May 2020 Archives

According to my voluminous records, it's been over two years since my last batch of homebrew, so I've officially lost any and all superpowers conferred by the home brewing fraternity of zythophilia. I could list out some excuses, but it ultimately comes down to having an excess buildup of world class beer in my house already. Alright, fine, I should probably just admit that it's sheer laziness, but I do, in fact, have a lot of beer in my house.

Anywho, now that I'm in lockdown, I thought it might be a good time to reignite that homebrewing flame and make the Scotch Ale I've been threatening to brew for nigh on 4 years now. It will join Trystero and Bomb & Grapnel in my little series of oak-aged homebrew experiments (using a similar process that will result in some base beer, an oaked version, and a blend). Let's get into it:

Beer #20: Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale - Barlennan
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
May 19, 2020

0.5 lb. English Medium Crystal Malt (specialty grain)
0.375 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
0.125 lb. English Roasted Barley Malt (specialty grain)
12 lb. Gold Malt Syrup (LME)
1 oz. German Northern Brewer Hops (bittering @ 8 AA)
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale Yeast (1 smack pack + starter)

Barlennan ingredients

I originally wanted to do an even simpler recipe, but my preferred homebrew shop is far away and their Scotch Ale kit had peated malt in it (this isn't an actual historical thing, but for some reason a lot of recipes call for it), so I just ordered this Northern Brewer kit that seemed pretty close to what I was going to do anyway. My initial version had a little less in the way of specialty malts, but the kit is still pretty simple stuff. Mostly just a base malt with some specialty grains for flavor, a single hop addition for bitterness (historically, Scottish ales are not known for pronounced hop character owing to the fact that they had to import their hops from *groan* England). Simple ingredients, but I'm going to do some decidedly non-simple stuff for the rest of the process.

It's a high-ish gravity brew, so I did a yeast starter using some old Bavarian Wheat DME that I had laying around (this is not what I mean when I say non-simple - I just should mention it). It had solidified into a brick, so I had to soak it in some warm water first to dissolve it, but the general yeast starter recipe (3 parts water, 1 part malt) worked well enough, and resulted in a reasonable 600ish ml starter. The Northern Brewer kit came with two Wyeast smack packs, so I used one for the starter, and just saved the other to pitch at the same time as the starter. I did the starter on Saturday and brew day was on Tuesday (probably should have been Monday, but no big whoop).

Barlennan boil

The only real deviation from standard brewing practices here is that I followed the apparently infamous skotrat technique that he developed for a Traquair House Ale Clone (incidentally, that's probably my favorite Scotch Ale that's actually from Scotland that I've had). Basically, the technique has you removing a small portion of the wort and giving it a really hard boil to caramelize it. He says to reduce two gallons down to a pint, but that recipe is for a much larger batch. Also, my readily available cookware for this is limited and I didn't feel like spelunking through my basement to find something bigger, so my portion was more like 1.5 quarts reduced down to about a cup (maybe a cup and a half, I didn't measure it). It was noticeably darker than the base brew, so hopefully it got some good caramelization on it that will come through in the finished product. Honestly, this might be something I want to do for all of my high gravity stuff, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

As mentioned above, after about two weeks or so, I'll rack to secondary, splitting the batch into two 2.5 Gallon fermenters, one of which will get oak cubes that have been soaking in Aberlour for about 3 years (remember when I said I've been planning this beer for four years?) At bottling time, I'm going to split this up into three different bottlings. One with the base, one with the oaked version, and one with a blend of the two. Depending on how I feel, I may also do something like a fortified beer, adding enough Scotch to a couple bottles to bring the ABV up to about 20% ABV.

Hopefully, all these little tweaks to the process will make up for my continued engagement with extract brewing.

OG: ~23 Brix = 1.096.

This is a little higher than the original target OG of around 1.083, but I'm fine with the higher gravity because I want this to be a big, chewy, oak aged monster of a beer. That said, assuming something like 70% attenuation, I'll get about 9% ABV out of this (FG of around 1.027), which should be a good base for the oak aging. One concern with the fermentation right now is that the ambient temps in my house are hovering around 70° F, which is pretty much the max temp for this yeast. Fortunately, we're having a cool spring, so I should be able to keep it slightly lower for these critical first few days (update: I've been able to maintain an average of 69° during the most active periods of fermentation - nice.)

As for the name of the beer, in accordance with my other high gravity brews, I've selected an appropriately nerdy (and obscure) reference from science fiction literature: Barlennan. If you already know what I'm talking about, we are probably kindred spirits of some kind. If not, well, it's from a 1954 Hal Clement novel called Mission of Gravity. That review was from almost exactly three years ago, and when that character's name showed up in that book I thought it would be an exceptional name for a beer, mostly just because "Barl" is also the base for barley, but also the notion of "high gravity" fits with the events of the book (I suppose we're talking about different concepts, but still). I'm glad I'm finally able to make this beer. Hopefully it will live up to the years of hype. It's bubbling away happily right now, so we're certainly on-track... stay tuned!

Mason B.A. Baracus

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I've been known to read a bit too much into the name of a beer, often positing obscure pop culture references that are almost certainly untrue (though sometimes I'm correct). Because it's fun and I'm the worst, that's why. Anyway, in this case, it's hard to avoid the obvious: this beer is named after a butterfly. More precisely, Baracus is a genus of grass skippers, or butterflies of the subfamily Hesperiinae. What I'm saying is that Mason Ale Works are closet lepidopterists and certainly not fans of a classic 80s television show about a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit.

Alright, fine, it's named after Mr. T's character from the A-Team. Are you happy now? Fine then. Believe it or not, the initials "B.A." actually have several possible meanings. It's most frequently translated to "Bad Attitude", but it also stands for "Bosco Albert" (his real name), and while this one isn't canon, Mr. T has indicated that it could stand for "Born Again" (in terms of his Christian faith).

In context of this beer, B.A. also stands for "Barrel-Aged" - this barleywine spent over a year in bourbon and Cutwater single malt whiskey barrels (presumably that's Devil's Share American Whiskey). Cutwater is a venture started by the founder and master brewer of Ballast Point (after BP sold out to megacorp Constellation), so it appears Mason Ale Works wanted to support their former rivals by purchasing some barrels. Or perhaps they share an interest in lepidopterology. Um, whatever the case, let's get to the good stuff. By which I mean... tasting notes that will make your eyes gloss over.

Mason B.A. Baracus

Mason Ale Works B.A. Baracus - Pours a muddy dark brown color with a half finger of head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells great, lots of caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some resinous hops lurking in the background. Taste is sweet, toffee, caramel, that bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some of that resinous hop character too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate carbonation, plenty of booze. Overall, yup fantastic little BA barleywine. It's got some of that American Barleywine hoppiness to it, but it's well incorporated. I want to say that it's reminiscent of Mother of All Storms, but I had these beers far enough apart that I can't be sure. Gonna have to get fresh bottles/cans of each to do a proper comparison. Ultimately, both are pretty great and worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/20. Vintage: Limited Edition 2018.

Yet another fine barleywine, I'm steadily making progress on my backlog of reviews (this is the last one from before quarantine times), so stay tuned. We've got some more barleywine, some stouts, and more local cans of IPAs and Pilsners coming your way.

La Cabra Triple Feature

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I've done a poor job of keeping up with La Cabra. Well, when I say "keeping up with," I don't so much mean drinking their beer as much as writing about it. The pub in Berwyn is still a favorite stop on that R5 corridor and now that we're all living in lockdown, I'm trying to support my favorite local breweries. La Cabra has a very convenient contactless curbside pickup setup going (which includes a limited food menu too), so I hope they're able to maintain during these lean times. Got myself a couple of 4 packs, a crowler, and some food last week, so let's get their goat and drink some beer.

La Cabra Hipster Catnip

Hipster Catnip - Lactose dosed IPA made with Citra and Mosaic - Pours a cloudy, pale yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells nice, bright citrus hops, stone fruit, a bit of pine, some of that milkshake swankiness. Taste is sweet, lots of those bright citrus notes up front, with the danker piney notes emerging later, and an actual balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and while that lactose adds body, it's a well balanced adjunct that works well here. Overall, rock solid stuff, well integrated. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a stemless wine glass on 4/30/20. Canned on: 04/20/20 Batch: NICE.

La Cabra Citra Shatter

Citra Shatter - Single hopped NEIPA dosed with lactose, guess which hop? - Pours an even cloudier, even paler straw yellow color with a solid finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells great, juicy, almost candied citrus aromas, mangos, apricots, and some bright herbal/floral notes too (pretty solid Citra hop combo right there). Taste starts sweet, hits some of those juicy citrus hop notes, hints of herbal/floral, and finishing with a bit of balancing bitterness. Taste is not quite as great as the nose would imply, but it's still some solid stuff. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, similar lactose body character, but this is overall a lighter mouthfeel. OVerall, good stuff, I think I like it better than the Catnip... and while I haven't had a ton of the Shatter series, this may be the best of them. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/1/20. Canned on: 04/27/20 Batch: FRESHIE.

La Cabra Down to Collab

Down to Collab - Collaboration with Bulls Head Public House, an English Mild ale hopped with a mild dose of Chinook - Pours a gorgeous clear copper amber color with a finger or two of off white head. Smells nice, sweet, biscuity, floral, maybe a hint of citrus and pine. Taste has a nice, light biscuity character, with some dry bitterness balancing out in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbed, quaffable, very easy going stuff. Overall, I really enjoy this and of beers to get in a 32 ounce container, this is a pretty great choice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/3/20. Canned on: 4/28/20.

Hard to believe it's been three year's since I've written about La Cabra (for crying out loud, I covered them almost as much before they opened as after!), let's not wait so long again, shall we? He says, as if you have any impact on that. Which you probably do. Totally your fault.

The Session: Quarantine Edition

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session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, used to be an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. It's been defunct for a while now, but it's making something of a comeback, even if it's only for this one month. In the past though, each month, a different beer blogger would host the Session, choose a topic and create a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find an archive of previous installments of The Session at Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This triumphant return to The Session is hosted by Alistair Reece of Fuggled.net, and he basically wants to know where we're at:

... in these unprecedented times, what has become your new drinking normal? Are you drinking more? Less? Have you raided the cellar regularly? Is there a particular brewery whose beer is keeping you company while you are confined to barracks? Has there been a beer revelation in these times?

I feel incredibly fortunate right now, seeing as though my job has not changed all that much with the small exception that I'm working from home now. A lot of my job is spent collaborating with folks in other offices throughout the US and Europe, so the whole video conference thing isn't anything new for me. I'm also very lucky in that I'm a pretty extreme introvert, so the whole social isolation thing isn't a huge deal for me either. I saw someone posting their ambitious movie watching plans during quarantine, which were basically my normal (I don't know whether this is a brag or a clueless self-own; you decide!)

That said, after a solid 6-7 weeks of lockdown, I've noticed some things that I'm missing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I miss bottle shares the most. I've managed to worm my way into a few monthly shares that are always a great time with great beer and great company, so I'm really jonesing for a share. And I obviously miss stopping in at a bar/brewery for a brew or two, even if I'm going alone. In lieu of one of our shares, a bunch of us chipped in to the local bartender corps, who are obviously unable to work these days, and I'm always on the lookout for ways to support local restaurants and bars and breweries in any way possible.

Speaking of which, I've been trying to hit up local breweries for a four-pack or three at least once a week. The primary beneficiaries so far have been: Tired Hands, Hidden River, La Cabra, and Levante. Strangely, it feels like these releases are still selling out quickly, so I'm hoping these breweries are weathering the situation well enough to survive stay-at-home orders and whatnot. That said, I'm not quite as prodigious a drinker as I once was, so I'm keeping my purchases relatively small. As I've often noticed, my eyes are bigger than my liver. Normally, I'm able to make up for that by sharing with friends, but as previously mentioned, that's not happening right now...

Still, I've also managed to dip into my cellar throughout this ordeal. Again, this isn't that far from the norm for me, but it is a good opportunity to pop open some of the heavy duty bottles that aren't everyday drinkers. All told, though, my drinking has remained mostly unchanged. In fact, since I'm not drinking out anymore, it's probably lessened somewhat.

Two other related developments should be noted. One is that I've decided to restart my homebrewing hobby, which has been dormant for a good two years now. I've got some ingredients on their way, and am hoping to have a brew day in the next week or two. I'll be making a Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale (and will be attempting some Aberlour aged oak cube action on half of that batch).

The second development is something you're reading right now. I've been blogging in general for almost 20 years and this beer blog has been going for almost a full decade. Things have been trailing off considerably in the past year or so, only posting once or twice a month on average, but things have picked up a bit during quarantine. I mean, I doubt readership is up at all, but posting rate is up and it's fun. The start of lockdown actually coincided with the last few weeks of my annual quasi-hiatus from beer, so I did manage some other fun explorations, including another iteration of my Infinity Bottle and a look at Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine.

Ultimately, I'm lucky and fortunate to be able to weather the storm, and I'm looking for ways to help out folks who need it. While I'm well suited to this sort of thing, I'm still hoping that we are able to get through this complete isolation period as quickly as possible. Best of luck to you all!

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2020 is the previous archive.

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