20th Brew-versary Extravaganza!

This post is one part of a two-part piece (the other being a video) I’ve put together as part of my 20th anniversary as a home brewer – a milestone I hit a few weeks ago – December 5, 2016 to be exact.

To celebrate this milestone I set myself three goals – to prepare a video looking back on 20 years of brewing (embedded below, or available at my youtube page), to brew a 20% ABV beer to drink on my 20th brew-versary (recipe/brewday here, detailed brewing and tasting notes below the fold), and the biggest challenge of them all – I rebrewed the first beer I ever made, applying my 20 years of experience, to see if I could make a palatable version of that venerable brew (the brewing of which can be found in the video embedded below, tasting notes to follow sometime in early 2017).

Ironically, somewhere along the line I lost track of the true date of my brew-versary, and in many previous posts listed it as December 9…turns out the true first brew day was on a loose-leaf piece of paper jammed in the back of my old log book – a page I found with only weeks to spare, and containing a completely different (yet equally cheap) canned-malt kit beer.

If you don’t want to listen to me ramble on for 20-ish minutes about brewing, that take home from my retrospective video is:

  1. The on-line brewing community has grown dramatically, and for the better.
  2. Ingredients are better and more plentiful.
  3. Equipment and techniques have evolved, generally for the better.
Without further ado, the video…
Brewing and tasting notes for the 20% beer can be found below the fold…I’ll post a followup detailing my attempt at re-brewing my first beer early in 2017.


Ambrosio, The Fallen Monk

Starting a 4 hour boil on the stove, because its too
cold  outside for propane

The goal of this beer is pretty straight forward – I wanted a Belgian-inspired beer with 1% ABV for every year I’ve been a homebrewer. As described in the recipe/brew-day post about this beer, I over-designed this beer so that I would get a 22-24% ABV beer if it attenuated as per the norms of the yeast I was using…an unlikely event given the high gravity (I ended up with 20.65% ABV…so its a good thing I over-brewed).

I’d direct you to the above link for information on the recipe and brew-day. The details of how I managed the beer to get a 20% ABV beer is what I am going to describe here. To day the brewing of this beer was involved would be an understatement – after the yeast were pitched I interceded with this beer more than any beer I’ve made previously. The goal was simple – to ease the yeast through the fermentation process, keeping the available fermentables to “reasonable” levels, ensuring yeast health, and generally doing everything I could to keep the yeast going. Here’s the blow-by-blow:
2 weeks prior to brew day: 2 weeks before brewing this beer I prepared a “starter”, in the form of a 23L/~4% ABV enkle, using Trappist High Gravity yeast (Wyeast 3787) . This allowed me to prepare a massive pitch of yeast for Ambrosio.
Brewday: During the brewing of Ambrosio, I transfered the enkel “starter beer” into a keg. I then split the yeast cake into three 1L jars – one with a full litre of yeast slurry, the other two with ~0.5L each. The 1L of slurry was then transferred to a cleaned pail-type fermenter and 1L of 1.060 wort (made with water and + DME, and well oxygenated) added to reinvigorate the yeast. This was added ~4 hours prior to the anticipated end of the brew-day, to ensure I was pitching the wort onto vigorously fermenting yeast. Once brewing was complete I transferred the wort into the same fermentation pail and then aerated with filtered air and an aeration stone for 15 minutes. At this point the lid was placed on the fermenter and the fermenter placed in a warm (~22C) room for fermentation.
~24 hours post-brewday: The following day I added the first 0.5L flask of yeast to an equal volume of 1.080 wort and placed this on my stirplate until the yeast “creamed” (showed signs of activity, ~2 hours post-pitch). The fermenting beer (which was just reaching high kraussen) was then re-oxygenated with filtered air, using a 10 min pulse and aeration stone. Near the end of this aeration period the new yeast was pitched into the beer.
~48 hours post-brewday: I “activated” the remaining 0.5L of Trappist yeast as above, and added this yeast along with ~15% total fermentables of simple sugar (invert sugar + homemade dark candi syrup).
Days 3, 4 and 5: The yeast was gently roused, and CO2 pushed out of solution, by gentle stirring with a sanitized plastic spoon.
5 days post-brewday: Primary fermentation had begun to slow, with ~ 25 points in expected gravity points left to go, so I started a large (2.5L) starter of White Labs Super-High Gravity Yeast (WLP099).

Days 6 and 8: Yeast was roused as on days 3-5.

~10 days post-brewday: WLP099 starter was decanted and added to the beer, along with 2 teaspoons of wyeast yeast nutrient.

25 days post-brewday: Beer’s gravity had stabilized (with ~ 10 points left to go), so beer was transferred to a carboy and capped the carboy with an airlock.

5 months post-brewday: Beer had fermented the final 10 points, and as such the beer was moved to my cellar (~10C) for long-term aging.

1 year, 8 months post-brewday: Beer was transferred to two purged kegs and force-carbonated to 2.5 volumes. Once carbonated, beer was bottled and placed back into the cellar for long-term storage.

1 year, 9 months, 20 days post-brewday: My brew-versary, and the “theoretical” first taste of this beer.


Tasting Notes

I’ll admit to cheating and tasting this beer a few times along the way. It was near undrinkable coming out of the primary fermenter, tasting more like rocket fuel than beer. It was not noticeably better 5 months in – maybe a little less heat from the fusel alcohols, but it was still an unpalatable mess. But I let it ride, and ~600 days post brew-day I kegged the beer – a warm sample tasted at kegging was fantastic – its amazing what time will do. But the full tasting notes are for the final bottled product, and to say I’m the proud father of this beer would not be an understatement:
Appearance: This beer is ridiculously thick – you can sense the thickness as the beer lazily pours into the glass. The head is a thin beige mass that quickly disappears, and the body is a deep mahogany that coats the side of the glass. The bubbles are quite fine, and move slowly upward through the beer.

Aroma: An intense malt character dominates the aroma of this beer, behind which a plum-like fruitiness is apparent. Despite the high alcohol, there is no “hot” aroma or solvent-like notes.

Flavour: When cold, this beer is intensely malty, dominantly sweet, with only subtle hints of any yeast character in the background. As the beer warms these yeast characters come out more – dominated by stone fruit character (plums or dates), but with some subtle pepper-like phenolics. When you first take a sip the only indication of the high alcohol content is a subtle tingling heat on the back of your tongue; when swallowed this turns into a lingering heat in the back of the throat and a warm feeling in your belly. Overarching all of these flavours are flavours typical of vintage beers – notably a combination of sherry and port note from oxidation, and a more dried-fruit character to the ester component of the beer. The aftertaste is a long, lingering sweetness and a warmness in your stomach that can persist for hours.

Mouthfeel: Thick and luxurious, with a slight tingling sensation from the carbonation and alcohol.

Overall: The high sweetness and complex flavour of this beer makes it a great digestif to follow a meal, or to enjoy late at nigh while listening to music in the dark. The same characteristics make it a difficult beer to quaff a pint or two – a half-filled wine glass is the idea serving size. I do wish this beer was a little less sweet – something that could have been achieved by using simple sugars for 20% to 30% of the fermentables – but otherwise this beer came out much as I expected. An enjoyable beer – and one which should age well and be enjoyed for many years. I guess 20 years of brewing experience does pay off!

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