Celebrating with beer…

This past Saturday my daughter graduated from college! No more payments, no more FAFSA and other financial aid forms, and probably no more graduation speeches to listen to! Worth celebrating, definitely! I’m pretty proud of my daughter, too – not only does she have a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts, and a full-time job right away in her field, but she also made reservations for a family luncheon at a brewpub a few minutes’ walk from the site of the graduation ceremony! Her father’s daughter, in many ways…

Eight of us shared a table at the Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, Rhode Island, right under their famous mural of the Last Supper (with John Lennon in the place of Jesus, Kurt Cobain as Judas, etc…). They had six beers on tap, and I got the six-beer sampler tray, not wanting to miss anything…

First up: a Kölsch. My Dad, a Bud drinker, enjoyed the Kölsch enough to have two. It was nice and bready, malty, crisp, Trinity says it is between 3 and 4% abv, with 18 IBU, and hopped with Galena.

Tommy’s Red Ale, a very malty Irish style ale, glowed a deep amber. At 4 to 5% abv and 28 IBUs, all Tettnang, it was yummy.

ESB: didn’t catch the name, nor the abv/IBU counts, but I’d guess it was around 35 – 40 IBU, very English tasting at first (Goldings?) but with an American (Cascade?) finish. Overall impression: hops, but pretty well balanced by malt.

Rhode Island IPA, their flagship, a multiple medal-winner, and the only beer they bottle at the moment (everything on tap is available in growlers at the pub, but the IPA can be found in dozens of retail outlets). 7% abv, 65 IBUs, all Kent Golding, according to the website. Very nice hop bitterness and a crisp balanced flavor. I had another pint.

Decadence Imperial IPA – brewed to celebrate 10 years in business, this is a big (10% abv) bitter (150 IBU’s) “wow” of a beer. Summit, Amarillo, Cascade and Simcoe hops, LOTS of malt…

Russian Imperial Stout – a beautiful opaque black beer, with a thick beige head. They say 8% and 60 IBU’s, hopped with Kent Goldings. Something in the yeast profile reminded us all of licorice or anise, but otherwise a nice rich beer…

The menu was fairly typical pub food, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, steaks and seafood, and the service was quite good. Get there early and be sure to make reservations – the place was hopping!

A Beer Made in Heaven

If you’ve read any of my ramblings here over the last few months, it may have occurred to you that I hold Sierra Nevada and Anchor in very high esteem. They are two of the true pioneers in the craft brew world, two of the originals and two breweries who continue to innovate and yet hold true to their roots and to their principles. Any new brew from either of these breweries is worthy of at least a try.

I was very pleased to see an ad a few weeks ago (in Brew Your Own, I think) for the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Ale. I vowed that I would get ahold of some, come what may, and review it for my legions of followers (how many in a legion, he wondered aloud…). That day has come, the Sierra Nevada XXX arrived in the market today, and I have been sipping at it for the last couple hours. First, I read the label – not only was it brewed by Sierra Nevada, but the “guest brewer” was none other than Fritz Maytag, owner and brewmaster of Anchor. And it’s a big stout, 9.2% abv. What’s not to like? “Fritz & Ken’s Ale” – already, I am inclined to grab another couple bottles to put away for a year or more…

So, the beer itself: DARK, opaque, reddish-black (when held in front of a very strong light), gorgeous tan head, nice thick foam (think mustache-coating)… The aroma is malt, roasted barley, caramel, burnt sugar, coffee… Full-bodied, rich, devastatingly malty… lots of dark malt but lots of caramel/crystal sweetness too. The hops take a while to notice, with all that malt, but they are quite nice – bitter, but in balance. The finish is not dry, nor is it too sweet – again, a nice balanced malty flavor, emphasis on the roasted barley and dark malts… quite a bit of alcohol, very warming… I’m talking out loud here, I realize… Yes, you are witnessing a tasting live, as it happens…

Hey, this is one hell of a beer. Go get some. Period. Unless you don’t like full-flavored beers. Then this is not for you.

Ken, Fritz, you done good. Thank you!

To Clone: A Sin…?

The idea of cloning a beer dates back to the earliest days of home brewing. I mean, ever since it’s been possible to brew your own beer at home, we have done so at least in part to try to replicate something we tried and liked that someone else brewed. The late Dave Line, a British beer writer of the 1970’s, is the guy I credit with the most influential pioneering work on the subject, simply called “Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy” (1978 Argus Books). Line researched and developed recipes for over 100 different beers from around the world (primarily British, to be honest, but..) and fostered the idea that a home brewer could not only save money by making his or her own at home, but could also make it as well as, if not better than, the big breweries… Dangerous concept!

I began writing for Brew Your Own a few months after the magazine’s inception in 1995. The original editor, Craig Bystrinski, was a college classmate of mine, and I signed on to do the occasional feature article and a monthly column, eventually titled “The Replicator”. Each month I offered a recipe for reproducing a personal or a reader’s favorite beer. The column grew out of an early feature which we called “Clone Your Own”, replete with pictures of Dolly the Sheep… In 1998, Storey Books brought out Mark & Tess Szamatulski’s Clonebrews, and I was asked to do the follow-up, North American Clonebrews, which came out in 2000. I will devote a post some other time to the method I use for cloning a beer, but I wanted to get the history out of the way before launching into the recipe for the beer I brewed yesterday.

My good friend Rick (aka the Webmaster) and his wife Sarah went up to Montreal a few months back and while there hit a brewpub called “Dieu Du Ciel”, “God In Heaven” – a vaguely Belgian inspired place, with a nice variety of beers, cool atmosphere, etc… and they also bottle. Rick tasted and apparently fell in love with one of their beers, and brought a bottle back to me to see if I could help him brew it. The beer was called “Péché Mortel”, “Mortal Sin”, and it was/is delicious. A big Imperial Stout, about 9.5% abv, brewed with coffee. Rich, dark, dangerously smooth, a wow of a beer. So naturally I set out to devise a recipe. I brew all-grain, so my recipe is not extract-based. Rick is gently being nudged in that direction, but still brews mostly with extracts and some steeping grains. I had to work out an equivalent recipe for him. So what follows are two different versions of the same beer. Rick brewed his last week, I brewed mine yesterday, they’ll both be ready about the same time (in June or July?) and we look forward to tracking down a bottle of “the real thing” and opening ours and comparing.

Mortal Sin
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 12 lbs. Maris Otter 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. torrefied wheat
  • 1/2 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1 lb. dark crystal malt (120°L)
  • 1/2 lb. coarsely ground French roast coffee beans
  • 21.2 IBU’s Northern Brewer hop pellets (2 oz. @10.6% aa)
  • 12.5 IBU’s Galena hop pellets (1 oz. @12.5% aa)
  • 5.1 IBU’s Tettnang hop pellets (1 oz. @5.1% aa)
  • 3 cups Dieu Du Ciel yeast slurry (recultured)
  • 2/3 cup dry malt extract for priming
  • 3 tbsp. dark roast instant coffee

The night before brewing, crush grains. On brew day, heat 18 quarts water to 165°F, mash in grains and coffee, hold 90 minutes @153°F. Heat another 14 quarts to 170°F. Begin runoff, sparge, collecting approximately 26 – 28 quarts of sweet wort.

Bring to a boil and add the Northern Brewer hops. Boil 30 minutes, add the Galena hops. Boil another 25 minutes, add the Tettnang hops. After 5 more minutes (60 total), turn off heat.

Chill the wort to 80 – 85°F, take a hydrometer reading, pour with some splashing into your sanitized primary fermenter. Pitch the yeast slurry, seal up and ferment at 65 – 68°F for 2 weeks or until bubbling in the airlock slows down to once or twice a minute. Rack to secondary and prepare to be patient. Age at 50° – 55°F for 6 weeks or so (check to make sure your airlock doesn’t dry out at any point!). Bottle, priming with the DME and adding the instant coffee at the same time. Bottle condition for at least a month; longer is better.

OG: 1086 – 90
target TG: 1018 – 22
expected abv: 8.5 – 9%
IBU’s: 125 (not really – see note)

Note on hops: the hop utilization factors I use (see earlier post) are calibrated for worts with an OG around 1050. In higher gravity worts like this one, hop utilization diminshes by as much as 20%. This beer probably ends up with more like 100 IBU’s, but it’s a very complicated calculation and not really all that important!

Note on yeast: Hopefully, one of the keys to getting this one “right” is  the yeast. I saved the dregs from the bottle Rick gave me (it is a bottle-conditioned beer), and gradually over a couple weeks fed the yeast and built up a culture big enough to brew with. I brewed a 2-gallon amber ale just to further grow the yeast colony, then put it aside. I will post about yeast-saving and reculturing at a later date… Anyway, I built up enough of a slurry that I could divide it and give Rick some to use, and I also used it yesterday. If you want to brew this beer and can’t get the DDC yeast, you can probably get close enough results with any fruity Belgian ale yeast, or even an Irish yeast, in a pinch.

Extract-based version:
Instead of mashing the 12 lbs. of pale malt, start by steeping 1/2 lb. each malted wheat, cara-pils, chocolate malt and roasted barley, all crushed, and the crushed coffee beans, in 3 gallons of water. Use a mesh bag to hold the grains for easier removal later. Raise the heat gradually to 165 – 170°F, cover, turn off the heat and hold for 30 minutes. Remove the grains and coffee, turn the heat back on. Bring to a boil, and add either 10 lbs. amber dry malt extract or 12.5 lbs. amber malt extract syrup. This is a lot of extract for 3 gallons of water, so be careful to stir it in and not let it stick/burn on the bottom of the kettle. When it comes back to a boil, add the hops as in the all-grain recipe. After the hop and boiling schedule, chill and add to your sanitized primary fermenter along with enough chilled pre-boiled water to make a little over 5 gallons. Mix gently and take a hydrometer reading. At 80 – 85°F, pitch the yeast, seal, ferment and condition as above.