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Thank you all in advance.

Finished my first brew from an extract kit, a Amber Ale. I added vanilla bean in secondary (4 whole beans) but followed the recipe to the tee. Beer finished and carbonated well. Its been in bottle for a little over 2 weeks. I finally refrigerated one last night and tried it.

Results are not promising. What I wanted was a mellow malty red ale, but it is way too bitter for my taste, almost like a weak IPA. The recipe I used called for bittering hops and aroma hops at the end. I am pretty sure next time I will cut the hops in half at minimum.

Also, I was worried the four whole vanilla beans I put in wouldn’t be enough to change the flavor profile, but I was way wrong, its too much vanilla. The flavor is good on impact to the tongue, but the vanilla leaves an odd after taste that I can’t really describe.

Question #1 - What is the best way to kill some of the bitterness and let the caramel malt flavor shine through? Simply half the amount of hops?

Question #2 - Will the bitterness mellow at all if I let it sit in the bottles for a week or two more?

Thanks!

Steve

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4 Answers 4

You say this was your first brew batch? You're braver than I was with my first brew batch (by adding an extra ingredient not specifically called for in the recipe). :-)

You would do well to provide more details around your recipe, as we're taking some approximate stabs at what might be going on here. Knowing the details would help provide a more precise response.

Also relating to the recipe question: How many gallons of water went into your boil? Kit beers don't usually provide enough LME for 5 gallons; when I put down my first kit beer, my LHBS easily persuaded me to buy another 2 lbs of pale LME (from their bulk supply) to add in right at the start.

If you want a recipe which explicitly calls for the addition of vanilla, you might want to select a recipe which explicitly calls for it. I'd be wary about making arbitrary substitutions (eg, vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract) unless you feel extremely confident that you'll most likely get the desired results.

Otherwise, I would recommend picking a recipe well within your comfort zone. Actually, pick 3-5, make one of them your "this is my next batch" choice, and let the other recipes simmer at the back of your mind; try to set them up in an order you'd like to do them, talk to your friends/fellow brewers, take any criticisms with a grain of salt (brew what you want to enjoy, not necessarily what others think would be "a better beer"), and rearrange the order of priority over the intervening days/weeks as you see fit. The choices of recipes can be overwhelming, but there's plenty of time to try quite a few of them over the course of a year. ;)

Sorry for the tangent; as I've only been brewing for a couple months (and 3 beer recipes) these thoughts have been figuring prominently these days.

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Extract recipes often times have the opposite result: they are too syrupy sweet, sometimes referred to as "cloyingly" sweet. Furthermore, a standard Amber Ale shouldn't be too bitter to begin with, typically.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the most obvious answer for your extra bitterness is a recipe malfunction. Either you added the hops in the wrong way (too much up front, not enough late in the boil), or perhaps the store you bought them from mixed up the labeling or packaging. For example, if you asked for a nice German hop like Hallertaur, and the shop accidentally gave you a newer, high alpha (meaning highly bitter) variety like Warrior, your beer could EASILY be 3-4 times as bitter as you intended. Or perhaps you purchased pre-hopped malt extract and the shop didn't realize this and gave you another dose of bittering hops?

Did you boil for just 60 minutes? How quickly did you get the boiled wort cooled down beneath a simmer once you were done boiling?

The good news is that I suspect whatever happened here was a one time freak occurrence. Don't be afraid to try another Amber recipe again, and stick with the hop schedule they give you.

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We'll have to know more about your recipe:

  • What were the amounts of Amber
  • What were the hops, amounts, and times

We need to know your gravity to bitterness ratio.

It's hard to answer number 1 without that, but in general I'd say earlier hop additions will add bitterness, while later hop additions will add flavor and aroma. So, is it too bitter (which might mean too much bitterness for too little sweetness) or is it too hoppy (which would indicate too much late hopping). Again, that's not a set in stone rule; more of a rule of thumb.

As for number 2, bitterness will decrease over time, but it might take more than 2 weeks.

If I were you, I'd bottle it and leave it alone for at least a month (I know, that's asking the impossible). Try it again in a month. If it's good, you're ready to drink. If not, wait again.

There's always a chance that the recipe itself wasn't quite right and the beer won't ever taste great, but I'd at least let it mellow.

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1  
It was the "American Amber Ale by Brewers Best" Kit. I am saddly blocked at work or i would look up the exact recipe and amounts in the kit. I know you add the bittering hops with 15 min left to boil and the aroma hops at knockout. I have all of my measurements at home as far as gravity, etc. I will post later. –  Steve M. Jan 17 '12 at 19:09

if you are using pellet hops then you should add about 15% less than the recipe calls for (this is stated a few times in Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing book).

The vanilla will add its own bitterness and this may be part of what you're tasting and attributing to the hops, more time will help the flavors meld better and some of the bitterness will go down, I'd say try another one in a couple of weeks and see if there is any change.

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Thanks. To be honest, I never even thought about the vanilla as adding bitterness. –  Steve M. Jan 17 '12 at 19:09
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I disagree with the vanilla adding bitterness. If vanilla were bitter, would chefs be putting it into sweet desserts? I used 2 beans on a Pumpkin Lager I did in the fall, and it was sweet deliciousness. –  Graham Jan 17 '12 at 19:46
    
go take a sip of pure vanilla extract and let me know if it is bitter or not. Chocolate is also bitter until you add a load of sugar to it. Just because a flavor goes well with sweetness doesn't mean its pure form is going to taste sweet. –  Mattress Jan 26 '12 at 19:21

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