Maple Cream Ale

I do not know exactly why it took so long for me to brew up my next batch of beer. I guess I wanted to wait to see how the pumpkin beer was received. Then I suppose the winter holidays came and went pretty quickly, filled with days of shopping and drinking said pumpkin beer. As I got to the end of my supply of homebrew, I quickly ealized that I didn’t have another batch to replace it with.

Which taught me a very important lesson about timing homebrews: Always have one fermenting in the pipeline.

I was thinking about the beer though. I wanted to go a bit seasonal again to celebrate the melting of the snow and one of Quebec’s greatest staples, maple syrup. If I wanted to get the beer ready for March (and not two months after the season like my pumpkin beer) I would have to start soon.

It’s easy to get lost in research and the science of homebrewing but at a certain point you just have to go for it. After looking up recipes suitable for maple syrup and how the syrup reacts with the yeast and what flavours it imparts I got my ingredients and hit the ground running (or boiling). So I present to you my Maple Cream Ale.

Dry Malt Wheat Extract – 1.363 kg
Light Dry Malt Extract – 1.388 kg
Caramel/Crystal Malt (80L) – 453.592 kg (1 lbs)

Cascade (6%) 25 g @ 60 min (Pellet)
Saaz (USA) (3.75%) 25g @ 20 min (Pellet)
Tettnang (4%) 25g @ 5 min (Pellet)

Maple Syrup No. 3 Dark (Grand Father Labonté) – 540 mL can. 345 g @ 10 min (rest in secondary)
Irish Moss 1tsp @ 11 min
Vanilla 2tbsp @ 5 min
Lactose 4oz @ 15 min

First thing I’ll do is smack the yeast smack-pack. This will add the nutrients to the yeast and have them activate. There’s a lot of opinions about creating a yeast starter, and if you use a vial of yeast it is the preferred method. However, this time around I just let the pack grow and pitched when it was swollen. I would guess this acts like a starter. Next time I use liquid yeast I will make a starter and show the steps, it’s an easy process. There are a lot of different methodologies and opinions when it comes to different steps of homebrewing. At the end of the day they all work out just fine. Relax and have a homebrew, it’ll turn out alright.

Here is the yeast pack after it’s smacked. Later on you will see a comparison picture of how it looks when the yeasties eat the nutrients and it gets all swollen.

I used three type of hops to balance out the sweetness of this brew. Cascade for bitterness and Saaz and Tettnang for aroma. When making a sweeter beer you want to balance it out. It is all a matter of taste and opinion but I love hops and prefer to keep that bitterness in the beer even though the middle will be sweet. I took a few aroma notes on the three different hopes. Cascade gives off a sweet grapefruit and floral aromas. Saaz was a pungent floral and not as aromatic as the other two. Tettnang was a very nice spicy aroma. I was hoping to balance out the maple with hoppy goodness while not using too much and overpower the subtle maple aromas.

Lactose is added at two stages. Once at boil at around 15 minutes and once when I’m bottling. Lactose is an unfermentable sugar which will add a sweet creaminess to the beer. It doesn’t matter when the lactose is added to the beer. My reasoning was to add some at boil and then taste a sample at various stages of the fermenting and clearing. I could then adjust to taste when I bottle the beer.

These are the Caramel/Crystal malts at 80 lovibond. These were steeped at 150°F-165°F for 45 minutes.

They go into a cheese cloth and sit in the pot and steep (like a giant grain teabag). This is not the same as mashing as we are not trying to get much sugar from these malts. The steeping process is to add colour and flavour to the beer to give it a bit more complexity above using just malt extract.

The star of the show: Quebec maple syrup. I wanted to go to a market and speak to a maple syrup producer but I ended up just getting this at our local grocer. Not exactly glamorous. The one thing I learned about maple syrup which I was a bit oblivious about was the different grades. I used dark C grade syrup. It is used for cooking and has more impurities. This is important since you lose the sugars in fermentation. You want to keep the maple flavour and those impurities contain it.

Adding the maple at boil will impart a dry woody flavour. The yeast will ferment the sugar leaving a maple taste which is unfamiliar to sweet maple syrup. This is why I added lactose into my beer to bring back a bit of the creamy, sugary flavour that would be expected.

I added a bit of vanilla since the recipe called for it. Vanilla is expensive and I wasn’t willing to dump the whole thing in. Probably no vanilla comes through in this beer and that will be fine.

Irish moss is added at the end of the boil as a fining agent. I’ve read the chemistry on how this helps to clear the beer, but it was a long time ago and a lot of it went over my head. I’ve been drinking a homebrew as I write this and it’s difficult to recall the exact science.

Here I am steeping the specialty malts. You get a nice dark colour from the Caramel malts.

Here is the wort with the malt extract already added. I used a combination of regular light malt extract and wheat extract. This is about 3 or 4 gallons worth of liquid in one the stock pots my parents lent me. It did not boil. I let this sit on my electric element stove for about 30 minutes and I could not bring it to a boil. It was just not going to happen. A ceramic coated pot used on a weak stove is not the ideal conditions for this amount of water. I learned that the hard way while I was brewing. Sometimes no matter how much you plan things will go wrong.

So I took out another stock pot and halved the liquid in each pot. This worked and I began to get a rolling boil. Boil the wort for 60 minutes and add hops and adjuncts at different times. Rule of thumb is flavouring hops go in at the beginning and aroma hops go in at the end. One tip I learned is that you do not have to bother stirring. The vigorous boil will break up and mix in the hop pellets just fine.

Just before pitching my yeast I take a sample. Nice colour and nice taste. The taste of the wort is far from what you will get in the final product but it is nice to get a sample to make sure nothing is off. I measured my Original Gravity and it was right on target. 1.06 @ 24.5°C

The yeast pack before it is pitched. That’s quite the CO2 buildup from when I broke the nutrient pack about 3 hours ago. I will sanitize the packaging and then pitch this into the wort. Cover my bucket with a lid and towel and come back to it in about a week. The fermentation was quite vigorous.

Once primary fermentation is finished I will transfer from my fermenting bucket to a glass carboy for secondary fermentation and clearing. I bought a fancy new contraption for auto siphoning but my plastic tube didn’t fit the auto siphon cane. I had to improvise with tape and saran wrap and it kind of worked if I held it very tight. There were a lot of bubbles and probably some oxidation but I was adding more sugar for the yeast to eat up and it could use a bit more oxygen.

I took my Final Gravity reading at this point and got a temperature adjusted reading of 1.0133. This would put the ABV before secondary fermentation at about 6%

I boiled the last bit of maple syrup before adding it to my secondary to flash pasteurize it. Last thing you want to do is infect your beer this late in the process.

In goes the maple and we’ll come back in about 2 weeks when it is time to bottle.

When I woke up the next morning the yeast was back in action eating away at the added maple syrup. I was surprised at how vigorous the next few days of fermentation were with the added syrup. My original ABV was calculated at around 6%, I suspect this added a percent or two of alcohol.

In about two weeks it was time to bottle. From the glass carboy back into the bucket to clear out the yeast. I also boil about 5oz of dextrose for natural carbonation.

I always give it a taste before bottling to make adjustments. I added more lactose at bottling, about 1 cup, to sweeten up the brew a bit.

I bottled quickly before leaving on vacation but once it’s in a bottle it will sit for about 3 weeks. I opened one too early and it was flat (and tasty, but flat). Give your beer some time to carbonate and to mature. It’s worth the wait.

I also think that labeling is just as important as any other step. We are visual creatures and what we see affects how we taste. This is why head retention and colour of beer is also important. Give your homebrew a bit of respect and label the bottles. They feel naked otherwise. I use for most of my labels. It’s quick and painless. I might then open and add a few little extras if I need to further personalize it. To glue the labels to the bottle I use a bit of milk. Let them dry at room temperature and it will stick to your bottles nicely. I prefer this method because it’s cheap, easy and most important it comes off clean with a little hot water bath.

And that’s it. Maple Cream Ale is ready to be enjoyed. Cheers.

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