Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Borrowed Wort: Commonwealth Sour Brown

When I set out to visit Commonwealth Brewing Co. in Virginia Beach to collaborate on a sour brown, I tossed a sanitized carboy in the trunk. I brought home three gallons of wort and pitched my own microbes (Omega Lacto Blend and bottle dregs) in addition to their house ale yeast.

With all of the effort many brewers put into wort production for sour beers, I thought it was worth noting how little my "version" has in common with the wort that stayed at Commonwealth. Especially for sour beers, so much of the final character is dependent on the microbes, barrels, blending, and in this case (lack of) fruit! I'm not saying wort production is irrelevant, but getting the right fermentation is much more important than whether the beer is 10% or 20% wheat!

Home-Fermented Commonwealth Sour Brown AleThere are still a few bottles of both variants (Penthesilia and Hippolyta) available at the brewery's tasting room if you want to taste the beer (or steal the microbes)!

Home-Fermented Sour Brown

Smell – Red fruit, dusty Brett, and caramel malt. Vibrant, no oxidation. Faint alcohol as it warms.

Appearance – Deep clear brown with red highlights. The off-white head displays impressive retention for a sour beer.

Taste – Bright lactic acidity. Cherry and blue cheese funk from the Brett. Slight grape Fruit Roll-Up. Minimal sweetness, but some caramel malty-depth.

Mouthfeel – Light without being tannic or desiccant. I like a bit more heft.

Drinkability & Notes – Not hugely interesting, but a pleasantly drinkable dark sour that showcases a variety of classic Brett funk with balancing acidity.

Changes for Next Time – Shouldn’t come as much surprise, but I think this is a good illustration of why trying to “clone” commercial sour beers is a fool’s errand. Even with literally identical wort you can't do it without the other pieces of the process!

Staff of Ra (Sour Brown with Coffee)

Given the less-than-exciting trajectory of this batch as it approached packaging, I diverted a gallon to try a coffee-infused version. I know, listening to the so-called expert of American Sour Beers this might seem like a bad idea:

“The bold coffee and chocolate additions that work so well in big sweet stouts do not succeed when combined with a dry and sour base.”

My opinion softened after I split a glass of Lervig CafĂ© Sur, a unique sour pale with coffee while in Norway. I only risked a gallon, adding .5 oz of uncrushed Ceremony Thesis coffee beans (the same I used for this Hoppy Blonde) for less than a day…

Home-Fermented Commonwealth Sour Brown Ale with CoffeeSmell – The coffee adds a fresh toasty-roasty aroma that combines with the fruitiness, covering the majority of the funk (leaving just a bit of dust). Slight “green bell pepper” of oxidized coffee, it has faded from where it was a few months ago.

Appearance – Some light really brings out the red! Head retention is slightly less, but that may be thanks more to reusing the glass rather than the coffee beans.

Taste – The coffee is a good match for this beer, although they aren’t a fresh as I would have liked. It reduces the perception of the Brett. Acidity is similar. Coffee would be a waste of a more interesting base beer. I'd put it in the same category as dry hops for a sour, not what I would add to my favorite base beer.

Mouthfeel – Similar to the straight version.

Drinkability & Notes – The coffee adds some interest to what is an otherwise unremarkable base beer. This isn't exactly the right combination, but it is something I'll experiment more with in the future.

Changes for Next Time – A paler base beer might work better given the additive power of the dark malts and beans. Alternatively, a coffee with more dark fruit might have been a better match for a dark sour.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Courage RIS (No Brett): Tasting

Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone: No Brett or Oak.
The continuation of my Christmas eve tradition of drinking homebrewed Courage Russian Imperial Stout was beginning to look in doubt. After 2015 I was down to three bottles, so February 2016 I rebrewed a tweaked 10 gallon batch (recipe). Originally the plan was to give half the wort to my friend Scott, but when his plans changed at the last minute I split the batch with myself instead: half clean, half with White Labs Brett claussenii and oak spheres.

The funky-oaky half is ready to bottle this week. As with the original batch from 2007, once the gravity reached 1.020 I transferred the beer to a clean fermentor with one campden tablet (sodium metabisulfite) per gallon. This additional 20% apparent attenuation from Brett isn't guaranteed. Mike Karnowski, the brewer/founder of Zebulon Artisan Ales (and author of Homebrew Beyond the Basics), homebrewed a similar recipe a couple years ago and split it between five commercial Brett strains, but didn't see significant attenuation from any of them (not a bad thing) - I got to taste a sample of each at a bottle share while I was in town for the Asheville Homebrewers Conference!

Courage RIS 2016: Base

Smell – Expressive clean roasted nose. Charred cocoa, fresh bready malt, a hint of ethanol. There is a subtle dark fruitiness from the candi syrup, but not nearly the intense-raisin that many year-old dark-crystal-malt dependent imperial stouts fall. No noticeable oxidation. No hop aroma, unsurprising given the single early Columbus addition.

Appearance – Beautiful, opaque, black body. Voluminous mocha head (bigger than I like to see on what should be a low-carbed beer). Great retention despite the snow landing on it.

No better day than a snowy day for Imperial Stout!Taste – Flavor is a delicious blend of 85% cocoa chocolate bar, richly toasted malt, and subtle English ale fruitiness. Enough bitterness (hop, roast, alcohol) to balance the plum-sweetness in the mid-palate. It doesn’t taste like a 1.040 FG beer, but then it may grow sweeter as the bitterness drops off with time.

Mouthfeel – Thick, coating, rich. Carbonation is elevated from my preference (and the 2.1 volumes I targeted), but I wouldn’t call it over-carbonated in general beer terms.

Drinkability & Notes – Surprisingly drinkable for a beer this big in alcohol and sweetness. It maintains a fresh malt flavor from the Maris Otter and amber malts that plays off the firm Black Patent roast wonderfully. Without Brett the malt is much more in focus.

Changes for Next Time – This is it for me other than the carbonation (which is easy enough to swirl out). As big as it needs to be, with an intense maltiness that I don't think would be possible in a smaller stout. At 9% a 12 oz bottle is a reasonable serving, something I can't say for the many commercial stouts that don't achieve this flavor-saturation with 12-16% ABV!

Hopefully the next few years are kind to the remaining case and a half!

I drank my third-to-last bottle of the original on Christmas eve. Not much had changed since last year so it didn't seem worth writing up the full tasting notes. Carbonation was still pleasantly low, big dark fruit, gentle funkiness, no sign of impending oxidized-doom for the last couple bottles!

One of the last glasses of one of my favorite beers.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Loral-Hopped Funky Saison

Plate chillers means lots of cold break in the fermentor.From the breeder who brought us Citra and Mosaic... now comes Loral (HBC 291)! It's amazing and weird that we've gotten to the point where hop breeders are being hyped! With a family tree that includes Glacier and Nugget, I'm glad Loral isn't pushing the tropical, melon, and fruit-punch flavors so many new varieties exhibit. It is nice to have a bit more subtlety in beers where some herbal, spicy, and (f)loral, flavors enhance a characterful yeast.

I fluctuate between using new ingredients in simple and complex recipes. Is it better to evaluate a hop against a blank canvas, or blended with complementary flavors? I decided to put the sample of Loral (courtesy of Yakima Valley Hops) to work in a saison fermented with my house culture (started two years ago as a blend of two saison strains, a wild Saccharomyces, and Lambic-sourced Brettanomyces). A couple months ago I sent slurry to Jeff Mello at Bootleg Biology for isolation and propagation. I've got a couple test batches showing promise with a prospective blend, hoping for a release early 2017!

The base for is maltier than I usually aim for in a saison that isn't roasty. Munich and Golden Naked Oats contribute a richer base more appropriate for the fall hopefully without being too distracting from the hops and yeast.

Twenty minutes into the boil I cast-out half of the un-hopped wort for a gose with smoked sea salt, fermented with the Lactic-culture from Right Proper Brewing Co. (harvested from my quinoa-grapefruit beer). I'll tap that once the saison kicks, freeing my kegerator's lone sour tap.

Loral Funky Saison Tasting

Smell – Really bright fruit aroma (pear and generic citrus). There is a deeper herbal-hop and honey complexity rarely found in “new” American varieties - reminiscent of Sterling or Crystal, but more potent. Pleasant interplay between the mildly phenolic yeast, earthy Brett, and the bright hops.
Golden saison on a gray afternoon.
Appearance – Golden body with a slight haze still after a month on tap. Nice long-lasting tight white head. Good looking saison!

Taste – Tame peppery yeast to start. Mid-palate is fresh orange-lemon, faint tartness. Pleasing balance of present bitterness and lively acidity. The golden naked oats and Munich add a toasty flavor in the finish as it warms that is walking the line on distracting given the dryness.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is a little low, always a trick when you run three beers off of one regulator. The oats make it a little fuller than previous hoppy house saisons despite the low final gravity.

Drinkability & Notes – A more subdued (less bitter/aromatic) riff on the hoppy saisons I've fermented with this culture. Loral is a good choice for a modern saison. Fruity without dominating, and adding some traditionally European attributes. In the same family with Crystal (which I also enjoy in saison).

Changes for Next Time – To mellow the toastiness, I’d walk the GNO back under 5% (where I've had good results for saisons before) and the Munich to 20%. Plus a bit more carbonation. Otherwise really nice! I could see Loral working in a hoppy pale later, or even a dry hopped sour!


Batch Size: 6.0 gal
SRM: 5.3
IBU: 23.9
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.005
ABV: 6.3%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74%
Boil Time: 40 min

65.9 % - 7.5 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
27.5 % - 3.13 lbs Weyermann Munich I
6.6 % - .75 lbs Simpsons Golden Naked Oats

Saccharification - 30 min @ 152 F

2.00 oz Loral (Pellet, 9.2% AA) @ 20 min
2.00 oz Loral (Pellet, 9.2% AA) @ Whilrpool/Hop-Stand: 20 min
2.00 oz Loral (Pellet, 9.2% AA) @ Primary Dry Hop

0.50 Whirlfloc Tablet @ 5 min

House Brett Saison Blend

Brewed 10/10/16

Malt/water adjusted to make a single beer (i.e., saison recipe can be brewed as is). Half of wort was diverted pre-hopping for a gose.

Filtered DC tap water dosed with 2 g of gypsum and 1.5 g of calcium chloride pre-mash.

Chilled to 75F with plate chiller, pitched House Brett Saison stepped up to 1 L on a stir-plate 24 hours prior. Splashing aeration only.

10/23/16 Dry hopped in primary, loose.

11/12/16 Kegged, better late than never. No extra dry hops. Harvested a bottle of house culture. FG = 1.005.

Links to Love2Brew support the blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Quick Sour, then what? Acid Tolerance of Brewer’s Yeast

Spent PurePitch White Labs packs.December 2016 is a rare "double" BYO issue for my writing, including a feature on hoppy sours that is available on their website for free! The Advanced Brewing article digs into the pitfalls and mitigation strategies for fermenting with brewer’s yeast after kettle souring or sour mashing. You’ll have to read the article for all of the science and suggestions, but I wanted to relate the experiment I performed for it. My BYO articles usually aren't repeated here, but one of the rows of the results was omitted during editing, so I wanted to make it available.

A couple months ago I brewed 10 gallons of wort that fell somewhere between schwarzbier, dunkel, and bock (92% Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Dark, 4% Weyermann CaraMunich II, and 4% Briess Blackprinz mashed at 158F to 1.058). I fermented half with 34/70 slurry harvested from my first LoDO Pilsner in an attempt to create a schwarzdunkelbock. The result was wonderfully bready-malty with a smooth chocolate-roast. It was so good in fact that I didn’t get around to taking formal tasting notes before it kicked… conversely I recently dumped the last couple gallons of that Pilsner.

Split batch fermenting in jugs.I took the remaining 4.5 gallons of wort and split it nine-ways. The first three were left as is, with a typical post-boil pH of 5.10. I then added 88% lactic acid to the remainder to reach 3.54, a typical pH for a tart gose. After running out three more, I continued to add lactic acid to lower the remaining 1.5 gallons to a tongue-assaulting pH of 2.99 (close to as sour as any beer). I took one of each acidity trio and pitched WLP001 California Ale, WLP007 Dry English Ale, and WLP566 Belgian Saison II. For each jug I added 2 tsp of slurry directly from fresh White Labs pouches. This is a considerable over-pitch for .5 gallon, but I wanted to give each yeast their best chance without starters or pH acclimatization.

I took gravity readings along the way to judge how rapidly the yeast were attenuating. As you can see, for the most part, regardless of the strain the lower the pH the slower fermentation progressed. The final gravities were also affected by the high acidity. Dosing with lactic acid isn’t a preferred method for making sour beer (as you can see from the tasting notes), but clearly some strains performed better than others.

WLP001 (California Ale) (73–80% AA) at 65 °F (18 °C)

Day 2
Day 6
Day 11
Tasting Notes
Clean, crisp, slightly fruity
Tart, cocoa, estery-fusel
Sour, strong fusel, chemical

WLP007 (Dry English Ale) (70–80% AA) at 65 °F (18 °C)

Day 2
Day 6
Day 11
Tasting Notes
Englishy, malty, clean
Oud bruin, malty-sweet, tart
Sour, rubber, aged-out, light diacetyl

WLP566 (Belgian Saison II) (78–85% AA) at 75 °F (24 °C)

Day 2
Day 6
Day 11
Tasting Notes
Peppery, fruity-sweet (apple)
Tart, peppery, pleasant green apple
Sharp, clove, chemical

Hopefully this provides a few data points for those looking to produce sour beers quickly. I often follow quick souring with a 100% Brettanomyces fermentation, as it tends to be better suited to low-pH fermentations and add some of those lacking notes of interest.

2017’s BYO Advanced Brewing topics including spunding valves, how mineral profiles change with brewing, and LoDO lagers! If you want to subscribe for all of that, use this link and I get a nice kickback. Thanks to all of those who have already subscribed.

Mad Fermentationist t-shirts are back too, along with coffee mugs. The campaign ends 12/14: the last day that is eligible for standard shipping to get your gear by Christmas eve (convenient if you are want your whole family to wear them on Christmas morning…)

The whole fake Mad Fermentationist Family

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Matt: Adam with Calvados and Candi Syrup

It is interesting to drink two glasses of beer side-by-side made from wort separated 18 months ago (recipe post). In addition to the recipe differences between these two Adam-variants (maple syrup and bourbon vs. dark candi syrup and calvados) the aging and serving were also different. I recently reconnected the maple/bourbon half (tasting) to the stout/nitro tap now that the weather has cooled off. The candi/calvados half has been aged at cellar temperature in bottles. The maple half is cleaner, with less dark fruit. Its ethanol is also more up front, although it is also a somewhat stronger beer.

A glass of Adam with Calvados and Candi.HoTD Matt - Inspired

Smell – Interesting blend of dark fruit and earthy smoke. Much less direct than the maple-bourbon. The smoke melds in with dried fruit, caramel, and aged maltiness.

Appearance – Dark russet, amber crema. Head falls relatively quickly. Good clarity when held at an angle to the light.

Taste – Sticky, reads sweeter than the maple (less simple sugar and liquor to dilute the malt). Saturated with dark fruit, dates especially. The malt is rich, caramel and cocoa powder. No apple specifically, but a nice baked fruitiness. Finishes pleasant campfire singe.

Mouthfeel – Full, but the medium carbonation is a bit disruptive, more than I’d prefer.

Drinkability & Notes – Warmer aging and lower alcohol have resulted in a beer that has aged faster and perhaps peaked younger. The smoke, intense malt, and fruit-brandy blend into a unique combination I haven’t tasted before. This beer is based on a German style as brewed by an American brewery with Scottish yeast and malt, infused with Belgian candi syrup and French apple brandy... a real mutt!

Changes for Next Time – Clean up my bottling process… given that approximately one in three bottles have picked up a mild Brett character. Otherwise the "clean" bottles are what I wanted them to be! Still haven't had the beer that inspired it, Hair of the Dog's Matt, so can't judge how close I came.

Bonus Quick Tasting: Hoppy Halloween Adam
Before flying back to DC after a couple days in Fargo, ND for Hoppy Halloween 2015, I stopped by a brew day a few local homebrewers were having at Eric Sanders' house. They were brewing a 20 gallon batch of Adambier, so I brought along the last bottles of my original and "authentic" batches. When I bumped Tom Roan (the guy who had coordinated the whole thing) at NHC in Baltimore, he handed me a couple bottles of that batch (plus one of his delicious wheat wine)! Finally getting around to drinking one now that a rich smoky malty beer sounds good!

Eric Sanders milling the grain for Adam.The results are really pleasant, good balance of intense-malt and apparent smoke. Dark fruit is more subdued than mine. The result is somewhere between my more and less authentic batches. Interested to try a sample of the version they fermented with Roeselare some day!

OG: 1.094
IBU: 42
SRM: 32.7
Boil Time: 90 min

70.1 lbs. Munich Malt
7.5 lbs.  Dark Munich Malt
7.5 lbs.  Smoked (Bamberg)
7.5 lbs.  Torrefied Wheat
3.0 lbs.  Thomas Fawcett Pale Chocolate
1.5 lbs.  Weyermann Carafa Special III
1.5 lbs.  Weyermann Caramunich II
1.5 lbs.  Dark Crystal

Magnum Pellet to 42.0 IBU - First Wort

Wyeast German Ale 1007

A glass of Adam from Fargo.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Testing Alternative Brewing Cleaners

Cleaning is as important as sanitizing. Without a debris-free surface a sanitizer loses most of its efficacy. This is worse for some than others, StarSan supposedly retains more sanitizing power in the presence of organic material than Iodophor for example, but it is never ideal. While scrubbing with a mesh pad to remove krausen and residue is fine for stainless steel and glass, the less abrasion applied to plastic the better because scratches provide shelter for microbes. The best solution is a soak or recirculate hot water laced with cleaner. Commercial breweries use caustic, but the care required for safe handling means it generally isn't used at home (although it is available as line cleaner). Most homebrewers use longer contact with milder alkali percarbonate cleaners like Five Star PBW (.75-1.25 oz per gallon - $6.75/lb) or OxiClean Free (1-2 oz per gallon - $3.66/lb) for their fermentors, gear, and kegs.

What the cleaners were up against.I had a bunch of dirty one-gallon jugs from splitting five gallons of wort nine ways (three yeast each fermented at three starting pH values) for my December BYO Advanced Brewing article (subscribe) Acid Tolerance of Brewer's Yeast. I realized I had four alternative cleaning products on hand. I took five of the jugs, dumped out the beer, and let them dry for three days to give the cleaners a real challenge.

All prices listed are for "reasonable" 3-5 lbs containers (most links support the blog). Although suggested concentrations vary (listed), I used 1 fl oz per gallon (8 ml per L) for all for a fair comparison.

Hot Water
For a control I filled one jug with hot (110F/43C) tap water water. Even after a week it really didn't seem any cleaner. The krausen ring was still almost completely intact.

Seventh Generation Free and Clean Natural (~.3 oz per gallon - $4.84/lb)
After a week soaking with Seventh Generation DetergentThe 2X version is suggested by BetterBottle at a rate of 1 oz in 6 L. It is enzyme-based and won't degraded plastics like long-exposure to alkali cleaners can. While it removed most of the krausen ring, some remained even after a week (pictured). I wasn't even able to rinse the rest off with hot water, it required another soak with a different cleaner. It might do a fine job on fresh krausen, but even with triple the suggested usage it was the worst performer of the cleaners.

Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery Wash (1-2 oz/gallon - $5.70/lb)
This is a PBW competitor manufactured for brewing. It did a good job, with the sides looking completely clean after 12 hours without any scrubbing or agitation. I don't care for their packaging though (it leaked in transit, and doesn't seal tightly enough to prevent moisture ingress during storage).

Blu Aktiv Brewery Cleaner (1-2 oz/gallon - $8.25/lb)
I've been using this for about a year after the company sent me a sample of their more eco-friendly (no EDTA or NTA, low phosphate) brewery cleaner. Luckily it still performs admirably, and cleaned the fermentors in similar time to the Craft Meister. However, for me the greenness likely won't be enough to justify the added expense and effort to procure once my supply is depleted.

Logic One Step (.5 oz/gallon - $6.00/lb)
I used OneStep on my first two batches as both cleaner and sanitizer. While it isn't certified as a sanitizer, there are many brewers who use it like one with good results. The surprise was that it removed the fermentation residue in about six hours, beating the two specialized cleaners! While it is twice as expensive as OxiClean Free, the suggested rate is considerably lower.

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