The Best Was Yet To Come

It is not often that I brew a beer I am genuinely proud of, but I somehow managed to brew two such beers, a barley wine and a spruce tip pale ale. The barley wine was loosely modeled after Pohjala’s Odravein and the spruce tip pale ale was just something I threw together. What was to follow however was a shitstorm of two dumped batches and a bitter mess.

Spruce Tip Pale Ale

Maybe the reason I’m happy with this beer is that I didn’t quite know what to expect. Basically I had nothing to compare it to. Or maybe I just lucked out and managed to get the amount of spruce tips spot on on my first try. Either way, I will for sure brew this again next year and I don’t yet know how to improve it. Perhaps I could try replacing some of the hops with more spruce tips just to see what that does, but will the beer benefit from it, I don’t know. I added 4 litres of spruce tips in this one. How much it is by weight I don’t know.

You don’t get hit over the head with spruce tips, on the contrary, they blend in really well with the Chinook and Amarillo hops. You might not even know they are there unless you know what to look for, which was my goal as well.

I added 4 litres of spruce tips, 0.4 kg sugar and just enough water to cover the spruce tips, brought it to a boil, then removed the heat and let it sit overnight. The following day I added the spruce tip infused sugar water to the beer, which was at the end of primary fermentation.

Barley Wine

During the six months that this batch has been aging I have cracked open a bottle every now and then. I have a feeling that it is now beginning to reach its peak. You don’t hear me say it often, but if you exclude barrel aged barley wines, it is as good as most commercial barley wines I’ve had. My one complaint is that there is a graininess to it that I don’t particularly enjoy. This probably comes from me using Pilsner malt as base malt instead of the pale ale malt that Põhjala uses. At the same time though, I have a feeling the Pilsner malt lightens up the body to where it is more drinkable than my previous barley wine attempts, so I’m not exactly sure what to do next time. The graininess is not very strong; it took me 5+ beers before I even noticed it, but once I did, it is hard not to notice.

Barleywine in typical Finnish weather

Imperial Stouts

It is a well-known fact that nobody brews worse stouts than I do. For the sake of getting feedback I sent one imperial stout into this year’s Himabisse competition (this was already back in January). To the surprise of nobody, it got only bad reviews. Mostly that it tasted burned, which actually is a very good descriptor, but to my surprise it was also called ugly and grey, which hurt my feelings since I’ve always felt that the only positive thing about my stouts is that they at least look the part.

Anyway, after the competition’s “award ceremony” when I went to talk to the judges (from Fat Lizard brewery), we weren’t unfortunately able to pinpoint the source of my stout problem. The judges had thought I must have scorched/burned the bottom of my kettle at some point and that it was a process issue. It was actually quite funny as when I told them that my process was exactly the same as with the double IPA, that I also entered into the competition, they at first didn’t believe me. Not only didn’t they believe that the process could have been the same, but even that the same brewer could have brewed both those beers.

A third judge then gave me a tip that I decided to give a try in my next stout attempt; to wait until last 15 minutes of the boil before adding the roasted grains, which should help reduce the burned flavor. This is what one Estonian brewery does. I won’t name the brewery because I later had one stout from them, and didn’t like it. My stout also ended up having the exact same flavor.

Now, I’m not saying that this trick doesn’t work. I would definitely say that my stout had less burned flavor than usual, but my issue is that both mine and the stout of the Estonian brewery had a similar vegetal note that I get from cold brewed coffee as well. Some might like it, but I don’t. I actually cold steeped the roasted grains overnight, and added that to the last 15 minutes of the boil. Based on how similar mine tasted to that of the unnamed Estonian brewery, I would guess that they do a cold steep as well.

So cold steeping is out. But what if I did a separate steep of the roasted grains at normal mash temperature and added that to the end of boil? Tried it, and it helped to some extent, but still there was some of that vegetal character left, meaning that I need a full boil for the roasted grains as well.

So once again, I’m completely lost. I feel I have tried every trick in the book but nothing seems to work. I will keep trying though. I have keg space since both of these stouts went straight down the drain.

Session IPA

I have been gravitating towards lower alcohol beers more and more, but still I never thought I would brew a session IPA. Hoppy pale ales I enjoy but beers sold as session IPAs tend to taste like overly bitter hop water, which is exactly how I would describe mine as well. To be fair I didn’t mean to brew a session IPA. I just happened that I took a month (or two) break from brewing and when I got back at it, I messed it up big time. I doubt anyone who reads this blog does it for the brewing tips, but I will give you two pieces of free advice anyway.

1. It is important to put the false bottom inside the mash kettle. If you put it next to the kettle, it doesn’t work quite as well.

  • Lautering takes quite a bit longer
  • Your mash efficiency might drop to 47%
  • You end up with less wort than planned
Mashing the session IPA. False bottom next to the kettle.

2. In case you end up with less wort of a lower gravity it is important to take this into account in your hop bill. Let’s say you intended to brew an IPA with a 1.067 starting gravity and hop it to 50 IBUs. That will be a completely different beer than hopping a 1.050 IPA to let’s say 77 IBUs. Such a mistake is easily avoided by checking your pre-boil gravity and re-doing your hop calculations, if you remember to do so of course.

Had I adjusted the hops on the hot side I bet this would have been a pretty decent beer. It’s just way too bitter for the 1.007 final gravity. Not a dumper though. I will finish the keg.

Spruce Tip Pale Ale Recipe

  • 5 kg Viking Pilsner Malt
  • 0.4 kg Viking Caramel Pale Malt
  • 0.25 kg Viking Red Ale Malt
  • 0.4 kg table sugar (added along with the spruce tips)
  • 4 litres freshly picked spruce tips
  • Chinook, 10 g @ 60 min. / 40 g in whirlpool / 50 g in dry hop
  • Amarillo, 10 g @ 60 min. / 40 g in whirlpool / 50 g in dry hop
  • WLP001 California Ale yeast
  • 38 IBU
  • OG 1.057
  • FG 1.013
  • ABV 5.8%

Barley Wine Recipe

  • 11 kg Viking Pilsner Malt
  • 0.5 kg Viking Caramel Pale Malt
  • 0.5 kg Viking Red Ale Malt
  • 0.175 kg Viking Crystal 150
  • 0.175 kg Viking Crystal 300
  • 56 g Magnum @ 60 minutes
  • 16 g Mosaic @ 60 minutes / 15 g @ whirlpool
  • WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast
  • 76 IBU
  • OG 1.109
  • FG 1.029
  • ABV 10.4%

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