Firestone Walker is not a name you hear too often up here in Toronto. We kind of live behind an iron curtain of sorts when it comes to the amazing selection of craft beers in the United States.
As my interest in the American craft beer scene deepens, I’ve been hearing more and more about them. It seems like they have something very special going on out there in Paso Robles, California. For starters, they are the only brewery in North America that uses a “Burton Union” style fermentation system, aptly titled the “Firestone Union“.
Of their many award winning beers, one has become a classic example of the west coast style IPA, Union Jack IPA. I’ve been reading Mitch Steele’s IPA book and For The Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus recently, which has got me very inspired to brew some heavily hopped beers. Lucky for us, in both books, the brewers at Firestone Walker have been kind enough to let us in on how they make it.
First, let’s hear what Firestone Walker’s Brewmaster, Matt Brynildson, has to say about Union Jack IPA:
Well, the temperature has definitely dropped here in Toronto, and winter has arrived after much delay. At this time of year, a look in my beer cellar has me seeking out the darker side of the spectrum. In particular, a nice dark stout. That would do the trick nicely to warm up my cold bones. Just so happens I have the Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout clone myself and fellow homebrewers David Thompson and Peter Caira brewed back in November.
This time around you won’t have to just rely on my opinion, Peter & David, both avid, award winning homebrewers in their own right, have given us their opinion on our collaboration brew.
Straight out of the gate it was evident that there was a massive yeast/chalky character. To me it was pretty overwhelming. My guess it’s from the water additions that we added to the boil and the unique character of the Yorkshire Square yeast. The original has a very subdued yeast presence compared to ours. There are so many factors affecting fermentation, that it would be incredibly difficult to get it exactly as Samuel Smith’s does; open fermentation in slate tubs, pitching rate, oxygenation rate, temperatures, etc. The reason I’m citing this is because yeast performance and the resulting flavour characteristics are dependent on these factors. Perhaps we aerated the wort too much, which brought out a greater amount of esters? Over pitched? Underpitched?
Another thing I noticed is that it’s not as full tasting as the original, and it lacks the rich, chocolatey flavour. There is a touch behind the chalky/yeast character, but it pales in comparison to Samuel Smith’s. I thought for sure with all those oats and minerals in the water that it would have a much bigger mouthfeel, but it doesn’t. Then again, we did mash low at 150F. Next time I’d like to mash higher and see how much it changes things. The head didn’t last as long as I’d hoped for either.
I have found that the estery quality has subdued a bit; gone is the initial slight banana notes, but has developed into a pleasant fruityness. It’s nice drinker for sure, but misses the rich chocolately notes of the real deal. Not sure how to quite account for that; use some brown malt or pale chocolate? Either way it’s fine beer.
Everyone who’s tried it says something like “this is mild for a stout / I could drink that all day” and in one case, a well-informed friend of mine asked if it was a schwarzbier! When I let a pint warm up a bit I get some faint notes of raisin or fig but very subdued. Roastiness is also in the background there but again, very subdued. Mouthfeel is nice – I like the level of carbonation and the oatmeal certainly smooths things out. Aroma is mostly roast/nut quality but again, subdued.
All in all I’d like to try this one again. I’d omit the water additions, bump up the mash temperature, and try a more standard yeast like White Labs 002 – English Ale. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh on my assessment of this beer, as David & Peter enjoyed it. Although I thought we had made an honorable attempt at cloning Samuel Smith’s Original based on what we knew, I don’t think we succeeded this time around.
As the cold sets in, many of us turn to enjoying beers on the darker side of the spectrum. Somehow they make us feel warmer and more nourished in preparation for the long winter ahead. The list of them is long, but one of my personal favourites is from Samuel Smith’s Old Tadcaster Brewery in North Yorkshire, England. Of their long list of stellar beers, their Oatmeal Stout has become a leading example of the style.
Oats have been used in brewing throughout history. It’s a widely available grain, and is often regarded for it’s health benefiting qualities. In the late 1800’s, Oatmeal Stout gained in popularity for this very reason, but by the 1950’s, the style had all but died out.
Then in 1977, renowned beer writer Michael Jackson released “The World Guide to Beer“. The book would re-ignite people’s interest in many forgotten, or at least, unfamiliar styles. Charles Finkel, founder of Merchant du Vin, took notice of the now defunct Eldrige Pope “Oat Malt Stout” and commissioned Samuel Smith to brew a version of the beer. It has since become the template for most modern versions of Oatmeal Stout. Continue reading →
The home brewing community has always been big on encouraging and supporting up and coming brewers. Learn 2 Brew Day is a testament to this spirit. Started in 1999 by the American Homebrew Association, it is an event held around the world to encourage people to come out and learn how to brew their own beer. Seasoned veterans and newbie’s alike, it’s a place to share ideas and to be inspired by new ones. Everybody brews just a little different, so there’s always something to see.
The 2012 Toronto Learn 2 Brew Event was hosted by Amsterdam Brewing at their new brewery location in Leaside. The folks at Amsterdam have always been huge supporters of the local homebrewing scene in Toronto. We sincerely thank them for being so generous with their time and their space. The new brewery looks fantastic and we look forward to many more years of great beer from Amsterdam!
About 10 homebrewers showed up bright and early on saturday morning, cars full of gear and gadgets, with apprentices in tow. Everything from a ‘3 tier gravity system’, to a fully automated ‘R.I.M.S system’, to a ‘brew in a bag system (B.I.A.B)‘ complete with a pully system to haul the spent grain out of the brewpot. There was a porter, an IPA, an ESB, a Hefeweizen and many other styles to watch as they came into being.
Standing over my temperature controlled chest freezer, looking down at my 2 kegs of fully carbonated Bohemian Pilsner, is a very pleasant sight indeed. I used the exact same recipe and maintained the same fermentation schedule for both a single infusion and a decoction version to see what differences could be had. (See original post: Pilsner Urquell: Decoction mash or Single Infusion?) It’s been a long time in the making. Two separate brew days, with the decoction taking me a whopping 11.5 hours (!), 14 days in primary, and another 40 days of lagering. The fact that it is ready to bottle this week, lines up perfectly with us being at the height of summer.