Inner Richmond Oatmeal Rye Stout

I love stouts—especially Oatmeal Stouts—and it was high time I brewed one again. Only this time, I decided to kick the recipe up a notch and give the beer a dry, spicy finish with a handful of malted rye in the mash.

Grain bill:
6.0 lb (61.5%) Maris Otter - added during mash
1 lb (10.3%) Rye Malt - added during mash
1 lb (10.3%) Oat Flakes - added during mash
.5 lb (5.1%) Crystal Malt 80°L - added during mash
.5 lb (5.1%) Chocolate Malt - added during mash
.5 lb (5.1%) Roast Barley - added during mash
.25 lb (2.6%) Black Malt - added during mash

Hop schedule:
.5 oz (50.0%) Magnum (14.5%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m
.5 oz (50.0%) Magnum (14.5%) - added during boil, boiled 30 m

1.0 ea White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale
Inner Richmond Oatmeal Rye Stout pours an opaque black with a one-and-a-half finger off-white head that falls into a dense cap. The aroma is bittersweet chocolate and deep roasted coffee with a touch of malt graininess. The taste is primarily of dark roasted malt with some sweetness—toffee, espresso, and bitter chocolate. It’s thick and sticky in the mouth with moderate carbonation and a dry finish that cuts some of the oatmeal’s creaminess. There’s a little roasted malt astringency, but nothing too far out of style.
Overall, it’s a tasty beer. In the future, I think I’ll bump up both the oatmeal and rye percentages to give it a more distinct character and back off on some of the darker roasted grains (or add them later) to mellow out the taste a bit.

Pacific Standard California Common

The next brew is a quintessential San Francisco style: the California Common. Typified by the iconic Anchor Steam, the beer uses a hybrid ale/lager yeast and, most commonly, Northern Brewer hops to create a hoppy, light amber ale with a mildly fruity, crisp finish.

6.0 lb (75.0%) American 2-row - added during mash
1 lb (12.5%) Munich Malt - added during mash
.5 lb (6.2%) Victory® Malt - added during mash
.25 lb (3.1%) Crystal Malt 40°L - added during mash
.25 lb (3.1%) Crystal Malt 20°L - added during mash

Hop schedule:
1 oz (100.0%) Northern Brewer (8.0%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m

1.0 ea White Labs WLP810 San Francisco Lager

Pacific Standard is the first batch I’ve brewed that comes anywhere close to a lager—even if, flavor-wise, it’s closer to an ale. Fermented at the higher end of the yeast’s recommended temperature, the would-be the clean, crisp finish comes across a bit softer and rounder.

Poured into a pint glass, Pacific Standard is a mildly hazy amber color with a dense one-and-a-half finger white head that sticks around as a tight cap and leaves a bit of lacing. The aroma is of woody hops with notes of bread-like malt. The taste starts with a bit of malt sweetness quickly followed by earthy, herbal (but clean) hop character that lingers into a bitter, slightly fruity finish with a touch of hop astringency. It’s well-carbonated and has a medium body.
Anchor Steam (L) & Pacific Standard (R)
Side-by-side with a glass of Anchor Steam, it’s hard to tell the two apart (outside of a bit of chill haze in the Pacific Standard). The taste is pretty close, too—though the Anchor has a crisper finish.

So is Pacific Standard a perfect Anchor clone? Not quite. But it is a very solid rendition of this commercially-illusive style, and one I’ll definitely brew again.

Hippie Hill IPA

The next round in my search for the perfect IPA is a copper-colored, all-Zythos hop recipe that I’m calling Hippie Hill.

8.0 lb (80.0%) American 2-row - added during mash
1 lb (10.0%) Crystal Malt 10°L - added during mash
.5 lb (5.0%) Barley Flaked - added during mash
.25 lb (2.5%) Belgian Caravienne - added during mash
.25 lb (2.5%) Pilsner Malt - added during mash

Hop schedule:
.5 oz (14.3%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - added first wort, boiled 90 m
.5 oz (14.3%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - added during boil, boiled 90 m
.5 oz (14.3%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - added during boil, boiled 5.0 m
.5 oz (14.3%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - added during boil, boiled 1.0 m
.5 oz (14.3%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - steeped after boil
1 oz (28.6%) Zythos™ (10.9%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

1.0 ea White Labs WLP001 California Ale

The grainbill was partially improvised when the local homebrew store was out of a few malts in the original recipe, Carapils most notably. Looking to add some body and head retention, I added a half pound of flaked barley. This had the desired effect, but also contributed to a persistent haziness that isn’t really to-style. I realize now that I probably could have adjusted my mash temperature to give the wort more body.

Hippie Hill was a bit of an experiment in other ways as well. I had ordered a half pound of Zythos hops and decided to use them all the way through the hop schedule. Zythos isn’t a hop cultivar—it’s a newly-released hop mixture intended to replace scarcer IPA varieties like Simcoe and Citra.

Hippie Hill pours a deep copper color and, like its namesake spot in Golden Gate Park, is pretty hazy. A one-finger white head dissipates quickly into a ring that clings around the edges of the glass and leaves patchy lacing. The aroma isn’t very strong, but has notes of citrus and tropical fruit. The taste is of malt sweetness balanced by a bitter twang up front followed by orange and lemon flavors with a grassy, grapefruit-y, pineapple-y finish that lingers. The body is medium and the carbonation is medium-low.

Overall, it’s a nice, fruity ale that barely skirts around the traditional IPA profile. Competition judges seem to agree, noting that it’s a tasty beer, but not a classic IPA. (Scores fall into the “Good” classification of 21-29 points). I think different late hop additions could bring it more in line with what I’m after.

Downtime Dubbel

 Up next is a classic Belgian Dubbel—a style I enjoy, but, until this batch, had yet to brew. Most famously crafted by Trappist monks, the dubbel is among the darker Belgian abbey ales and is typified by notes of dark fruit, toffee, and clove.
6.5 lb Maris Otter
.5 lb Belgian Biscuit
.25 lb Belgian Caramunich
.25 lb Belgian Aromatic
.25 lb Oat Flakes
.15 lb Belgian Special B

Hop schedule:
.5 oz Tettnanger (4.5%) - added during boil, boiled 60.0 m
.5 oz Tettnanger (4.5%) - added during boil, boiled 30 m

.25 lb Dark Brown Sugar

1.0 ea White Labs WLP500 Trappist Ale

Downtime Dubbel (so named because I brewed it during a between-job lull) pours a reddish brown that becomes a deep, brilliant amber when held up to the light. A one finger of white head dissipates quickly and early bottles leave no lacing on the glass. I’m hoping this will improve once the beer has time to age and carb up a little more.

The aroma is thick with dark fruit and molasses with a hint of clove-like spiciness. The taste starts with a robust malty flavor that subsides in the middle to let the flavors of cherries and raisins shine through. The finish is clean with some herbal notes and peppery spices. Downtime has a medium body and, despite its relative lack of head retention, is well carbonated, even prickly.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the way this beer came out. I can check off another style brewed and I look forward to circling back to the delicious dubbel in the not-so-distant future.

Under Pressure

What happens when pressure builds up over months and months in a sealed homebrew bottle with no where to escape?

I spend a half hour cleaning sticky glass shards off every surface in my fridge.

They say it happens to every homebrewer who bottle conditions their beer eventually, but until a few days ago, I had managed to elude the dreaded “bottle bomb.”

Bottle conditioning is a method of carbonating beer in which a small amount of sugar solution (usually dextrose) is added to the already-fermented beer during bottling. Even though the beer has reached its terminal gravity, enough viable yeast remains to digest the sugar and produce CO2. Since the activity happens in a sealed bottle, the CO2 has no where to go except into the beer itself. After a couple weeks, voila: carbonation.

Of course, homebrewing isn’t an exact science, and as closely as I try to keep tabs on my process, sometimes one thing or another is off. In this case, it’s not clear whether I used too much bottling sugar, the beer in the bottle was infected with a wild (and therefore unpredictable) yeast strain, or primary fermentation hadn’t yet finished.

The ironic thing is that the beer (a non-so-good brown ale) was destined to be poured out. I had dumped a few bottles of the months-old batch the night before to geyser-like results. Not wanting to spray my kitchen in brown foam again, I stashed some of the remaining 22 oz. bottles in the chill chest so the carbonation would settle down. But only seconds after I closed the door, I heard the ominous popping sound of shattering glass.

A rite of passage? Maybe. A pain in the ass? Definitely.

Fire Escape Fresh Hop Pale Ale

After months of watering, pruning, and feeding a spindly hop bine, I had about an ounce of dried, whole-cone Cascade hops ready to go into a new beer. Figuring their citrusy flavors would be best used as a dry hop charge, I set out to brew a middle-of-the-road pale ale that would let the fresh hop character shine through.
7.5 lb Maris Otter
.5 lb Carapils/Carafoam
.25 lb Crystal Malt 10°L
.25 lb Crystal Malt 40°L

Hop schedule:
.5 oz Summit (17.0%) - added first wort, boiled 60 m
.5 oz Summit (17.0%) - added during boil, boiled 5.0 m

1.0 ea White Labs WLP090 San Diego Super Yeast

Dry hop
1 oz Cascade (homegrown cones)

I brewed a few weeks before the estimated hop harvest date so the beer would be ready to go into secondary as soon as the new cones were picked and dried. It was a typical brew day for me: 3 gallon brew-in-a-bag on my kitchen stovetop. The biggest difference was using the WLP090 San Diego Super Yeast, a special release known to highlight hop flavor and aroma.

After a few weeks of fermentation, I racked the beer right onto a mesh bag packed with the newly-picked cones. Five days later, the now hoppier pale ale went into bottles.

Opening a bottle of what is now Fire Escape Fresh Hop Pale Ale some weeks later, you can instantly smell a burst of hops. It pours a copper color with a modest white head. Crystal clear when room temperature, the cooled beer exhibits moderate chill haze and medium carbonation. The aroma is reminiscent of oranges and grapefruit, with a medium spice to follow. The taste is surprisingly malt-forward, with the citrusy character of the hops taking a back seat to rich bread-like flavors.

Was it as hoppy as I’d predicted? Not quite. But this batch represents another step in bringing the end-to-end beer making process literally closer to home. I look forward to the springtime when my hearty Cascade bine will once again sprout, climb up the fire escape, and give bloom to more tasty little cones of goodness.

Urban Hop Harvest

This spring, I wanted to make my homebrew more… homey. So I decided to grow my own hops.
In late May, I buried a Cascade rhizome an inch deep in a plastic container filled with potting soil and put the whole thing out on my apartment's fire escape landing. After a week or so, a tiny bine broke the soil surface and inched upward, wrapping itself around a piece of twine that led diagonally to the fire escape above.
I was surprised how quickly the bine grew in the following weeks, stretching up the fire escape railing before doubling over on itself and climbing back down the twine.

I watered every two to three days and dispensed a dose of Miracle-Gro for Flowers and Vegetables early in the season. Tiny cones appeared in early summerbright green, wet, and smelling a little like garlic.

 They multiplied and matured into mid-October until they were dry, papery, and gave off a citrusy aroma.

 When harvest day rolled around, Sarah and I picked about 75 cones and put them into a mesh bag to dry in front of a box fan. The final dry yield was a little over an ouncenot too impressive, but enough to dry hop a waiting IPA (post to come).
 I trimmed the bine to about an inch above soil-level and am patiently waiting until the spring when I hope my San Francisco fire escape will once again become an urban hop farm.