Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Tripel of 2017 (Tripel Turbinado)

The finished beer, poured into a glass
I've been trying much of the year to find a Belgian Tripel recipe that matches up to my ideal. What I'm looking for would be mildly sweet, balanced slightly toward the malt, with a touch of citrus flavor, fruity/spicy notes, and a nice effervescence.  So far, all I seem to have managed are dry versions that are not terribly flavorful or aromatic.  Today I decided to give it one more try for 2017.  I'm not entirely sure of the origins of this recipe, other than that it probably started as one of the recipes on the American Homebrewing Association web site - with modifications by me.  It was another opportunity to work with the Picobrew Zymatic, too.

Ingredients

6 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
0.25 pounds Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
2 ounces Biscuit Malt
2 ounces Aromatic Malt
2 ounces Honey Malt
18 ounces of Turbinado Sugar
0.55 ounces of Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
1.00 ounces of Tettnanger hops @ 3.4% AA (15 min.)
0.35 ounces of Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (10 min.)
0.35 ounces of Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (1 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (10 min.)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (10 min.)
1/2 packet Mangrove Jack's M31 Tripel dry yeast

According to the Picobrew Recipe Crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.080 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • IBUs: 27
  • SRM: 6
  • ABV: 9%
  • Starting Water: 3.3 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
The beer was brewed in the Picobrew Zymatic.

Mash

The High-Efficiency Mash Schedule was used for this batch. This means a 20 minute dough in at 102F, a 30 minute Mash at 152F, and a 60 minute mash at 154F, followed by a mash out for 10 minutes at 175F.

The refractometer read 18.0 Brix at the end of the mash, which (when adjusted for this device's inaccuracy) equates to a gravity of 1.076 SG.

Boil

A 60-minute boil was configured, with the following schedule:
  • 60 minutes: Styrian Goldings added
  • 15 minutes: Tettnanger added, along with yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes: Saaz and Whirlfloc added
  • 1 minute: Saaz added
At the completion of the boil, the Zymatic pumped the wort into the keg and shut down as designed.

Chilling and Fermenting

I left the beer in the keg for a few hours while spending time with family. When I returned, the beer had cooled to 140F.  I used my sanitized immersion chiller to drop that to 67F, transferred it into a sanitized fermenter, then pitched the yeast.

Original gravity for the batch after the boil registered in the 18.5 to 19.0 Brix range, so I'll call it 18.8.  That works out to a gravity of 1.080 SG, which is exactly what the recipe called for.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

It appeared that during the mash some air was trapped under the step filter screen and underneath the grain bed itself.  This seemed to contribute to foaming on top of the screen because it forced the screen closer to the fluid arm. While there was a significant amount of foam generated during this brew, it never pushed out the lid of the step filter and made a mess. At one point during the mash, there was a "burp" of air from under the grain bed. This resulted in the screen settling into its proper position and the accumulated foam being almost instantly reincorporated. Foaming stopped immediately and never returned for the remainder of the mash. (I added a few extra ounces of water to this batch, which may also have helped reduce foaming.)

This is the (I think) the tenth Tripel I've ever brewed. While I have liked all of them to some degree, I have also been unhappy with all of them to a greater degree.  Perhaps this one will be different. Perhaps not. I'm beginning to think I may need to build my own recipe from the ground up to hit the flavors I'm looking for.  We'll see.

01/02/2018:  The beer has been in the fermenter for 3 days now. There is still airlock activity at this point, though it's declined a bit. The temperature, owing to the cold winter and its effect on ambient basement temperatures, has kept the beer well within the yeast's temperature range when I've looked. I don't think it's gone beyond 69F at any point.  To get some good flavor out of the Belgian yeast, I may need to increase the heat on it.

01/04/2018:  A sample pulled from the fermenter was a pale yellow. It was cloudy, which isn't unusual at this stage. it has a nice balance of malt and citrus, and a subtle sweetness. Airlock activity seems to have ceased at this point.

01/21/2018:  Last week I dosed the beer with gelatin finings and took it out to our screened-in porch to sit in the winter temperatures, in lieu of refrigeration.  Today the temps were back up in the 40s, so it seemed like a good time to bottle it.  I ended up with 2 gallons in the bottling bucket, primed with 2.55 ounces of corn sugar, which should result in carbonation around 3.4 volumes of CO2.  The bottles were placed in a 74F "hot box" to carbonate for a week or two. Once carbonation is achieved, I plan to give them a week or more in a refrigerator to clarify further.  Right now the beer has a slight haze to it, which is fine for the style but I'd like to see it drop clearer if I can.  The leftover sample from the bottling bucket has a nice flavor, and I'm hopeful it will be a good Tripel when finished.

01/31/2018:  I chilled a bottle of the beer tonight and poured it. It poured very clear, with plenty of carbonation and a very thick head.  The head was creamy, long lasting, and left behind characteristic Belgian style lacing in the glass.  I still detect a hint of diacetyl, so I'm giving it more time in the hot box to finish out.  It's a better tripel than most I've made, and may be worth doing again.

02/04/2018:  The beer is extremely well carbonated now, often pouring into a glass as more foam than beer.  The flavor is good, though a touch more bitter than I prefer. Aroma is mildly citrusy with a Belgian fruitiness to it.  It's definitely a good tripel.  If I make it again, I need to dial the carbonation back quite a bit. I used 2.55 ounces of corn sugar in this batch, and probably should have used much less, perhaps 2 ounces or 2.25 ounces.

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/24/2018:  The judges scored this beer a 34 and a 37.  That's in line with my own estimated 35 score.  The individual scores and comments were:
  • Aroma (scores 4 and 10)
    • Head impermeable to aroma, aroma low even when head fell, mostly malt, no off aromas
    • Chamomile, spice, bready
  • Appearance (scores 2 and 3)
    • Massive (inappropriate) head - 2.5" persists. Steady fine bubbles supporting. Pale gold. Very light haze. Too full to see lace.
    • Golden. Clear. Lotsa carbonation
  • Flavor (scores 13 and 16)
    • Floral, honey, black tea, red peppercorn, boozy
    • Full malty base with solid hop spiciness. Alcohol especially warm and clean.
  • Mouthfeel (scores 3 and 4)
    • Full, carbonic/spicy. Carbonic/Alcohol warmth in finish. 
    • Clean, bubbly
  • Overall Impression (scores 9 and 7)
    • Dangerous but delicious. Carbonation got in the way a bit but otherwise it was a good well-brewed example.
Carbonation has been an issue for me since moving over to the Zymatic. That's because the volumes have been unpredictable.  Two recipes with roughly the same amount of grain and water will sometimes yield very different finished volumes (sometimes 25% less than you expect). This is something I am starting to nail down by using carbonation drops on the smaller batches.

Aroma seems to be damaged by too much carbonation, just based on the feedback I'm seeing in the competitions. A really dense head seems to lock in the aromatics.

For this one, if I brew it again I think these changes are needed:
  • Control fermentation temps, especially at the upper end of the range, to hold down the warming note the judges noted.
  • Dial back the carbonation sugar.
  • See about adding citrus peel, coriander, or something else to improve the aroma.1
Overall, given the flaws I knew this had, I'm very happy with the 34/37 scores.

06/03/2018:  The beer was entered into the Ohio State Fair and took fourth place in the Trappist Ales category. It was my only win of the year at the fair. It scored an average of 36.5 at the fair, which is slightly higher than it scored at Barley's in April.

Here are the first judge's comments:

  • Aroma (10/12): Fruity, slightly spicy, and evidence of phenolic character. Slightly grainy and honey sweet. Gentle alcohol.
  • Appearance (3/3): Effervescent. Thick lasting head. Slightly off-gold color.
  • Flavor (12/20): Alcohols are a bit harsh. Bitterness is a bit harsh. Residual saccharine taste.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium body per style, appearing light.
  • Overall Impression (6/10): Components of beer do not integrate harmoniously, bit there are other aspects that are excellent.
  • Total: 35/50
The second judge's comments:
  • Aroma (8/12): Medium-high spicy phenols supported by medium-low soft malt. Light pear esters. Very low floral hops.
  • Appearance (3/3): Golden with some haze. Huge, frothy off-white head with excellent retention. Light lacing on glass. Bear clears as it warms.
  • Flavor (15/20): Medium, clean, lightly grainy malt base supports high spice phenols. Low floral hops. Medium perfumy alcohol. Medium-high bitterness lasts log into aftertaste. Very dry finish. Balance to bitterness/phenols.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5): Medium body with very high carbonation. Medium-high warmth. No creaminess. No astringency or other palate sensations.
  • Overall Impression (8/10): Really delicious example of the style. Phenols and alcohol showcased here. Beautiful appearance and mouthfeel. A little more body and malt flavor would improve the base underneath this beer. Thanks - and good luck!
  • Total: 38/50
Here's what I'm taking away from these comments to improve the next iteration:
  • A larger aroma hop addition might help.
  • Temperature control might dial back the phenolic and warming notes.
  • Dialing the bitterness back a little would improve it.
  • A slightly higher mash temperature, or less sugar, would increase the body and improve it.
  • Switching to a different variation of sugar (e.g., golden candi syrup) might remove what was described as a saccharine note to the aftertaste... though it could have come from the hops.
I'll definitely brew this again in the future.


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