh. Dry. Creamy mouth feel.


  • We forgot again and did all our fermenter and keg cleaning with water straight from the tap. The chlorination could be why the phenolic aroma is present in the VBIP and enhancing the natural phenolic character (due to yeast strain) of the BB.
  • The starter culture improved our attenuation. Forced fermentation wort studies will be conducted on wort batches in the future to determine final attenuation.
  • DATA! Still need pipetters for performing accurate dilutions, but once these are obtained, Jess is looking forward to constructing yeast growth curves to go along with the specific gravity curves. This is a late developing thought, but the pH of the fermentation can also be tracked, logged, and graphed.

March 20, 2016: Belgian Blond

This is another extract/grain kit. Not because we were short on time, but because we didn’t think far enough in advance to order our grains from More Beer for delivery by Saturday. The local home brew stores we are familiar with did not have the grains we wanted for another attempt at an amber ale. So we settled for the Belgian Blond kit from The Brewmeister.

Graph of Belgian Blond wort specific gravity during fermentation.

The milled grains were steeped at 72 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, with the steep temperature decreasing to 70 degrees Celsius over the time course. The liquid malt extract (LME) was added to the water and mixed to ensure the mix was homogeneous. Initial volume was approximately 8 gallons. The sweet wort was brought to a vigorous boil for 60 minutes. Hop additions were made at 45 and 5 minutes (1 oz each addition). Hopped wort was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius and transferred to a Speidel 30L HDPE fermenter and aerated for 90 seconds with oxygen. The wort was inoculated with 1 L of 36 hour starter culture of WLP500. Original gravity was 1.043. Gravity readings were taken at 8 to 24 hour intervals over the course of fermentation.

What went well?

  • The stand proves its worth every time we brew on it.

    800X bright field microscope image of WLP500 starter culture.
    800X bright field microscope image of WLP500 starter culture.
  • Captured more relevant data.
  • The microscope purchase was well worth it. This yeast strain had an extended lag phase and sampling the starter culture 8 hours after inoculation showed actively budding cells.

Areas for improvement

  • Data capture. Still need to get a form together.
  • Rather sporadic time intervals of gravity readings and the long gap between pitching and the next reading.
  • Water usage. Estimate of 4 gallons of water used for every gallon of finished beer. We will keep looking for ways to decrease our water consumption.


  • 6.6 lbs Briess Pilsner LME
  • 1 lb Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb Munich malt
  • 2 oz Styrian Goldings (1.4% alpha acids), split (45 minutes, 5 minutes)
  • 1/2 tablet whirlfoc (5 minutes)
  • Yeast: WLP500 (Monastery Ale, Lot #: 1023586)

March 15, 2016: Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter

It was Tuesday! Jess was in class, Alex was in daycare, the sun was shining, and Dave took full advantage to brew. The selected beer was a simple Imperial Porter from Experimental Homebrewing (Beechum and Conn, pg 122) as a combination dry malt extract (DME) and grain brew (see below for malt extract/grain bill).

The milled grains were steeped at 70 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. 6 lbs of DME was dissolved and the sweet wort was boiled for 60 minutes. Hops additions were at 4o and 10 minutes. Wort was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius and the wort was inoculated with a 1.1 L of a 36 hour starter culture. Wort was aerated with oxygen for three 30 second intervals. The Speidel 30L HDPE fermenter was transferred to a 20 degree Celsius incubator. Original gravity was 1.083.

Graph of specific gravity of Imperial Porter wort.
Graph of specific gravity of Imperial Porter wort.

During fermentation, specific gravity readings were taken at approximate 12 hour intervals and graphed. The final gravity achieved by fermentation was 1.010, reached by Thursday evening. On Saturday, we decided that we would transfer the Imperial Porter to a secondary fermenter and add vanilla bean (usually we just use our keg as our bright tank). Bourbon will be added at kegging, so the final beer will be a Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter.

What went well?

  • The starter culture gave led to a vigorous fermentation. Happy yeast make good beer.
  • Our set up. Everything went smoothly on Dave’s second brew on the system. Hoses weren’t falling on the ground and everything was consolidated in a single location.
  • The extract kit with specialty grain steep was easy. Doesn’t mean we are giving up whole grain, but when you need to save some time or perhaps your mash tun isn’t quite big enough to handle doubling the grain bill, DME as substitute for the base malt is easy.
  • Taking the gravity at intervals. It is nice knowing how the fermentation is progressing.

What went poorly?

  • Missed capturing some information (hop alpha acids %, weights, yeast lot number, amount of water used) but we are working on a spreadsheet to capture all the data. Yes, there are programs, but why go electronic when there is good old paper and pen?
  • Not that this went poorly – we are just going to have to wait ~ 2 to 3 more weeks before we can taste. Patience. Bah!


  • 6 lbs DME
  • 2.75 lbs Munich Malt (10L)
  • 1.6 lbs Brown Malt (70L)
  • 1.38 lbs Chocolate Malt (350L)
  • 1 lb Crystal Malt (120L)
  • 0.5 lb Crystal Malt (60L)
  • 0.75 oz (?) Magnum Hop Pellet (40 minutes)
  • 0.5 oz (?) Progress Hop Pellet (10 minutes)
  • Whirlfloc (10 minutes)
  • 2 vanilla beans, scrapped (into secondary) and chopped (into secondary)
  • 375 mL Bourbon (into keg)
  • Yeast: Wyeast 1056

March 20, 2016: Tasting Notes – Amber Ale Update

Two temperature mash on left, single temperature on right.
Two temperature mash on left, single temperature on right.

So an update on our poor, under-attenuated amber ales. We have been discussing dumping them because we are going to need the kegerator space. However, they earned a reprieve when 1. our bitter chocolate oatmeal stout keg kicked and freed up space and 2. we decided to make a vanilla bourbon stout that will need to be racked for 10 – 14 days. So, the amber ales survive!

We decided to see if anything has changed in the past week since our first tasting and we were pleasantly surprised! The picture doesn’t do the clarity justice (a light box will be added to the to be purchased list), but the beer is clear! Especially the single temperature mash. We are also pleased the quantity and stability of the single mash foam. These two beers were poured within a minute of each other and the picture taken within a couple minutes of pour. The flavor of both beers is still sweet and under-hopped. The two temperature mash has a drier finish hidden under the residual sweetness.

So what to do next? Since their dates with drain destiny have been placed on hold, we might as well dry hop the amber ales and see if they improve.

March 13, 2016: Tasting Notes (Amber Ale Two Ways)

This is a continuation of the home brew we started February 28, 2016.

Fermentation was finished by March 3, 2016 and we sampled the beer to obtain the gravity reading. We then dropped the temperature to -1 degree Celsius to facilitate chill haze formation and precipitation on March 4, 2016. We transferred to kegs on March 7, 2016 after Alex went to bed.

We tasted the beer on March 13, 2016 with Jesse, a friend and classmate.

Amber Ale Two Temperature Mash Stats:

Original Gravity: 1.0611

Final Gravity: 1.027

%ABV: 4.46

IBU: 41

Amber Ale Single Temperature Mash Stats:

Original Gravity: 1.0663

Final Gravity: 1.0298

%ABV: 5.12

IBU: 41


  • The final gravity it is clear we did not achieve full attenuation (~1.015).
  • It is not surprising the aroma is very malty with very little hop aroma.
  • Color is amber with a hint of red. Two temperature mash may be a bit darker.
  • Beer is cloudy.
  • Both beers live up to their malty aroma in flavor and are sweet. Very little hop bitterness is evident.
  • The two temperature mash is dryer than the one temperature mash, but with the poor attenuation, difficult to distinguish.
  • They are not bad . . . but they aren’t exactly good. Both beers are an excellent example of how bitterness from hops make beers drinkable by balancing the sweetness.
  • Beers are drinkable if done in small amounts. Should not be paired with sweet foods.
  • Single temperature mash is preferred.

Plan of Action:

Jesse talked us out of our panicked throw the kitchen sink at the next brew and got us back to a place of logical thinking.

What we know: poor attenuation, acetaldehyde aromas during fermentation, hint of diacetyl in finished beer. Yeast were pitched directly from the pure pack (no starter) and aeration was done by shaking the fermenter. We used WLP002 (British Ale yeast)

What this points to: Unhappy yeast because of lazy home brewers. Which is frustrating because we were careful in other aspects of our experiment.

What we will do for the next brew:

  • Use a starter culture. ~1.5L for a 19L fermentation.
  • Consider aeration of the wort with an aeration stone and oxygen (we just got a new oxygen tank).
  • We will hold off on any bittering hop additions on the theory that the sweetness is overwhelming the bitterness.
  • We will add more aroma hops at the end of the boil.
  • We will take more frequent gravity measurements to better track fermentation.