Buccoleon Strong Ale

belgian-strongpcThis is a classic Belgian dark tripel. If you have tried Brouwerij Van Steenberge’s Gulden Draak, you know what I mean. Buccoleon Strong Ale is a tribute to that world-class beer.

Brewed with Belgian Strong Ale yeast, it offers flavors of raisins, plums and pears, together with spicy hints of cloves, rum, and nutmeg. Starting with a Pilsner malt base; wheat malt, cara-wheat, crystal malt, biscuit/aroma malts and caramely golden syrup provide a flaky crust for this virtual fruit tart. The yeast leaves its distinctiver mark.

As it is not a Gulden Draak clone, it is a bit drier and a little more bitter. Its original gravity of 24.5 Plato (1105) still leaves a lot of residual sweetness, so it is refermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast and no added bottling sugar. Age this one at least a year.

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Gulden Draak is named after the golden dragon at the top of the belfry of Ghent. The story of how he got there is fascinating. Buccoleon was the dragon’s name. He lived in the swampy ground around Aleppo, one of the chief cities of the Saracens in northern Syria. He was such a tender-hearted old dragon that he was called The Weeping Dragon. He wept bucketfuls of tears when Belgian crusaders and the Saracens fell to fighting. Where his tears fell, beautiful flowers began to grow.

A crusader took their bulbs back to Belgium, where they became famous for being the most beautiful tulips of all. Hearing about their fame, Buccoleon, whose scales had turned to gold because the crusaders had left, flew to Belgium to see for himself. He decided to stay!

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Cascadia Nation Black Lager

cascadia-black-lagercThe Cascade Mountain Range extends from Southern British Columbia through Western Washington and Oregon, into Northern California. Part of the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” its highest peak is the volcano Mount Rainier. To its west are the hipster havens of Seattle and Portland, famous for some of the finest craft beer in the world. To its east lies the fertile hop growing region of the Yakima Valley in Washington. South of Portland, at the western edge of the Cascades, another stretch of fine hop farms fills the Willamette River valley.

The Cascade Range and its surrounding hop and barley farms form the mythical country of Cascadia. A generous cartographer would include the barley-growing regions of the Columbia Basin, and the Palouse, stretching east and south from Spokane, Washington. It also makes sense to declare San Francisco an honorary member among Cascadia cities, for it is the birthplace of the modern craft beer movement in the United States, thanks to the visionary efforts of Fritz Maytag and his Anchor Brewing Company.

Grain harvesting in Whitman County, Washington

Grain harvesting in Whitman County, Washington

The strains of hops developed in Cascadia, fittingly often begin with the letter “C” themselves. The “Four C’s” as they are sometimes called, are Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus. More recently Citra ™ has joined the group. They are dominantly bright, piney, citrusy and resinous in taste and aroma, and form the basis of most American India Pale Ales. Recently, they have been incorporated into a style known as Cascadian Dark Ale.

As hop and barley production began to ramp up in Cascadia during the 1980s, another development took place 180 degrees away in the Ring of Fire. Japanese brewers were early to recognize the potential for product differentiation offered by creating all-malt lagers in their commercial operations. Kirin and Sapporo led the way with premium “black beer” (黒ビール), featuring roasted malts and a sweet finish.

The Cascadia Black Lager shown here pays homage to both sides of the Ring of Fire. It is hoppy (40 IBU) like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, slightly roasty like a dark ale, with mildly sweet maltiness like Japanese black lager. It uses the San Francisco lager yeast to keep the finish drier than a typical ale. Cold-infused specialty grains, including debittered Carafa II, Munich malt and Breiss Special Roast maximize flavor while keeping away excessive burned harshness. A nice thick head leads to a moderately full mouth feel, and its 5.7% ABV is assertive, while keeping it well within the range of sessionability for the discerning and determined tippler!

Germano-Bohemian Lager

GB PilsPWGermano-Bohemian Lager marries the idea of rich, full Bohemian Pilsner with the crisp bitterness and clean flavor characteristic of North German lager.

The recipe uses floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt, made from Bohemian spring barley. This malt shows a wider color range among individual grains than malt processed by modern pneumatic malting methods, with their tighter temperature control. The result is a fuller malty flavor, with a bit of residual sweetness. It is slightly under-modified however, and will benefit from an acid rest and protein rest.

The mash bill uses 3% acidulated malt to lower mash pH, in the German manner, which prohibits additives such as organic acids to do so. In soft water this is enough to bring the pH down to about 5.2 in a full-grain recipe.

Munich malt contributes a mild toasty bread flavor to the brew. Carapils is a high dextrin malt that provides foam stability and full body to the beer while adding very little flavor.

Because the starting gravity is a bit above the high-end of the range typical for North German Pilsner (which is around 13 Plato), the hopping rate is also a bit higher than the typical example (which is 35-45 IBU).

Umami Hack: Cooper Pils

Cooper HackAll-grain home brewing may be the ultimate umami experience when it comes to beer, but sometimes it’s just too hard to find the six to eight hours it takes to homebrew from scratch. Sometimes 20 minutes for a kit beer is all there is time for. The brewer who is able to put in an extra hour though, can change a mediocre canned kit into a very nice session beer.

The base for this beer is Thomas Coopers Selection Pilsener liquid extract, prehopped with Saaz hops. The Coopers Selection series are marketed as premium products, although they are typically priced the same as all the other Coopers extracts. Coopers recommends the kit be made with 500 grams of dry malt extract and 300 grams of corn sugar. The instructions for making a batch say that the ingredients should be merely stirred into six gallons of hot water, which I have found results in a weakly-flavored beer of perhaps 4% ABV.

The key to the hack is a mini-mash of Munich and Victory malts, flaked barley and sea salt. Munich malt is typically used in Bock-style beers, and contains enough enzymes to convert its starches to sugar. It’s a bit darker than pale malt; the type in this recipe is about 10 Lovibond in color and adds a smooth malty sweetness to the beer. Victory malt is a Breiss Malt specialty roast that adds a clean nutty, baked bread flavor. Both of these are used only in small amounts to add roundness and complexity to the flavor of the standard kit brew. The flaked barley adds mouthfeel and enhances head retention. Sea salt reacts with the umami-producing components of the malted grains to increase the roundness of flavor.

To hack the kit I extracted about a gallon of wort from my mini-mash, added two more gallons of filtered water, brought this to a boil and poured in a half-kilo of light dry malt extract. This was simmered for a half hour, with 20 grams of fresh Willamette hops added continuously during the boil: five grams every seven minutes.

The Cooper Pilsener extract was added with five minutes left to the boil. A half-kilo of corn sugar was added at the last minute. The wort was cooled and topped up to make 20 liters. Starting gravity was 12.5 Plato.

I have found that the Coopers premium Pilsener yeast supplied with the kit actually works pretty well, delivering a crisp dry taste when the brew is fermented and lagered at cellar temperature (about 60F or less.) I speculate that Coopers has worked on developing a strain that will produce good results without the average home brewer needing to invest in a special lager brewing set-up that will maintain colder temperatures.

This turned out to be a very nice golden lager that I was able to make, with the kit on sale, for about $20. With a firm white head and an aroma of malt and hop spiciness, it is full-bodied, with a good malty flavor finished with considerable hop bitterness. The ABV is about 5.3% making it a decent tipple. Its nonetheless moderate alcoholic strength makes it a beer that is fine for a couple of pints after a hard day hacking bits down on the cube farm.

SixPoint Classic American Pilsner

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There’s a phrase that goes “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” That was not always the case. Back in the day when a mug of beer was a nickel, there WAS a free lunch. And it came with a pilsner beer that was about six percent alcohol. “Six point” beer pretty much disappeared after the great American experiment called Prohibition. Here that tradition is revived with Sixpoint CAP, a Classic American Pilsner.

This all-grain CAP version uses American six-row barley malt for historical accuracy, as well as a touch of grainy sweetness. Because it is higher in starch-converting enzymes, six-row malt is able to transform the other key ingredient in Classic American Pilsner: corn grits. This is an East-Coast Pilsner recipe, by the way. If it were a West-Coast recipe it would likely substitute rice for the corn, giving a dryer, more neutral flavor.

More specifically to this particular recipe, the corn grits are substituted with polenta, which is not processed with an alkali the way corn grits are. The result is a bit of added corny sweetness that is subtle but definitely there. I used Golden Pheasant Polenta from South San Francisco.

The mash consists of 76 percent six-row malt, 18 percent grain. To add malty complexity, 6 percent specialty malt is added. Carapils gives it the thick head and creamy mouth feel associated with CAP. Munich malt contributes subtle, caramelly umami. To aid clarification, the mash contains about .75 grams per liter of black malt.

The grains are mashed using the American Double mash schedule. Essentially, the corn grains are boiled to gelatinize them, and this boiled mixture is added to the main mash to raise its temperature after a half-hour saccarification rest. The raised temperature completes the conversion of the cornmeal mush.

A smooth Pilsner needs nice soft water. This one is brewed with Southeast British Columbia mountain branch water. I like calling it branch water. It gives it a classic American vibe.

Classic American Pilsner exhibits a refreshingly bitter hop character as well, from the generous but scrupulous application of Noble hops from Europe. For this recipe, first wort hops are added to the runoff, in this case Saaz. Cluster hops add bitterness and Tettnang are used for flavor.

The beer was fermented with White Labs San Francisco yeast, but any good dry-finishing lager strain would do, as long as the fermentation temperature doesn’t get higher than 60F. When fermentation was nearly complete, this batch went into the refrigerator in a carboy for 12 weeks of rest at 38F (3.3 C). With another 12 weeks in the bottle at cellar temperature, the result was a tasty, corny, stony beer, the kind you would have loved if you were twenty-two in 1922.