Fool Me Once Amber

I’m pretty sure every homebrewer has had a moment where they bit off more than they could chew. Mine came recently, when a buddy wanted to brew a holiday-spiced porter. The flavors came through (maybe a little too much), but one flavor came out more than others:

The Dreaded Diacetyl.

My friend loved it for some reason, so I parted with that batch and started brewing a new one. I was just introduced to and saw a recipe for a good-looking Bock. I thought, “Hey, Branden, you’ve been brewing for all of five months now. You’re ready for a lager.”

Very wrong, other Branden. Very wrong indeed.

The brew day went well, but fermentation started off terribly when my beer went into yeast autolysis. The airlock was filled with a sulphur smell and I had a bad feeling about the batch. I let it ferment at a consistent 50 degrees for two weeks, then racked it into a carboy. It’s still sitting there, outside of my house protected from light and elements, hopefully not tasting like shit when all is said and done.

I was dejected—it was my second brew day that didn’t go well in my eyes. I felt that I had wasted two batches consecutively and I was starting to waste money. My fridge was running out of homebrew. All was not well on the western front.

I took a quick break from homebrewing to start gearing up for the Beer server exam, the first step in my path to becoming a certified Cicerone and Beer Judge. During this step, I received The Naked Pint for christmas from my mother.

P.S. Read The Naked Pint. Awesome book.

Toward the end of the book, they throw in some recipes gathered from brewers around the country. I saw a base recipe for an Amber Ale that looked pretty simple, so I decided to dive in and check it out. I gathered ingredients for the partial mash recipe from The Brew Shop, making some adjustments here and there.

Brew day went extremely well. Yeast was pitched at ~70 degrees and was cooled faster than any other beers I have made. Fermentation was at a happy, consistent 67 degrees for the 12 days in the primary. Gravit dropped to 1.012  and, although the color was not as red as I would have liked, it tasted nice and malty. I bottled into 25 22oz bottles with come corn sugar and put it back into the laundry room, where the temperature stayed consistent. To date, the bottles have been conditioning for seven days. SInce I have my Central Oregon Homebrewers meeting today, I figured I would see how carbonated it was.

Boom, cap off and CO2 hisses out. The head was not dense at all (I’ll let it carbonate for a bit longer), but hey—This was starting well. As I dropped it into a 22oz “Portland” glass by Spielgelau, I noticed the beer was a deep amber hue with Orange highlights. Beautiful.

This is the exact color I was looking for. Look how deep that red is.
This is the exact color I was looking for. Look how deep that red is.

But, here’s where it goes wrong. I take a quick bloodhound sniff of the beer and there it was.

The Dreaded Diacetyl.

Much lighter than the porter, but it was still there. I noticed aromas of dark fruit and a similar smell to the porter. Flavor-wise, it was pretty weak. Medium bodied, but finished like water. Light orange flavor from the hops, but really not a back-end malt presence at all.

I do like this recipe, and I do love me a good amber. So, this is a good learning moment—adjust the recipe and do it all over again. I’m thinking to add some dextrine for body, up the malt bill (add some Munich?), keep the hops the same, and cool faster than I did last time (is it possible without a counter flow/immersion chiller?).

All that aside, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a fine beer with a decent flavor. I’ve got some work to do on it, but it showed me that you can’t get beat down by homebrewing. Turn around, get back to basics, and make a good beer before you reach for the stars. Me? I’m going to go back to doing a pale ale, red/amber ale, and maybe a good stout. Keep it simple until simple becomes boring. Then, make a new simple for yourself.

Cheers, fellow homebrewers. If you have a recommendation on how to fix this recipe, tweet me or hit the comments section below.

By the way, like I said, I’ll leave it to carbonate some more and see if some of the flavors mellow out/gain traction. I’ll update after 10 days. 


So, I let the beer sit until today, Jan 21. I’m happy to report that the head retention REALLY stepped up. I poured about 10 minutes ago and it has a great, creamy off-white head. The diacetyl flavor has dropped down a bit, but next time I’ll do a diacetyl rest and this beer should be solid. Also, I’m going to try and up the grain bill to get some more fermentables. Right now, we’re seriously lacking in the body I want and that nice malt backbone I want. REMINDER, I’m still taking recommendations for how to improve this beer. I want some nice, biscuty malt flavors and a full bodied taste. Right now, it’s pretty sweet and fruity.


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