Taste notes – Caspa

Thought I should chuck some tasting notes up for some of my beers. More as a record that I can go back to in the future when trying to remember specific characteristics.

Tasted 18.10.2011 – Bottled 18.09.2011

New Zealand Pale Ale hopped with NZ Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Pacifica. Large hop additions at 10, 5 and 0 mins. No 60 minute hop addition. 4.1% Abv. Mashed at 69 deg C. 83% Pale, 8% Med Crystal, 7% Munich II, 2% Carapils.

As with all highly hopped beers, the amount of fresh hop flavour and aroma seems to decrease over time. I have been drinking this beer from about a week after bottling and think it was optimum at about 3 weeks.

taste 18/10/11 – The aroma has citrus and tropical fruit notes backed by bready and slightly doughy aroma. It pours a hazy amber hue with a low amount of white head. The head has large bubbles and leaves a lacing down the glass. In the mouth there is a burst of citrus and tropical fruit hop flavours followed by bready and caramel malt notes. The bitterness to malt appears to be balanced initially, but once swallowed there is almost no lingering aftertaste at all. Medium to light body with medium carbonation. The finish is very clean and with the flavour disappearing soon after the swallow it invites you to take another mouthful very quickly.

Quite happy with this beer and I may do a rebrew of this recipe at some stage. Jo tasted it and it is the first beer that she has actually liked (because it does not have the bitter bite). Jo keeps calling it a girls beer, but I think that it is probably great for summer drinking! At the moment I have a variation of this recipe in the fermentor that has some first wort hopping and some 60 minute bittering additions as I think having some more hop bite in the finish would make for a better beer.

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Key factors to making great beer at home

I feel like there is quite a funny reaction when you mention that you home brew beer. The words “Home Brew” seem to be automatically associated with some nasty tasting alcoholic substance that people tried years ago. Most likely brewed by some cheap student looking to get blitzed for as little money as possible. The stuff was usually pretty horrible and only drinkable after alcohol had already bludgeoned the taste buds into submission. I almost feel as if these experiences of home brew prejudice people into thinking that the home brewer is simply a closet alcoholic looking for a more affordable way to continue their habit. I feel as if this bad reputation of home brew keeps many people from ever trying their own hand at it. The reality is that with a little care and attention to detail you can produce great beers that will rival the craft beers you are able to buy.

Some of my current brews are getting great comments from friends and family who have tried them so I thought I would share a few tips on what I see as the key factors to getting a good tasting brew.

  1. Temperature control. Being able to maintain a consistent brewing temperature seems to make a huge difference to the flavour of the beer. For the ales I mostly brew I set my fermentation cabinet to about 18 – 20 degrees C and leave it be. Too cold and the yeast are likely to not ferment properly. Too warm and the yeast will make strange flavours. It is simple to make a fermentation cabinet using an old fridge or freezer and a thermostat like I mention over here
  2. Good sanitation. You need a good cleaner and a good sanitiser to be able to insure that the equipment you use is not going to harbour bacteria which could infect your beer. The fermentor and any equipment to do with yeast needs to be sanitised. The bottles or kegs that you put your beer in also need to be sanitised. Brew pots and mash equipment need to be cleaned, but as boiling the wort will kill most bugs these items do not have to be sterilised. If there is anywhere in your process  post boil that you are adding bacteria into your beer you are likely to get nasty tasting brew. To get rid of any dirt/buildup on your equipment you need something that will clean really well and remove anything from the surface. Bacteria are able to hide in these deposits and so it is important to clean them off. Once your equipment is clean, it then needs to be sanitised. If you sanitise when your equipment is not clean then the bacteria in deposits are likely to infect your beer. If you just clean your equipment without sanitising then there are bacteria which will still be on the surfaces of your equipment which will infect your beer. I use the home brand nappy soak (unscented) from the supermarkets for my cleaner. These products contain Sodium Percarbonate which is an excellent cleaner and dissolves organic deposits well. Many powder brewery wash formulations will have sodium percarbonate in them. I use Starsan as my steriliser, but there are plenty of other sanitisers out there like Iodaphor etc.
  3. Using good yeast. Finding a yeast strain that gives you the flavours you are looking for is important, but more important is getting yeast that is in good condition. Yeast is alive and if you store it for a long time much of it will die. You should either use fresh yeast that has been kept in refrigeration to ensure the yeast is viable, or you should use a starter culture to ensure that you have sufficient yeast to pitch into your wort. If there are too few viable yeast when you pitch into the wort, then the yeast will take a long time to grow and take over the fermentation. This means there is a long lag time where other bacteria and yeasts could start growing and it means the yeast is very busy reproducing, which creates a number of flavour compounds, many of which may be undesirable.

I think the first three points are the most important in getting a nice beer out the other end of your brewing process. The 3 points are relevant whether you are using a pre-hopped liquid malt extract in a can  to brew or if you are using malt extract and steeping of specialty grains or if you brew from scratch using malted grains.

Other factors that I believe will improve your brew.

    1. Keeping good records of exactly what you did in each brew. A couple of weeks in the fermentor and a few weeks in the bottle and I have trouble remember exactly what it was I did to get this brew tasting like it is. Having good notes lets you work out exactly what it was in your process that gave you those characteristics in your beer. The records need to be detailed enough that you can work out what it was you did.
    2. Making the same beer more than once. I keep wanting to try out new recipes, but I have one or two recipes that I keep rebrewing and tweaking. It is only by rebrewing that you work out what your little changes are doing to the character of the beer.
    3. Use fresh ingredients. Yeast I have mentioned, but every ingredient tastes better fresh. If you can get hold of hops straight from harvest you will get fresher flavours than using hop pellets that have been dried and are a year old. Malted grains and malt extracts taste much better fresh.
    4. Use brewing software. This gives you somewhere to work out your gravities and bitterness. With brewing software you can quickly learn to create your own beer recipes and how to easily adjust gravity and bitterness and colour. If you go all grain it also is invaluable for working out mash schedules etc.
    5. Forums have a wealth of information about what works for other people who are home brewing. The people on the forums are generally very helpful, and if you ask questions you will usually get some good answers to work with. I find the RealBeer forums great help especially for local New Zealand information.

If you are at all keen to try you hand at it, you should give it a go! It is not too complicated and the feeling of being able to sit back and enjoy a beer that you crafted yourself is fantastic!

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Caspa2 – NZ Pale Ale tweak

A rebrew of the NZPA that I have done previously with NZ Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Pacifica hops (CAscade, Sauvin, Pacifica).

Added a bit more darker crystal malt for a little more body and malt flavour. Have upped the ratio of Sauvin in the hops and added both first wort hopping and a 60 minute addition.

IBU: 42.3

OG: 1.062

FG: 1.017

BU:GU: 0.687

Est ABV: 5.9 %


84.5% Pale

5.6% Munich II

3.5% Pale Crystal

3.5% Dark Crystal

2.8% Carapils

Mash at 69 deg for 1 hour. Batch sparge.

First Wort Hop Nelson Sauvin

Nelson Sauvin at 60 minutes

Pacifica, Nelson Sauvin and NZ Cascade at 10 min

Pacifica, Nelson Sauvin and NZ Cascade at 0 min

Danstar Nottingham Yeast. Ferment at 20 deg for 14 days.

Pacifica, Nelson Sauvin and NZ Cascade dry hop for 7 days

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Cleaning your beer glasses “beer clean”

Ever been disappointed by the amount of head on a home poured beer, or the beer pours with ok head but it disappears really quick? The problem could be how you clean your beer glasses.

Clean glasses are a big factor in how your beer is presented and tasted. “Beer Clean” is a term that is used to make sure that glasses are not only clean, but beer clean. This means the glass wont change the taste or the head of the beer. Soap should not be used to clean beer glasses as it will leave a film on that glass that can be tasted and that will destroy the head on the beer.

To clean your beer glasses at home try using baking soda and then air dry. If there are water spots apparent after drying, then clean them again.

For a more anal and in depth view of how important the glass is, have a read of this mans opinion http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup/2008/10/28/beer-101-first-be-sure-the-glass-is-clean/

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NZ vs Imported hops

I love hops! They smell great, and they make beer taste fantastic. However getting hold of the hops you are after can sometimes be a bit hard. At the moment there is a big shortage on hops grown in the USA. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/5716703/Hop-shortage-hits-brewers These hop shortages are not a new thing

If you are using New Zealand hops the American hop shortage will not affect you much, but the thing is that many people in New Zealand will be trying to brew recipes that call for American hops.

I think the main reason there are so many recipes calling for American hops is two-fold. First of all the American style of IPA and APA are very popular at the moment. You know the type of beer. Pale in colour with a clean fermentation and big up front hop flavour and aroma with pine and citrus type notes. People like these beers and so want to brew something that tastes like these for themselves and their friends.

The second reason I think many people want to use American hops is that many of the recipes available to home brewers are American recipes simply because the USA have been brewing these beers for longer and there are so many more people over there.

To make good beer you need a good recipe. When starting out brewing, you will probably want to start out using recipes that are known to work well and as you progress your home brewing you can start to formulate your own recipes. If you are working with NZ hops there is not a lot of information out there on which hop combinations are good and what ratios you should use them in. There is quite a bit of information on which American hops are used and in what combinations.

What this means for NZ home brewers is that if you are not inclined to experiment and try local hop varieties in your beer you will stuck with recipes using hard to get hold of hops.

I used American hops for my first brew and really liked it. Since then have used mainly NZ hops. Some of my combinations have been less than optimal, but I am now starting to get some great flavours and aromas in my pale and amber ales. I like the idea of being able to use local ingredients and so using NZ grown hops appeals to me. If you combine this with the shortages of American hops the idea of using mainly NZ grown hops seems even better.

Brewing using NZ hops means that you will never get a beer that tastes quite the same as the ones using the American hops. Even using the same variety of hop such as Cascade is not a guarantee of the same flavour. The NZ grown Cascade hops have differences in flavour and aroma to that of the US grown Cascade. While some people might see this as a problem, I prefer to think of it as more of a challenge to find an NZ hop combination that works well and makes great beer and so that is what I will keep working on.

We have some unique hop varieties here in NZ as well, which means we have the opportunity to create beers that taste different to what anyone else in the world is brewing. I like that we can make great beer that is uniquely NZ.

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New Zealand Home Brew Competition NHBC 2011

As I have not yet had much in the way of professional evaluation of the beer I have been brewing I figure I will enter a few beers in this years National Home Brew competition which is organised through the aptly named SOBA – Society Of Beer Advocates

I quite like some of the beer I am brewing and have had good comments from friends, but I think having some professional evaluation from judges at a competition could highlight if there are areas that I could improve my beer.

My only problem has been not drinking all the good beer that I have brewed! If the beer tastes good then it seems to disappear very quickly. I hope to be able to find an American Brown I did a couple of months back along with a couple of NZ Pale Ales and maybe even an ordinary bitter.

I am jumping right on in and getting involved as a steward as well. I am not really sure what this entails just yet. Something about preparing the sample for the judges etc. but hopefully I will get a chance to learn something about beer evaluation from them at the same time. No doubt it could be a fun couple of days hanging out with other beer geeks too. I am looking forward to both being involved and getting some feedback on my beer.

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Beer Evaluation – Learn to professionally taste your beer

I believe that if you want to improve your brewing, one of the most important things you can do is to learn to evaluate beer in a professional way. You need to learn to evaluate beer in a descriptive and consistent way, and be able to link the evaluation of the beer through to your recipe/method and notes from when you brewed the beer. Being able to figure out what changes in ingredients and brewing method does to the beer flavours is how you will learn to be able to formulate beers the way you want to.

Below is a quick guide on how to judge beer from the BJCP website. It is based on the BJCP method, and scoresheet which is what is used in most brewing competitions. Probably a great idea to run through tasting a few beers along with this judging sheet to get a feel for it. http://www.bjcp.org/docs/Beer_checklist.pdf

How to Judge Beer

By Peter Garofalo

1. Fill in the scoresheet header, including information about the beer and yourself.

2. Examine the bottle. Look for tight sediment (good), or excessive sediment (a possible sign of infection). Note the fill level: too high may result in low carbonation; too low (>1.5”) may allow oxidation. Look for any rings around the bottle neck, which is another sign of contamination. Check the box if appropriate, or add some comments.

3. Open the beer and pour out 1-3 ounces, raising a solid head if possible. Immediately sniff the beer to capture the aromatics. Use long, deep sniffs or short, shallow sniffs–which ever works best for you, but be consistent for all beers judged.

4. Write down initial aromas. Follow the cues under the Aroma section: malt, hops, esters, and other aromatics. A complete scoresheet must contain comments on each aspect. Try to be specific: is the malt caramelly, toasty, roasty, burnt…? Are the hops fresh, floral, earthy, citrusy…? If esters are present, what fruits do they evoke: berries, cherries, pears, plums…? Be sure to note the presence (or absence) of expected characteristics for the style. For example, a German hefeweizen should have banana ester and clove phenolics.

5. Move on to Appearance: Comment on the beer’s color–try to name it specifically: golden, amber, copper, brown, black, etc. and relate it to style expectations. Note the clarity: cloudy, turbid, clear, sparkling, opaque. Again, what does the style call for? Finally, note the head characteristics: color, bubble size, retention. Does it stand firmly or collapse quickly?

6. Now, taste the beer. Form an initial impression from the first sip, and allow it to linger a few seconds before swallowing. Note the finish (as you swallow) and aftertaste (a few seconds later). Pay attention to the cues under Flavor: malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance, finish/aftertaste, and other flavor characteristics. As under Aroma, try to specifically identify the type of malt, hops, esters (if present). Note the presence or absence of DMS and diacetyl, or other characteristics such as oxidation, sourness, sweetness, solvent character, etc. If present, are they appropriate? Be sure to note the balance from start to finish, and through to aftertaste. The best beers will remain in balance throughout.

7. Move on to Mouthfeel, assessing the beer’s body (thin, watery, medium, full, thick), carbonation level, alcoholic warmth, astringency, and other sensations. Be sure to note whether the attribute is appropriate for the style at hand.

8. In the Overall Impression section, give a general impression of the beer. Try to avoid personal pronouns (I think…), and give objective comments on how the beer fits the intended style. If flaws are noted, point to possible causes.

There are several important points to keep in mind throughout the judging process. First off, avoid negative comments. Emphasize the beer’s positive attributes, even if it is awful. Diplomacy is a valuable skill as a beer judge. Also, try not to be too specific, since you do not know how the beer was brewed. If there is a malt-related issue, be sure any advice applies to either all-grain or extract brewers.

As for scoring, there are two major methods: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down scoring means that you decide where the beer should score overall, and fill in the sections to add to that total. Bottom-up refers to the practice of filling in a score for each section and adding them to a final score. Either way, the score should make sense. Use the Scoring Guide on the lower left hand side of the scoresheet as a sanity check.

Use the check boxes on the left-hand column of the scoresheet as a list of beer characteristics to comment on. Check all boxes that apply as you score the beer. Note whether the characteristic is appropriate or not for the style.

Use the check boxes on the lower right side of the scoresheet to give the entrant additional information. These are simply to inform the brewer of strengths and weaknesses in a broad manner: stylistically, technically, and in terms of intangibles.

Note that an experienced beer judge should be able to complete an evaluation in about ten minutes. The scoresheet should be completely filled in, legible, and added correctly.

Finally, the most important thing that a good beer evaluation should provide is a thorough sensory evaluation. Keep opinions to yourself, and make sure the entrant understands just what attributes the beer has (or doesn’t have) that justify its score.

(click here for original text on BJCP website)

If entering your beer into competitions, then you need to pay close attention to the style descriptions. You can have a great beer, but if it is entered in the wrong category, or has characteristics that do not fit in the category it will not score well. If you are brewing beer for your enjoyment and have no intention of entering competition, then the style guides give a common language of how to describe what sort of beer you are talking about. If the beer is not for competition then you are free to brew beer that tastes how you would like it to, and you do not have to worry if it does not actually fit in any of the current categories! This is when you can innovate and come up with new beers like a Black IPA.

If you want more information on how to judge beer then the BJCP website has all the info you need! http://www.bjcp.org/index.php

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