Monday, May 9, 2016

Courage Russian Imperial Stout: Second Attempt

For the last nine Christmases running, while visiting my parents in Massachusetts, I've opened a bottle of Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone stored in the closet off their garage (or bring one back with me to share). My friend James and I brewed it in 2007, and considering we split four gallons, I'm amazed it has lasted this long! Sadly, with two bottles remaining I needed a replacement to maintain the holiday traditional that has now spanned more than a quarter of my life!

I coordinated with my friend Scott to brew and split a 10 gallon batch, but at the last minute he had a family emergency... the result is a whole lot of strong/dark beer for me! Thankfully I had a second set of hands provided by Chris, an NYU grad student who was visiting to work on a profile of me for a class and potential magazine article.

The base beer was only slightly tweaked from that original batch: more brown malt, dropped the white sugar, and a couple convenience adjustments to base malt and hops. With five times as much beer as last time, I also decided to split the batch: half bottled clean, half with Brett prior to bottling.

Not what Brett anomalus dregs should look like.I attempted to grow up the Wyeast Brettanomyces anomalus dregs in the last bottle of 100% Brett beer I brewed with the same pack that went into the original batch. Wyeast discontinued the strain soon after because it was miscategorized (likely B. bruxellensis). Sadly the nine-year-old dregs didn't grow anything suggestive of Brett, just some mold(?) after a couple weeks. The beer itself was nearly as disappointing, oxidation was the primary flavor.

Then I got a Tweet from Ron Pattinson letting me know he'd sent an old bottle of Courage RIS to White Labs to have them attempt to isolate the original Brett! I checked with Kara Taylor, White Labs' Analytical Lab Manager, but sadly all they got (oddly) was Saccharomyces. So, I opted for my final resort: White Labs Brett claussenii, which I enjoyed it in a similar role for my Funky Old Ale... nearly ten years ago!

I'll be following the same process I used for that first batch of Courage: waiting until the beer reaches 1.020, then fining with gelatin, racking, and killing the Brett with potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets). The brewer's yeast stopped at a higher gravity than the first batch's 1.030, spot on the 1.040 Ron reported for Barclay Perkins 1924 IBS Ex in his recipe-dense The Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beers. More on why that's relevant, and the history and rebirth of this beer on his blog.

Rather than chemically-Pasteurize the whole batch, I may even leave a gallon with live Brett to see how far it will dry it out. I'll be interested to taste the different between the two (or three) versions as they age for decades to come!

Kegs are great for aging... but don't make for great photos.Courage Russian Imperial Stout #2

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 11.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 45.25
Anticipated OG: 1.106
Anticipated SRM: 58.3
Anticipated IBU: 54.6
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

66.3% - 30.00 lbs. Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter
13.3% - 6.00 lbs. Crisp Amber Malt
6.1% - 2.75 lbs. Crisp Brown Malt
5.5% - 2.50 lbs. Simpsons Black Malt
4.4% - 2.00 lbs. Candi Syrup, Inc D-90
4.4% - 2.00 lbs. Candi Syrup, Inc D-180

4.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 10.50% AA) @ 75 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.

WYeast 1028 London Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 40 min @ 158F

2/13/16 Made a 4.5L stir-plate starter with one three-month old pack of WY1028. Crash chilled after three days.

2/20/16 Brewed with Chris. Started with 16 gallons of filtered DC tap water. Mash pH 5.38. Added 4 grams of baking soda. Sparged with 3 gallons filtered DC tap.

Collected 14 gallons of 1.096 runnings, including candi syrup (D-90 and D-180) added to the kettle during run-off.

Chilled to 65F. 60 seconds each of pure O2, followed by pitching the decanted room temperature starter. Left at 58F ambient to begin fermentation.

2/25/16 Raised ambient temperature to 65F, fermentation visibly slowed.

3/23/16 Bottled 5.5 gallons with rehydrated Pasteur Blanc and 95 g of table sugar. FG 1.040 (8.8% ABV, 62% AA). Racked the other half to a keg, waiting on Brett.

5/16/16 Pitched a tube of WLP645 White Labs Brett C and 4 Xoaker Medium Pus Toast French Oak balls (.75 oz) into the keg. Left at 65F to work for a few months.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dark Saison 7 Etrog: Tasting

An etrog (mostly pith).Having finally brewed Dark Saison #8 (with date and pomegranate molasses – recipe post to follow) it seemed appropriate to post tasting notes for the previous iteration, Dark Saison 7 (Recipe)! This was an aberration from my standard dark saisons, brewed with nearly 80% toasty Maris Otter (plus Crystal 55, Abbey, and Kiln Coffee).

Shortly before bottling, I infused 40 g of zest harvested from an etrog into the beer. I happened to see this giant lemon-cousin at the store and decided to give it a try. It turns out that they are more frequently used for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot than culinary purposes. The aroma was closer to lemon than anything else, but without being as distinct.

Dark Saison #7

Dark saison with etrog.Appearance – Clear flame-brown, not far from a Newcastle Brown Ale. Head pours nicely, but deflates quickly.

Smell – The aroma is hard to place. There is some pale-coffee and dubbel-like maltiness, damp hay, and a touch of citrusy perfume. Reminds me more of a De Dolle, than most American sours. Almost licorice as it warms, a character I've never gotten in an amber sour beer like this! Perhaps created by the microbes from Trou du Diable by way of Mark of the Yeast?

Taste – Acidity is mild, more acidity than Brett-only, but not by much. Mild red-wine-berry fruitiness. The etrog plays a pleasant role, helping to cut through the malt and funk without being obvious. The finish is a combination of funky Brett and toasty malt, lingering a beat too long. The toasty flavor has mellowed since my previous informal sensory evaluations (aka drinking a bottle for fun).

Mouthfeel – Surprisingly creamy mouthfeel for a funky saison. Thanks perhaps to the Omega Saisonstein's Monster? Carbonation is medium, could be slightly higher.

Drinkability & Notes – Weird and subtle at the same time. In the series it is most similar to Dark Funky #5 (based on Munich and Vienna), although less acidic. Etrog's contribution isn't especially distinct, but maybe that isn't the worst attribute when you are trying to make a beer without an identifiable citrus addition.

Changes – I would swap half of the Maris Otter for Pils to cut the toasty flavor. Otherwise I think it works surprisingly well for such a weird combination of ingredients! Bottle dregs could be used to replace the Lactobacillus and Brett, WY3711 or another saison strain could be used if Omega's strain isn't sitting in your fridge!

Etrog zest.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Westvleteren Belgian Blond Clone Recipe

There are essentially no breweries that exclusively brew strong beers. This is partly because moderate-strength beers have a big market, but it is also a practical consideration. Harvesting yeast from high-alcohol beers is usually frowned upon. Wild yeast rarely have high alcohol tolerance, and even though brewer’s yeast has been selected for its ability to resist the damaging effects of alcohol, viability drops quickly above 8% ABV. So in addition to brewing a beer for the monks to drink with lunch, Westvleteren's moderate gravity beer means they don’t need to get a fresh pitch from Westmalle for every batch.

Sharing a lineup with a quad (Abt/12/Yellow) that is a long-standing contender for best beer in the universe, and a dubbel (Extra/8/Blue) that I prefer to it, how much does anyone pay attention to the blond (6/Green)? Not much, despite it being one of the best Belgian blonds! It blends subtle spice and fruit from the noble hops and Trappist yeast, with clean and crisp malt. Far more drinkable and lively than its two bigger/older brothers! The Trappist equivalent of a wonderful Pilsner!

Given the difficultly and cost of procuring a steady supply of Westy Blond, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a keg of homebrew (a five gallon batch costs about the same $22 of a single bottle of the original at The Sovereign)!

I began with a well-reviewed recipe from Candi Syrup Inc., but made a few adjustments. According to Brew Like a Monk, Westvleteren includes Belgian pale malt along with Pilsner in the same ratio for all three recipes, so I swapped it in for 50% of the malt. I also swapped out the clear candi syrup for table sugar (my Pale Belgian Sugar Experiment suggested that pure sugar choice isn't critical even at double the rate of this batch). The hops were heavy on mid-boil additions (not my default) but I decided to stick to it as written (other than augmenting with Magnum to hit the target IBUs) to judge for myself.

The other half of the batch is conditioning with two different Brett cultures (WLP648 Brettanomyces bruxellensis Trois Vrai and my house saison culture). Tasting notes for those in the next couple months!

A glass of homebrewed Westvleteren Blond, and an 8 and 12.

Westvleteren Blond (Green Cap)

Appearance – Blond body, so far so good. Slightly less than hefeweizen haze, but not by much. The snowy head in dense and sticky, with superb endurance.

Smell – Belgian yeast character leads, banana peel, and a waft of vanilla. The phenols skew pepper (rather than clove) and meld with the subtle noble hops to form a nice counter to the fruit. The malt and hops aren’t able to shine through as I would have liked thanks to the expressive yeast.

Taste – Flavor is bright and vibrant, more interesting than the nose. The fruitiness transitions from banana in the nose adding subtle notes of pear and red apple. The absent malt shows itself with some saltine crackeriness. The focus on reducing carbonate and hitting pH really benefits a beer like this making it finish snappy with a final more-ish crack of hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel – Crisp and lively without being thin or bracing.

Drinkability & Notes – A very nice daily Belgian drinker, maybe a half notch behind my favorite pale/session Belgian as a result of a bit too much banana and malt.

And introducing a new category, notes on what I'd change if I rebrewed:

Changes – Sadly I didn’t have a bottle of the original to open up alongside, but from my recollection the homebrew is more yeasty and malty and less hoppy. On a rebrew, I’d reduce the Pale malt to 25% of the total malt and restrain peak fermentation temperature to 75F. This is cooler than BLAM notes for the original, likely a result of ester suppression from fermenting in larger fermentors. The hops may be fine as is once the malt and yeast are tempered, but an ounce or two of Styrian Goldings or Hallertau at flame-out wouldn’t hurt!

Westvleteren Blond Clone

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 12.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 21.25
OG: 1.050
SRM: 3.8
IBU: 42.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Castle Pale Ale
5.9% - 1.25 lbs. Domino Granulated Pure Cane Sugar

0.50 oz. Magnum (Pellet, 11.50% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Northern Brewer (Pellet, 7.00% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 20 min.
2.00 oz. Styrian Goldings (Pellet, 1.20% AA) @ 12 min.

1.00 tsp – Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.
1.00 – Whirlfloc @ 5 min.

White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Beta Rest – 60 @ 147 F (Infuse)
Alpha Rest – 20 min @ 157 F (Direct)

Brewed 1/10/16 - 3 L starter made on a stir plate for two days then crashed a week prior.
Mashed 9 gallons filtered DC, 7 gallons distilled. 5 g gypsum, 7 g CaCl, 1 tbls phosphoric acid. Mash pH = 5.31. 2 gallon cold/distilled sparge.

Collected 14.5 gallons of 1.040 runnings. Added white sugar 5 minutes into the boil.
Chilled to 65F, shook to aerate, pitched the decanted starter. Left at 67 F ambient to ferment for the first 36 hours.

Placed next to a radiator, measured beer temperature at 78F 12 hours later. Held around this temperature.

At 10 days allowed to come back to 68 F ambient.

1/23/16 Kegged half with 3 oz of table sugar to condition. Slight sulfur edge, nice mellow singed banana. FG 1.009 (5.4% ABV, 82% AA), on point.

1/31/16 Bottled the other half. 2.5 gallons with 1/4 cup of WLP648 B. bruxellensis Trois Vrai starter and 62 g of table sugar. 2.75 gallons with 1/4 cup of House Saison starter and 75 g of table sugar.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Honey Sour Beer Tasting

These five sour beers were split from the same primary fermentor with Conan and East Coast Yeast Flemish Ale (recipe). When fermentation slowed, I divided the young beer into five one-gallon jugs each with a half pound of a different single-varietal honey. Once the gravity was stable I bottle conditioned with one ounce more of the same honey to trap some volatile aromatics (something I usually caution against). All told, the honey provided about 35% of the fermentables!

This wasn’t my first time adding honey to sour beer, but I wanted to play with a variety of new flavors in a bland-ish base beer to evaluate them!

Five glasses of honey sour beer!

Honey Sours: Five-Way

Appearance – Quintuplets: clear gold body, nice foam on the pour, but mediocre retention (see it as I poured left to right). Honey shouldn’t hurt head retention, but sugar without protein doesn’t help either.

Smell/Taste – Even at one third honey, the differences between the aromas are subtle. They have more alike than unalike. They each have a mild fruity aroma, light horsey-Brett funk, pleasant acidity, and restrained maltiness. Similarities are always a good sign for a split-batch, no major process issues!

Acacia: This was the oddball through most of the fermentor samples I’ve pulled (weird plastic/stable aromatics). It has calmed down, but the honey doesn’t add much. It is abrupt, changing course mid-palate from fruity to funk. However, it has some interesting white-wine and watermelon rind notes I don’t get from the rest.

Sourwood: Classic honey aroma, with some vinous notes behind it. Fresh, honey on your pancakes flavor. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a pale sour, but I drank it quicker than any of the others. Wonderful lingering floral note!

Gallberry: Subtle waxy aroma. The most herbal, a nice counter to the berry. The honey flavor is nicely integrated into the base sour. The most interesting of the posse, with subtleties that needed a pale canvas to showcase.

Raspberry: Young this had a big cotton-candy note, but that has mostly faded. It is still the fruitiest and suggests the most sweetness. Least funky, most acidic. The nose is almost acetic, but the flavor doesn’t bear a trace. An outlier, but then it always has been.

Blueberry: Light, fruity, berry but not distinctly blueberry. Balanced, pleasant, the maltiest, but not quite the right match for a pale sour. Would be ideal for a sour red!

Mouthfeel – Happy that they all seem to have fermented out and carbonated at similar rates. Could be spritzier, but I don’t mind it as is.

Drinkability & Notes – This is the sort of batch that I love to brew! One of my recent pushes has been to brew beers that embrace homebrewing. A large brewery couldn’t procure enough gallberry honey to brew a batch at a reasonable rate. As homebrewers we have the opportunity to produce beers on a scale that allows us to use ingredients that are impractical for even brewpubs because of availability or cost. I’ll be talking about this for one of my talks at the Norwegian Homebrewer Weekend (aka Hjemmebryggerhelgen 2016) later this month, I’ll also be talking to Brad Smith about it for his BeerSmith Podcast if you can’t make it to Drammen!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sour Brown: One Batch Two Barrels

Split batches are wonderful! They provide the opportunity to see (and taste) the changes that just one variable can make. They helps to cut through all the confounding batch-to-batch variables and identify what a single tweak is responsible for. However, with sour beers you always have to be cautious not to read too far into them as identical worts aged in identical barrels under seemingly identical conditions can diverge as the microbes compete. The beating of a bacteria’s flagellum can cause a proverbial hurricane of flavor!

These two beers started from the same mash, I pitched the same microbes (White Labs WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend, and dregs), and aged them in two third-use barrels from Balcones Distilling for four months. While most of each batch then went onto fruit (raspberries for the rum, cherries for the malt whisky) I reserved a gallon of each fruitless to taste the base beer. While I love fruited sour beers, I’m usually far more interested in the straight-up examples. They provide a truer expression of the magic of microbes, barrels, and wort!

Rum Barrel-Aged Sour Brown

Appearance – Clear, mahogany leather, dense off-white head.

Smell – Madeira-like, brandy-soaked raisin aromatics with a touch of oxidation. A brighter fruit candy note as well – SweeTarts perhaps. A tinge herbal as well, not what I usually pick-up in an old/dark sour.

Taste – Flavor leaves those darker fruit flavors behind for cherry-acidity flowing into cocoa powder. Dry, but still enough to support the malt and oak. Not distinctly rummy to my palate… but in comparison to the whisky-barrel it is surprising how much of that fruit is from the barrel!

Mouthfeel – No tannins or anything rough. The acidity helps to cover-up the lean body.

Drinkability & Notes – Somewhere in the nebulous realm between old ale and oud bruin, with the barrel playing a wonderful supporting role. While I enjoyed the jammy raspberry contribution, I'm glad I also got to taste all the nuance here that was obscured by the fruit.

Twin beers, seperated at fermentation.

Malt Whisky Barrel-Aged Sour Brown

Appearance – A twin, other than the slightly stickier head.

Smell – A cleaner more fresh-brown-liquor aroma. What I thought at first sip was dark fruit from the combination of fermentation/age/malt really seems to have been coming from the rum barrel. This one is more dusty-basement damp-oak. Coconut candy bar.

Taste – Acidity is tamer, but still firmly sour. The fruit is more plum than cherry, not as bright. The finish is a bit curdled milk, lingering in a not-entirely pleasant way. Likely more a result of the particular fermentation in this barrel rather than anything inherent to the wood/spirit themselves.

Mouthfeel – Similar, feels slightly richer, maybe just drinking it second a bit warmer and flatter.

Drinkability & Notes – It is a fine beer, but next to the Rumble-barrel it is missing that extra something that makes a great dark sour. Academically it is the same, but I’m tossing the last few sips and going back to the other bottle for the last few ounces!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whisky Barrel Sour Cherry Brown: Tasting

Sometimes the timing of a tasting gets away from me. I posted about the raspberry-rum half on this “Double Barrel” sour brown back in 2013; now finally getting around to the half that was aged in a Balcones Single Malt Whisky barrel and then on homegrown sour cherries from Audrey’s parents!

Whisky-Cherry Sour Brown

Glass of sour-cherry whisky-barrel-aged brown ale!Appearance – Glowing fire-red when back-lit! Pristine clarity. Head retention is exceptional for an aged-out sour beer.

Smell – Hints of cherry-cola. Some mild age-perfume, but otherwise unharmed by the ravages of time. Subdued Brett-funk, more towards the Cascade Brewing model (as was the bourbon barrel that the culture came from).

Taste – Cherry has aged nicely: skins, pits, dried fruit, really concentrated. The malic acid from all those cherries certainly adds acidic sharpness on the front of the tongue compared to straight lactic. Just a hint of acetic, despite the four months in a five-gallon barrel (with its high surface-to-volume ratio). Graham cracker maltiness is subdued, but present. Slight buttery oak-coconut in the finish. Dry, but with a suggestion of malty-sweetness left to carry the big/dark flavors.

Mouthfeel – Medium-thin body, medium-low carbonation. About what I hope for in a dark sour, nothing to detract from the richness.

Drinkability & Notes – One of the best cherry beer I’ve brewed! I often find this most-singular fruit dominates pale beers, so I tend to prefer it against a maltier red or brown backdrop. The barrel adds nice complementary flavors without being too out-in-front. I’ll have to get around to tasting the fruit-less versions of these two soon…

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