Tasting: #67 Koschei Imperial Stout

Eureka, its time for a beer tasting. Happy Holidays to everyone. Today’s beer was brewed in October 2012, filled in a Whisky barrel in late October and bottled/kegged 5 month later (in March 2013). Now, the beer spent roughly nine month in kegs/bottles and its time now for an official tasting. It’s the one and only Koschei Imperial Stout clocking in at a 12.3 ABV.

koschei_in_glasAroma: Mellow vanilla nose with hints of oak and Bergamot. Some alcohol in the nose. Hint of roasted coffee, coconut, honey and chocolate. Nice!

Appearance: Very viscous, dark black, clear with slight head (tapped from a carbonated keg). Nice lacing as well…

Flavor: Licorice, marzipan, dark chocolate, very subtle roast character. However not too much going on

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body, low carbonation level, finishes with lots or roasted malts, coffee, slight astringency and a nice, balanced bitterness

Overall Impression: This is a nice beer but too light on the palate in my opinion. The alcohol kind of shines through too much (really hate the nose burning alcohol sensation). However, I already fixed this in subsequent high ABV beers which turned out great. Was it worth maturing this beer in a barrel? I actually don’t know. Comparing this beer with beers matured on wood chips only, there isn’t a specific barrel character to pick up in this beer that is not present in wood chips matured beers. I for my part will only mature beers in barrels to strip the aroma character from the barrels to later on mature sour beers.

And to proof that I am not simply writing up nice words and praise our beers to the highest, the corresponding ratebeer ratings: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/blackwell-koshei-imperial-stout/234334/. The second of this batch turned into a black Berliner Sour and is rated as well: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/blackwell-saurerstoff/227882/

Since this is probably the last post for this year, I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Prost to good beer and Prost to the new year to come!

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Tasting: #47 Smashed Pumpkin Ale

Eureka, its time to share some tasting notes. I would like to apologize first for not posting in a long time. My uni life and the preparations for an upcoming yeast class already consume most of my spare time lately. Anyway, things now look a bit better and I even found some time to brew again. I would like to talk about a batch brewed in Spring 2012, my first Pumpkin Ale. The beer matured for quite a while now and I tried it before but it tasted very similar as described below. Unfortunately, most of the bottles were over carbonated and as soon as you opened the bottle, the whole sediment in the bottle got whirled up. Lets pour some Smashed Pumpkin Ale in a glass and lets see how it tastes like.

smashedpumpkinAroma: Lots of spices (mostly nutmeg), light sweetness in there as well. Reminds me of a Christmas cookie. The spices are not overpowering as well. Nicely integrated and actually a very nice aroma profile.

Appearance: Orange-brown and hazy appearance, some chunks float in the liquid (parts of pumpkin and other stuff), nice white frothy head.

Flavor: Spicy and phenolic with some citrus and herbal background. Unfortunately I cannot taste the Christmas cookie on the palate. Flawless.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, average carbonation level and finishes with a fair bitterness level.

Overall Impression: Not the best beer I ever brewed nor the worst one. Judging from the tasting, its hard to tell whether there is real pumpkin in this beer or not (beside the pumpkin pieces in the glass). The spices (nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander) play the game here. Even some of the hops are detectable (used Cascade, Willamette and Columbus).

This was for sure an educational batch to see how hard it is to brew with real pumpkin and what impact the pumpkin has on the finished beer. In my opinion, brewing with pumpkin is not as easy as I thought. The small pumpkin pieces made it nearly impossible to get the pumpkin out of the beer again. Best seen in the pieces of pumpkin floating in the glass. On the other hand, the pumpkin did not add much to the aroma and taste. I am not too surprised about that because there are some “pumpkin” beers out there without any real pumpkin. The spices make the beer rather than the pumpkin. Thanks for reading and cheers.

A glimpse into Swiss Lager beers

Eureka, take this blog post serious if you ever encounter Swiss Lager beers. Like most of the countries on Earth, Switzerland is no exception (for once…): the most sold beers are yellow, fizzy and clear. Not much to say about the taste. Generic lager.  IMG_1415Because we are interested in beer, we simply wanted to find out if there is a Swiss Lager beer with a unique taste and how different they are compared to each others. We therefore selected some beers, sneaked in some foreign Lager beers as well and did a blind tasting. I would like to mention, the ranking below does not represent a true ranking rather than a personal ranking. In addition, we selected only some Lager beers. We simply can’t evaluate all of them side-by-side.

Canwall_resizedWe selected the following beers: Feldschlösschen Original (Feldschlösschen being the biggest brewery in Switzerland and part of Carsberg) and maybe one of the most sold beers in Switzerland, Feldschlösschen Premium, Rugenbräu Lager Hell (independent brewery), Cardinal Draft (brewery owned and closed by Feldschlösschen), Eichhof Lager (brewery owned by Heineken), Kronenbourg (French brewery owned by Carlsberg), Heineken, Falken Lagerbier hell (independent brewery), Quöllfrisch Hell (independent brewery) and finally a beer brewed for a liquor store chain in Switzerland called “Drinks of the world”. The beer landscape in Switzerland is very typical: Some big ones and a lot of small, independent ones. The big ones in Switzerland are Carlsberg and Heineken.
All the beers were evaluated without the knowledge of the beer brand.

The tasting was even harder than expected. Most of the beers taste very similar. Although some really have distinctive characters (either good or bad ones). Funny enough, we had the impression that Heineken should be the best of all (possibly due to their commercials…) and Falken Lagerbier Hell the worst. Maybe because we had a can of this beer before and it tasted really metallic. Below is the list how the beer really ended up in our ranking.

Rank

Brand/brewery

Comments

1

Falken Lagerbier Hell Rather nice smell (compared to others)

2

Eichhof Lager Even some very, very faint hop aroma

3

Feldschlösschen Original Boring but solid

3

Cardinal Draft Peanuts and apple aroma, no real head

4

Rugenbräu Lager Hell Harsh bitterness in aftertaste

5

Quöllfrisch Hell (Locher) Weird metallic taste

6

Kronenbourg Darker color (deep yellow), huge peanuts smell

7

Drinks of the World house beer Alcoholic smell, metallic

8

Feldschlösschen Premium Peanut and urine smell

9

Heineken Very pale yellow color, no head, alcoholic burning smell, weird bitterness and alcoholic and green apple, metallic finish (just awful to drink)

First of all, I don’t want to bash any breweries here. Just give my opinion about the products they sell. Lets begin with the least enjoyable one: Heineken. This beer was close to undrinkable. Simply because of its smell. The aroma on the palate was not really nice as well. The next beers, place 8 to 4 taste, smell and look really similar. With the exception of Kronenbourg which is a bit darker in color. On the third place are two beers. Simply because we could not decide which of the two is better. On second place is Eichhof’s Lager beer. Solid beer. And the first place goes to Falken’s Lagerbier Hell. This beer smelled different from all the other ones (could not even detect any off-flavors). Funny enough, the best and worse beer are exactly the opposite what we expected. That’s the power of a blind tasting.

Just don’t get me wrong. Falken’s Lager Hell is not the best nor the worst beer I ever had. It is just the best in this blind tasting event. There is something else that I would like to point out here. I can’t stand breweries who label their beers with the “Premium” tag. Traditionally, breweries put a lot of money into commercials to sell their beers with the “Premium” label. Making these beers more expensive. And what I take from the ranking above, the only two cans with the “Premium” label finished last. The “Premium” therefore can’t stand for the taste experience. Rather for the premium price you pay for less taste.

Verdict from this tasting, there are indeed some Lager beers with (minor) flavor/aroma differences. Unfortunately, most of the differences are due to off-flavors either present or absent. Putting the test in an international view, the Swiss beers are at least as good as some foreign beer brands. Cheers!

Tasting: Mikkeller’s Yeast Series 2.0

Eureka, I would like to share some of my tasting experiences of Mikkeller’s Yeast Series 2.0. The basic idea behind this series was to compare different yeast strains and their effects on the beer’s aroma and taste. I could get my hands on five of the six beers in the series (English Ale yeast is missing) and did a side-by-side tasting.

IMG_1505_cutThe base beer was all the same. In one case, the beer was fermented with a Lager strain, another one with an American Ale strain, yet another one with a Saison strain and two with Brettanomyces lambicus and Brettanomyces bruxellensis respectively. Lets see how they tasted and the individual strain’s impact on the flavor profile.

IMG_1509_cutLager yeast

Aroma: Very hoppy aroma (lots of grapes, fruits). The combination of all the hops used (Simcoe, Nugget, Warrior, Amarillo and Centennial) remind me of Nelson Sauvin hops. No yeast character.

Appearance: Orange, clear, 1 finger white head, nice bubbling.

Flavor: Fruity, nice bitterness level.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, average carbonation level, bitter/fruity aftertaste and a grassy finish

Overall Impression: Rather clean beer (in terms of yeast character). Very pronounced hop aroma and bitterness and a grassy finish

 

IMG_1512_cutAmerican Ale yeast

Aroma: Less hoppy than Lager example. Even a musty component in there. Doesn’t smell clean at all.

Appearance: Orange, clear, 1 finger white head, nice bubbling.

Flavor: Luckily nothing of the weird musty aroma is on the palate. Very fruity beer with a well-balanced bitterness. No typical yeast character.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, average carbonation level, bitter/fruity aftertaste. No grassy finish

Overall Impression: Compared to the Lager version, this beer is smoother in terms of bitterness. The bitterness is well incorporated and there is no grassy finish. However, the aroma in this beer is not as nice. We could not detect any yeast character in this example.

IMG_1513_cutSaison yeast

Aroma: Pine, lots of tropical fruits and citrus and some spicy character (pepper).

Appearance: Orange, clear, 1 finger white head, nice bubbling.

Flavor: Again some fruits and some spiciness in addition.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, average carbonation level, slight bitter aftertaste and a grassy finish and even a bit astringent.

Overall Impression: Slightly different aroma compared to the previous two examples. This time, we could detect some yeast specific character (pepper). This yeast seems to accentuate the bitterness in the aftertaste including a grassy, astringent finish.

IMG_1515_cutBrettanomyces lambicus yeast

Aroma: Subtle hop aroma, no funk…

Appearance: Orange, clear, 1 finger white head, nice bubbling.

Flavor: A bit of a disappointment. Subtile fruity beer with a well-balanced bitterness. No typical yeast character and no funk. Actually a rather clean beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium to low body, average carbonation level, slight bitter aftertaste.

Overall Impression: Not very funky nor very interesting. Average beer. We could not detect any yeast character.

IMG_1514_cutBrettanomyces bruxellensis yeast

Aroma: Wow, now we are talking. There is some Brett funk going on: Wood notes, horse blanket, slight vinegar and the hop profile in the back. This beer reminds me of Cantillon’s Iris with Nelson Sauvin hops instead of the Saaz hops they use. Simply amazing smell!

Appearance: Orange, clear, 1 finger white head, nice bubbling.

Flavor: Unfortunately, not a lot of funk on the palate. Some leathery notes are present. Some fruity notes as well and a well incorporated bitterness. Rather clean beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium to low body, average carbonation level, no bitter nor grassy aftertaste. Hint of tartness reminds of the Brettanomyces in this beer.

Overall Impression: Judging from the smell, the most interesting one in the series for sure. B. bruxellensis really shows itself here. The aroma profile of this beer is surprisingly complex in my opinion. The flavor on the other side is not very yeast pronounced. But the finish is rather pleasant again.

What we learned from this tasting:

Lager strain: Gives a hop forward beer. Clean and very pronounced hop aroma. More pronounced bitterness and a grassy finish.

American Ale strain: Well incorporated bitterness and nice finish. This strain seems to work for more hop forward beers.

Saison strain: Some yeast specific character in the nose and palate. This strain accentuates the bitterness and leads to a grassy and astringent finish. Not really working for me. The spicy character, the grassy thing and the astringency makes it hard to enjoy this beer.

B. lambicus strain: Not a very funky Brett strain. Rather clean beer (compared to B. bruxellensis version). A side note. This doesn’t have to be true for every B. lambicus strain. There are so many B. lambicus strains with different flavor profiles.

B. bruxellensis strain: Lots of Brett character in the nose. But not so much on the palate. Rather clean and smooth beer with a nice bitterness level and no grassy finish.

I will put some efforts into brewing something like the B. bruxellensis beer myself. I am really fascinated about the complexity one can get with a single Brettanomyces fermented beer. Unfortunately, I tried to isolate some yeast from different Mikkeller beers before (brewed by DeProef) but never managed to recover any viable yeasts from the sediments in the bottles. I guess all the DeProef’s beers are pasteurized and therefore no (or a very small) chance to get any living yeasts out of bottles. That’s why I did not bother to isolate the B. bruxellensis strain at all. Thanks for reading, commenting and stay tuned!

Tasting: #35 Rusalka Imperial Stout

Eureka, it’s time for another tasting post. I would like to share some tasting notes of #35 Rusalka Imperial Stout brewed in May 2011. Bottled on the 18th of June 2011. We tried this beer from time to time to see how the profile changes.

RusalkaOfficial tasting number 1, (08/30/2011), two months in bottle

Aroma: Wood character, lots of coffee and roast character. Some alcohol detectable as well.

Appearance: Black, brown creamy head, nice lacing

Flavor: Lots of roast character again, coffee character, warming alcohol detectable

Mouthfeel: Medium body, low carbonation level, light sweet and warming aftertaste, light astringent finish as well

Overall Impression: Not bad, however a lot of rough edges and alcohol shines through. Further maturation needed

Official tasting number 2, (02/27/2012), eight months in bottle

Aroma: Chocolate, smoke, hints of raisins, light sweetness, licorice. No alcohol detectable.

Appearance: Black, 1 finger brown head, frothy and creamy head, lots of lacing

Flavor: Smoke, chocolate, heavily roasted coffee

Mouthfeel: Light – medium body, average carbonation level, light bitter and roast driven finish. Not astringent anymore. Kind of watery… (not the body one would expect from such a beer)

Overall Impression: Improved a lot compared to the first tasting. However, it gets obvious that this beer lacks in-depth. Meaning, the body of this beer is a bit too low to counterbalance the flavors. To change that, either increase the alcohol level and/or add further unfermentable sugars to make it rounder. This was the official tasting before entering this beer in a homebrewer’s contest. Well, we can’t be too upset about this beer since it won us the first prize in the Dry Stout category (there was no other more suitable category to enter this beer).

Official tasting number 3, (01/06/2013), 19 months in bottle

Aroma: Lots of dark chocolate, roast character, coffee, reminds me of milk chocolate. Some alcohol detectable

Appearance: Dark black, creamy head, nice lacing

Flavor: Dark chocolate, roasty character, sticky and decent level of bitterness still

Mouthfeel: Medium body, average carbonation level, chocolate finish

Overall Impression: Pretty neat! In my opinion, the body of this beer is now spot on. I have no idea how/why this is the case after further maturation.

I can’t complain about this beer at all. First, it was my very first Imperial Stout (however a bit short for an Imperial Stout) and second, it won us a competition (first as well). A very neat base for further improvements which are already going on. The second batch was brewed in September 2013 (#66 Rusalka II Imperial Stout) with some minor changes such as increasing the original gravity a bit to get to an ABV of roughly 8% to be at the lower end of the Imperial Stout category style description. And we matured the second batch on some Whisky soaked wood. A third batch will follow in Fall 2013. Future changes of the original recipe will include changes to increase the body of the beer as well as hiding the alcohol.

This batch gave us a lot of great experiences brewing higher ABV beers and getting an idea how such a beer changes over time. We are now able to brew big beers up to ABV levels of 12%. The next big Imperial Stouts in our pipeline should get past an ABV level of 15% (Without any sugar additions!) Cheers!

Tasting: #36 Vanilla Infused Rusalka Imperial Stout

Eureka, it has been a while since I posted any tasting notes. I would like to reveal the tasting notes of batch #36 Vanilla Infused Rusalka Imperial Stout today. This is a batch brewed in 2011 and bottled in mid June in 2011. It finished with an ABV greater than 12%, fermented with Safbrew S33 and infused with two vanilla beans and some raisins. By the way, we previously used some of this batch for our beer-based candy syrup which turned out really well.

IMG_42452(Actually, the beer shown in the glass above is not this batch of Rusalka rather than the first batch of #35 Rusalka). However, all our Imperial Stouts look very similar (black).

The beer matured for 1 year and 8 months. I store all these high ABV beer in a cellar at around 12°C (54°F).

Aroma: The first thing we notice is: umami. This is hard to explain but this beer’s aroma is somewhat between salty and spicy. This umami taste is not off-putting in any means. I would not call it an off-flavor. Maybe the umami comes from yeast autolysis? Some pepper notes as well, chocolate, slight coffee character. Bit of vanilla. No fruitiness. No alcohol detectable as well.

Appearance: Black, decent tan head, nice bubbles rise to the top, nice lacing as well, clear with a nice yeast sediment in the bottle.

Flavor: Milk chocolate bomb, some roast and coffee character with a decent bitterness level. Some molasses as well. In one word: milk-chocolate-infused-cold-coffee.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body, low carbonation level (bottled to a carbon dioxide level of 2 vol), long-lasting dark chocolate finish. With nice bitterness in the aftertaste. Warming sensation from the alcohol. However not burning.

Overall Impression: This is a really nice beer. The typical Imperial Stout character is definitely there. However, the vanilla and raisins are really in the background. We could not detect any raisin character. I would suspect those flavors to decline over time anyway and maybe we sampled the beer at a point where those flavors were below our tasting threshold. What I like most about this brew is that the alcohol is well hidden. There is no boozy aroma nor a burning aftertaste. The aroma is really nice as well. We tried this brew from time to time and it improved a lot during further maturation. All the aroma and flavor components really mellowed out, the bitterness level decreased significantly and the astringent character from the roasted malt disappeared as well.

What would I change recipe-wise for a future batch? The base of this beer is quite solid in my opinion. If one wants to get a stronger vanilla and raisin character, one should consider maturing this beer in a keg first and add vanilla and raisins just a few weeks before taking the first sip. Key components in making this beer are for sure a long maturation time to give the beer enough time to mellow out. Cheers!

Tasting: #44 Traditional Berliner Weisse

Eureka, its time for another tasting post. Today is all about my first Berliner Weisse. I brewed my batch (#44 Traditional Berliner Weisse) back in February 2012. I went with a traditional grist (Pilsner and wheat malt) and did a spontaneous mash-souring. So no addition of any Lactobacillus or any other bacteria. Did a primary fermentation with a classical European yeast (Wyeast’s #1338 European Ale) kegged one share and bottled a small part of the batch with some Brettanomyces I isolated from a beer made by BFM. Nearly four months now passed since the bottling. Lets see how the beer in the bottle (with Brettanomyces) turned out. By the way, the share without Brettanomyces in the keg is very similar to this one although not as sour and complex. Therefore no tasting notes about the share without Brettanomyces.

Aroma: Very lemony and lots of apples. Some sourness detectable (lactic acid). Some funkiness as well. Very similar to a cider. Smells clean.

Appearance: Yellow, cloudy, white head, lots of carbonation visible.

Flavor: Not a lot of flavors. There is some sourness detectable. Some hints of grains (malty-, breadyness). And again some apple notes as well. All in all very similar to a cider. Maybe the sourness in the Weisse is just a bit more powerful than in a cider.

Mouthfeel: Light body, lively carbonation, medium lasting malty/bready aftertaste. No sour or astringent aftertaste.

Overall Impression: What shall I say. Looking back, I would not have guessed it would turn out like this. This is a very drinkable beer indeed. Some notes of a wheat beer (grainyness, head) but with some sourness attached. For my taste, the sourness level is a bit too low. However, this recipe was not about the right level of sourness. It was about the spontanteous sour-mashing technique. In my opinion, this worked completely. All the Berliner Weisses I had from this batch were ok. Nothing to complain about.

My next Berliner Weisse is already in the pipeline. Just got my #3191 Berliner Weisse blend today and a Berliner Weisse brew day is in the near future. I just have to wait to get some empty bottles… (And I am already working on it…). And I already planned to isolate the Brettanomyces from the blend (my longtime followers will already have guessed…).

This was a very interesting and very informative experiment in my opinion. Not only is it possible to make a beer without ever boiling it, but it is also possible to use the microorganisms on the grains to sour a beer. A very neat way in my opinion to get yourself a sour beer if you do not want to purchase any souring bugs. However, comparing the Berliner Weisses with and without Brettanomyces, the one without it is clearly less sour. Brettanomyces seems to enhance the sourness level as well. From now on, all my Berliner Weisse brews will have some Brettanomyces in it, like a traditional Berliner Weisse.

This post closes another experiment of mine. Stay tuned for further experiments!